Optimizing an Exchange Server 2010 Environment : Analyzing Capacity and Performance

2/12/2011 3:13:52 PM
Capacity and performance analysis for an Exchange Server 2010 environment requires a well-established understanding of the business and messaging needs of the organization and a well-documented outline of the organization’s expectations of its messaging environment. The capacity of an Exchange Server environment is directly dependent on the expected level of performance. It is important to understand exactly what it is you are expecting from the system in terms of storage per user, level of responsiveness of the server, and room for anticipated expansion. When armed with these concepts, you can more accurately determine what your current capacity is.

The first step in capacity analysis is to grasp an understanding of these concepts and define performance expectations. This can be done by establishing policies and service level agreements (SLAs). It is in these policies and SLAs that an administrator can outline acceptable performance thresholds and more accurately gauge the capacity needs of Exchange Server 2010. These thresholds can also be used to accurately establish performance baselines from which to analyze the requirements against available resources.

To help develop the policies and SLAs, use questionnaires, interviews, business objectives, and the like along with performance measurements via the Performance Monitor, Exchange Best Practices Analyzer, or third-party analysis tools. This allows you to combine realistic expectations with concrete data to see where you are relative to where you want to be.

Establishing Baselines

The importance of establishing meaningful baselines of the messaging environment cannot be underscored enough. Baselines are particularly important in the sense that they are the measurable tools that can be used to balance what is required of Exchange Server 2010 with what resources are needed to fulfill those requirements. Achieving this balance can be made simpler if an administrator consults performance metrics, such as industry-standard benchmarks. By starting with an accurate baseline of system performance, you can quickly and easily test changes in the environment to see if they have made things better or worse. Accurate baselines are also very helpful when troubleshooting problems and you can quickly determine which subsystems are not performing the way they normally do. A clear baseline allows you to determine whether a server that “seems slow” really is slower than the way it usually runs.


Use ExchDump to assist with baselining the environment. ExchDump exports a server’s configuration, which can be useful to determine whether the build follows company standards. This is particularly important with Exchange Server clusters because each node in the cluster should be a replica of the other.

To establish an accurate baseline of Exchange Server 2010, a number of tools can help an administrator in this process. These tools are discussed in detail in the following sections. Some of these capacity analysis tools are built in to Windows Server 2008, and others are built in to Exchange Server 2010. Many third-party tools and utilities are also available for the careful measurement of Exchange Server 2010 capacity requirements and performance analysis.

Using the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer Tool

The Exchange Best Practices Analyzer (ExBPA) is a utility provided by Microsoft that analyzes an Exchange server’s configuration and informs administrators of possible configuration changes that can be made to improve performance or mitigate problems. More specifically, ExBPA can be used to perform a health check, a health and performance check, a connectivity test, and a baseline test. This tool, which was a download in previous versions of Exchange Server, is now a built-in tool. To access the Best Practices Analyzer, perform the following steps:

Launch Exchange Management Console.

If the left pane, scroll down and select Toolbox.

In the center pane, double click Best Practices Analyzer.

When the Best Practices Analyzer tool launches, check the Check for Updates on Startup check box, and click Check for Updates Now. Joining the Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program is optional.

If there are updates available, click Download the Latest Updates. This will ensure you have the latest version of the tool and any of the latest updates to their configuration rules.

After being updated, the tool closes, and you have to click it again.

Choose Go to Welcome Screen.

Click Select Options for a New Scan.

Type the name of your closest global catalog, and click Connect to the Active Directory Server.

Enter a label for this scan, choose the systems you want to scan, choose Health Check, and click Start Scanning.

When the tool has finished, click View a Report of This Best Practices Scan.

When viewing the report, an administrator is able to see any critical issues, nondefault settings, or recent changes to the system. This quickly identifies configuration settings that might be detrimental to the overall performance of the system. Be sure to always update the Best Practices Analyzer before running it because Microsoft is constantly adding new information to this tool.

The Informational Items tab offers a convenient and consolidated view of information that is typically captured in Exchange Server documentation. Take advantage of this view when tracking the configuration of your Exchange Server 2010 servers.

The Best Practices Analyzer also allows administrators to run a multi-hour performance baseline that serves as an excellent way to track overall changes in the performance of servers. By looking at several hour blocks of time and running the tool at the same time on the same day of the week, administrators can get a very accurate view of how the loads on their servers are affecting performance.

Planning for Growth

One of the easiest ways to maintain the performance of an Exchange Server 2010 server is to plan ahead for the growth of the environment. Too many administrators have a tendency to build an Exchange Server infrastructure that meets the storage and performance requirements of today but that fails to account for the growth of the company.

Typically, when designing an Exchange Server 2010 infrastructure, you should try to look ahead roughly 3 years to predict the size to which the company will grow. This is a good time to talk to groups such as Human Resources and Finance to see the rate at which the company has grown historically. This will give you a good idea of how many employees would be utilizing the Exchange Server environment in 3 years. This process should also uncover specific expansion plans for the company. For example, if the company were going to grow from 10,000 employees to 13,000 employees in 3 years, you would naturally consider that a 30% growth and would allow for an extra 30% capacity on servers. However, if the case were that 2,000 of those employees would be in a new facility in Japan that was going to be online in 2 years, it would really be a 10% growth across the enterprise and potentially a very large increase in capacity needs in Asia or perhaps an entirely new Exchange Server site in Japan.

Understanding these types of growth allow you to more easily plan for capacity growth and understand how the increase in user load will affect the performance of your Exchange Server 2010 servers in various sites.

The other thing to consider when planning for growth is the increases in usage of the Exchange Server environment. It is common to see companies increase the storage limits for users without changing the number of users on a server. There are also third-party technologies that might be in your 3-year plan that will leverage Exchange Server 2010 as a storage or transport. Voice mail systems, Structured Query Language (SQL), or Oracle implementations could quickly increase the loads placed on your Exchange Server 2010 servers.

The reason it is important to predict, as best you can, these anticipated growths is because it is often easier to account for these needs at the time of the Exchange Server 2010 design. Most companies are using storage area networks (SANs) or network attached storage (NAS) for the mailbox stores in Exchange Server. Although these systems do have the ability to resize their LUNs to offer additional storage, this is a very time-consuming process and it directly impacts the users on the server. Similarly, because these are usually shared storage devices, there is likely not enough spare capacity on the shelf or device to allocate more space to the Exchange servers. This results in the SAN or NAS administrator having to allocate additional space in a nonoptimal way, which can affect the performance of all the applications that attach to the NAS or SAN. That said, Exchange Server 2010 utilizing direct attached storage can generally be expanded easily by simply adding more disks, assuming the subsystem has room to allow for more disks. Based on this ability, administrators should consider avoiding deploying all 100 databases on a server from day 1.

  •  Examining Exchange Server 2010 Performance Improvements
  •  Recovering from a Disaster in an Exchange Server 2010 Environment : Recovering Active Directory
  •  Business Intelligence in SharePoint 2010 with Business Connectivity Services : External Content Types (part 3) - Creating an External Content Type for a Related Item
  •  Business Intelligence in SharePoint 2010 with Business Connectivity Services : External Content Types (part 2) - Defining the External Content Type
  •  Business Intelligence in SharePoint 2010 with Business Connectivity Services : External Content Types (part 1)
  •  Recovering from a Disaster in an Exchange Server 2010 Environment : Recovering from Database Corruption
  •  Recovering from a Disaster in an Exchange Server 2010 Environment : Recovering Exchange Server Application and Exchange Server Data
  •  Recovering from a Disaster in an Exchange Server 2010 Environment : Recovering from a Complete Server Failure
  •  Sharepoint 2007: Add a Column to a List or Document Library
  •  Sharepoint 2007: Create a New Document Library
  •  Sharepoint 2007: Open the Create Page for Lists and Libraries
  •  Exchange Server 2010 : Developments in High Availability (part 3) : Backup and restore
  •  Exchange Server 2010 : Developments in High Availability (part 2) : Configuring a Database Availability Group & Managing database copies
  •  Exchange Server 2010 : Developments in High Availability (part 1) : Exchange database replication & Database Availability Group and Continuous Replication
  •  High Availability in Exchange Server 2010 : Exchange Server database technologies
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  •  SharePoint Administration with PowerShell (part 2)
  •  SharePoint Administration with PowerShell (part 1)
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