Enterprise Microsoft Exchange 2010 Performance at Midrange Cost Now Available on the HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400

When it comes to hosting Microsoft Exchange 2010, small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) have many if not all of the same performance requirements of a storage system that hosts Exchange that large enterprises have. What these smaller companies do not possess are the deep pockets that enterprises have and which are typically needed to acquire such a storage system. Using the latest midrange HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 storage system, these organizations can get the storage performance attributes that they need while staying within their budget constraints.

Microsoft Exchange Equals Mission Critical

No exact statistics exist as to how many companies classify their Microsoft Exchange deployment as “mission critical.” However there is sufficient anecdotal evidence in the market place to conclude that this is the predominant way that organizations view and treat them. Examples include:

  • The analyst firm Gartner refers to email system management as a “mission critical application.”
  • Andy Olson, a consultant with the technology & management consulting firm Perficient, finds that up to 90% of its clients view Exchange 2010 in the context of “mission critical.” All of the Exchange 2010 engagements in which he has been involved used Exchange 2010’s Database Availability Groups (DAGs) to deliver redundancy in some fashion.
  • IDC persistently found Microsoft Exchange in enterprises with 1,000 to 5,000 employees

It is due to the critical role that Microsoft Exchange plays in all organizations that they are understandably concerned about its availability and performance. Delivering on these requirements is, however, often a function of the underlying storage system on which Exchange 2010 resides. The trouble for SMEs in particular is that in order to meet the availability and performance demands of Exchange 2010 often requires they deploy an enterprise storage system which is often beyond their budgetary means.

The Storage Gap in Exchange 2010 Deployments

For years SMEs have faced a dilemma. While they can readily find and deploy cost-effective, highly available server configurations to host their Exchange deployments, finding similar solutions in the midrange storage space has been much more challenging for a number of reasons.

Just trying to identify a midrange array to host Exchange is difficult. Aside from the fact that there are many different midrange array models from which to choose, Exchange 2010 puts very specific capacity and performance demands on the underlying storage system. So while any midrange array can theoretically “host” Exchange, they almost always need features generally only found on enterprise storage arrays so they may be effectively managed.

This necessitates the midrange array automate storage provisioning and tiering, efficiently allocate storage using thin provisioning and ship in a highly available configuration. It also has to natively offer techniques to handle mixed workloads in an Exchange environment to include managing and placing active and inactive mailboxes across multiple tiers of storage while still enabling Exchange to provide good response time during periods of high activity without storage costs getting out of control.

Virtualization has also found its way into the Exchange 2010 storage discussion. More Exchange 2010 deployments are being virtualized which is placing a new emphasis on how well the midrange array integrates with and performs when hosting virtualized workloads.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the midrange array must deliver the performance that Exchange 2010 needs. Even if it offers all of these other features, if it fails to perform during peak times of mailbox activity, it will fall short in the eyes of the organization using it. This makes midrange array performance a prerequisite in any Exchange 2010 deployments. The need to document the performance of the array when hosting Microsoft Exchange 2010 is the motivating factor behind the Microsoft Exchange 2010 Solution Reviewed Program (ESRP).

Microsoft ESRP Results Provides SMEs Needed Guidance on Planning and Designing Their Microsoft Exchange Storage Architecture

Microsoft established the ESRP to help organizations understand how well a storage array will perform under certain types of Exchange workloads. These tests are conducted by storage providers at their facilities following Microsoft’s guidelines. These tests are then submitted to Microsoft for review before they are formally published.

Properly interpreting the published ESRP results requires that organizations sort through some pretty beefy documents that may contains dozens or even hundreds of pages of statistics gathered during the ESRP performance testing. The key to successfully evaluating these is to examine certain results in the report as they provide valuable insight into how the array performs when under an Exchange 2010 load.

Key metrics to review when analyzing these reports include:

  • Average Database Read and Write Latency (ms). This set of statistics provides critical insight into how quickly the storage array can read and write data from disk which translates into how its ability to process incoming and outgoing emails. In reviewing some recently published ESRP results (EMC VNX5700, Dell Compellent SC8000 and the HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400) done using comparably sized Exchange 2010 mailbox stores (50-60,000 mailboxes,) there are, in some cases, dramatic differences in the final published results of these respective systems.

While the read latency for each of these systems is relatively comparable (in the 16-19 ms range,) the write latency benchmarks in particular jump out. The published Dell and EMC write latency results were consistently in the 11-12 ms range while the HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 manages to consistently achieve a 2 ms write latency.

Two other factors contribute to making the StoreServ 7400’s results even more impressive. First, in these benchmarked tests, the StoreServ 7400 uses 7.2K NL SAS drives while the other storage systems use the same speed or even faster disk drives. Second, it achieved these results with only 216 disk drives while the Dell and EMC storage system needed 398 and 240 disks respectively.

  • IOPs per drive (recorded as “Database Disks Transfers/sec” or “Target transactional IOs” in the published results.) The number of drives used in these storage arrays highlights an important second point – how efficiently does the storage array use the disk drives in it? In other works, how many IOPS per disk drive can the storage array achieve?

The normal assumption is that more disk drives equal more performance. However as these results show, that is not the case. The HP 3PAR StoreServ achieved over 1900 disk transfers/sec per host or an aggregate of 11,570 disk transfers per second. This works out to about 54 IOPS/second/disk. The Dell and EMC arrays, despite of having a higher number of disk drives, were only
able to achieve about 22 and 35 IOPS per second per disk which refutes the belief that are more disks are needed to achieve better performance.

These results show that while the number of disks in a storage array is still a factor in its performance, a better determiner of performance is how well the storage array distributes the data across the available spindles in the storage array. As the HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 demonstrates in its ESRP results, when this data distribution is done in an optimal manner, organizations can use fewer drives, get better performance and lower cost when compared to other available storage solutions on the market.

HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 Brings Enterprise Storage with Midrange Costs to SME Microsoft Exchange 2010 Deployments

Small and midsized enterprises used to have to pick their poison when it came to choosing a midrange array to support their Microsoft Exchange 2010 deployments. Either obtain one that was highly tuned for performance but did not have the features they need to effectively manage it or select an array that had great management but left them wanting on the storage performance side.

Now they no longer have to make that trade-off as the HP 3PAR StoreServ 7400 brings together what SMEs have long sought: a storage array that bests other comparable storage in Exchange 2010 performance while providing them with a highly available, highly performing and highly scalable midrange storage solution. More importantly, they may now get the StoreServ 7400 that has these enterprise management and performance features for under $40K. This almost guarantees that any size SME may now get the Exchange 2010 deployment they want without needing to accept any storage limitations.

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