Exchange Server 5.5 and network-attached storage

This article was previously published under Q317172
This article has been archived. It is offered "as is" and will no longer be updated.
For additional information, click the following article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
839687 Microsoft support policy on the use of network-attached storage devices with Exchange Server 2003
For additional information about this subject in Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server and in Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, click the following article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
317173 Exchange Server and network-attached storage
Summary
Microsoft generally recommends that you use a channel attached disk storage system (for example, small computer system interface [SCSI], Fiber Channel, or integrated device electronics [IDE]) to store your Microsoft Exchange Server database files, because this configuration optimizes performance and reliability for Exchange Server. By default, the use of network database files (which are stored on a networked server or network-attached storage server) is not enabled on Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5.

For additional information about specific errors and settings associated with placing Exchange data files on network-accessed disks, click the following article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
314916 Issues that might occur if you place Exchange data files on network shares

Using storage devices that are Windows Hardware Quality Lab certified with Exchange Server 5.5

You can configure Exchange Server 5.5 to store a database on a networked server or network-attached storage (sometimes referred to as NAS) server. Servers that you use for this purpose must meet the Exchange Server requirements for data write ordering and write-through guarantees that are described below.

Microsoft Windows servers that have received a Windows Hardware Quality Lab (WHQL) logo as a PC system or server automatically meet the data write ordering and write-through guarantees that are required for support as an Exchange Server 5.5 storage device.

Using storage devices that are not Windows Hardware Quality Lab certified with Exchange Server 5.5

Storage devices that are not WHQL certified might also work with Exchange Server. Check with your storage device vendor to ensure that any storage device has been designed for use with the version of Exchange Server that you are using, and that you deploy and configure it correctly for Exchange Server database use.

If a customer uses a non-WHQL qualified storage device with Exchange 5.5 Server that supports the I/O guarantees for transactional database use described in this article, Microsoft will provide full support for Exchange Server and Exchange Server-based applications. However, issues with, or caused by, the device or its storage subsystem will be referred to the device manufacturer. If a customer uses a non-WHQL qualified storage device that does not support the I/O guarantees for transactional database use described in this article, Microsoft cannot provide support for Exchange Server or Exchange Server-based applications. Also, contact your device vendor to verify that you have correctly deployed and configured the device for transactional database use.
More information
A network-attached storage system is a file-based storage system that can be attached to an Exchange Server computer through the network redirector by using a file sharing protocol (such as server message block [SMB], Common Internet File System [CIFS], or network file system [NFS]).

For a given storage system, accessing Exchange Server database files through the network stack (as opposed to accessing the storage system as a local device) might result in some increased risk of data corruption and performance degradation.

The likelihood of such problems increases as disk operations increase in input/output (I/O) bandwidth requirements and complexity. The level of risk and loss of performance varies by device, protocol, network congestion, and configuration. As network bandwidth, latency, data access protocols, and storage technologies continue to evolve, the gap continues to shrink between the performance and reliability that is attainable with locally attached devices versus network-attached devices.

The issues that you must consider when you select a disk system and disk access technology for Exchange Server 5.5, or any enterprise-level database management system (DBMS), include the following.

Performance

Exchange Server, like other enterprise messaging systems, can place an extremely large load on the disk I/O subsystem. In most large database applications, physical I/O configuration and tuning play a significant role in overall system performance. There are three major I/O performance factors to consider:
  • I/O bandwidth - The aggregate bandwidth, typically measured in megabytes per second, that can be sustained to a database device.
  • I/O latency - The latency, typically measured in milliseconds, between a request for I/O by the database system and the point at which the I/O request completes.
  • CPU cost - The host CPU cost, typically measured in CPU microseconds, for the database system to complete a single I/O.
Any of these I/O factors can become a bottleneck, and all of these factors must be considered when designing an I/O system for a database application.

If disk I/O is processed through the client network stack, the I/O is subject to the bandwidth limitations of the network itself. Even when overall bandwidth is sufficient, there may be issues of greater latency and increased processing demands on the CPU, as compared to locally attached storage. Additionally the availability of the network-attached storage should be considered when planning an Exchange deployment in which the storage is attached via a network. Microsoft recommends you protect the Exchange Server, the storage system, and the connecting network with a UPS.

Microsoft recommends that you consult your vendor before you deploy any storage solution for Exchange Server databases, to obtain assurance that the end-to-end solution is designed for Exchange Server use. Many vendors have best practices guides for Exchange Server.

Microsoft also recommends that you benchmark your I/O performance to ensure that none of the I/O factors that are described earlier are causing system bottlenecks.

Reliability

Exchange Server employs a transaction log and associated recovery logic to ensure database consistency if a system failure or an unmanaged shutdown occurs. When the database manager writes to its transaction logs, the database manager must depend on the return of a successful completion code from the operating system as a guarantee that the data has been secured to disk, not just to a volatile cache that will be lost if there is a system failure. If data guarantees, such as write ordering or write-through, are not completely honored by the system, then hardware, software, or even power failures might seriously compromise data integrity.

In addition, the limits of recoverability are determined by the ability of the disk system to ensure that data written to the disk is stored and retrieved reliably. Disk systems that can detect imminent failures and salvage or relocate affected data are recommended for use with Exchange Server.

Microsoft continues to work with other vendors to identify and resolve problems that affect the integrity and recoverability of Exchange Server data. Exchange Server includes several internal mechanisms for detecting and isolating file-level damage to an Exchange Server database.

For additional information, click the following article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
314917 Understanding and analyzing Exchange database errors -1018, -1019 and -1022

Special application requirements

The list of requirements for Exchange Server that this section describes is not an exhaustive list. Please refer to the vendor documentation and Microsoft deployment guides for more comprehensive and up-to-date information.

Backup and restoration

The Exchange Server online backup API automatically synchronizes and gathers the Exchange Server database and transaction log file data that is required for successful restoration. For fault tolerance and performance reasons, Exchange Server transaction logs are typically stored on drives that are separate from the database files.

Online backup of Exchange Server databases occurs through the same channel as normal database access. If this access is across the network, backup and restoration operations might greatly increase peak bandwidth requirements.

Several network-attached storage and SAN solution providers have bypassed the Exchange Server online backup API to provide specialized out-of-band or very rapid backup and restoration functionality. These backups are known generically as "snapshot" backups. At the time of this article's publication, vendors that implement custom snapshot solutions must ensure independently that they back up and synchronize all of the appropriate Exchange Server data files, and that they capture those data files in the correct state. These processes might cause issues with the reliability and consistency of the databases.

Vendors that implement this approach must confirm that they can make sure that all data integrity is maintained.

Clustering

Microsoft requires that storage systems for Exchange Server data on clustered servers be certified for cluster implementations and designed to support Exchange Server data. A storage system that performs well with Exchange Server in a non-cluster environment may not be suitable for use in a cluster. Exchange Server cluster deployments on non HCL hardware are not supported, regardless if the storage meets the rest of the qualifications outlined in this article for Network Attached Storage.

Exchange Server requires that messaging databases be stored on storage volumes that are recognized and registered with the Microsoft Cluster service cluster administrator.

Supportability

Incorrect use of Exchange Server software with a network-attached storage product might result in data loss, including total database loss. If data guarantees, such as write ordering or write-through, are not completely honored by the network-attached storage device or network software, then hardware, software, or even power failures might seriously compromise data integrity.

Microsoft recommends that you consult your vendor before you deploy any storage solution for Exchange Server databases, to obtain assurance that the end-to-end solution is designed for Exchange Server use. Many vendors have best practices guides for Exchange.
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Properties

Article ID: 317172 - Last Review: 10/26/2013 08:05:00 - Revision: 5.0

  • Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 Standard Edition
  • kbnosurvey kbarchive kbinfo KB317172
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