The HP E5000 series of appliances lets customers experience the benefits of Exchange Server 2010 (e.g., large mailboxes, archiving, high availability) without the need to fully scope and scale a custom solution. Sizing an Exchange deployment is typically a complex undertaking that requires careful analysis of the many factors built into a user profile. In the HP E5000 series, HP does that sizing for you. It provides a variety of models that cater to small and mid-sized deployments. The HP E5300, HP E5500, and HP E5700 appliances support up to 500 users, 1,000 users, and 3,000 users, respectively, with mailboxes ranging from 1GB to 2.5GB in size. You can add additional units, taking deployments up to 15,000 users. The appliances can also be used in branch offices of large enterprises, providing an easy-to-deploy and uniform way of supporting remote sites.
Although HP has done all the sizing for you, it's important to note that you need to stick to the usage profile outlined. For example, if you start adding BlackBerry or other devices that create an additional load on the Exchange server, you might have to consider reducing the number of supported users. For complex scenarios, you might consider discussing your deployment with an Exchange consultant to see whether an appliance solution or a traditional (and more scalable) hardware solution makes more sense.
It's also important to note that once an HP E5000 appliance is up and running, it's not really any different than any other Exchange server in your organization in terms of management. For this reason, I'll spend more time discussing how to install and configure the appliance than on how to manage it.
Installing and Configuring the System
The first thing that will strike you when you receive your HP E5000 appliance is just how large and heavy it is. Although it doesn't take up much space in a rack (only 3U when used without additional storage shelves), the unit is very deep. As such, it's worth checking the specifications and your existing racks to make sure it will fit.
I tested the HP E5300 unit, which Figure 1 shows. It's comprised of a pair of ProLiant c-Class blades, which sit alongside a storage unit that can hold up to sixteen 3.5" Serial ATA (SATA) or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives. The HP E5300 requires only 12 drives to support the 500 users allowed. These drives store the Exchange data. In each blade, there are two small-form-factor drives, which are used for OS and application installation. As part of the setup process, you'll end up with the storage carved up between the two blades. Each blade forms part of a database availability group (DAG) and runs the three core Exchange server roles (i.e., Mailbox, Client Access, and Hub Transport). This gives you a highly available deployment of sorts, although to be complete, you'll need a hardware load balancer to provide high availability for the client connections.
I used the HP quick start documentation to guide me through the install process. After setting up the rack and cables, you begin the configuration process by setting your administrative workstation to a specific IP address on the same subnet that comes preconfigured on the appliance. Afterward, you log on to the Environmental Monitoring Unit (EMU -- think of this as the chassis and storage subsystem) and the Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) cards (which give you a console KVM connection to the blades themselves). In general, I found the quick start guide useful and clear. However, it didn't mention one item that caused a problem: the need for a 1GBps or higher switch. It turns out that the NICs are 10GBps and will only negotiate down to 1GBps and no lower. After I found a suitable switch, the install process proceeded nicely.
After you've configured the relevant network and password settings, you can begin to configure the first blade. The blades come with Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 pre-installed, so you just need to run a wizard to complete the OS setup. Once complete, the HP Configuration Wizard automatically loads and connects to the EMU to set up the storage options and run diagnostics, among other things. Another wizard then guides you through configuring a server OS administrator password, network settings, and domain and computer name settings. Afterward, you must manually run the Schema preparation using the Exchange setup.com program in the normal way for Exchange 2010, but all the relevant files are already loaded on the server.
With the basics completed, the HP E5000 Messaging System Quick Deployment tool starts up and takes you through the deployment of Exchange 2010. If you're familiar with deploying Exchange, you'll recognize all the usual questions. As Figure 2 shows, the questions have simply been laid out one on page, with information to guide you through the choices. I must admit, though, that the information could be better. There were a couple of elements that weren't clear. For example, I already had an Exchange 2007 server in my predominantly Exchange 2003 organization. Therefore, this server had the routing group connector configured and the public folder replicas on it. The wizard didn't pick up on this and still allowed me to try to set up a connector to the new Exchange 2010 server, which then failed and essentially broke the wizard. After a call to HP support and some messing around in the registry, I got back on track. So, while this page is nice and allows you to enter most of the basic configuration information that Exchange needs (including the information needed to create or join a DAG), there are some pitfalls.
After I resolved the problems and got Blade 1 installed, I repeated the process for Blade 2, except this time I joined the DAG created previously.
Aside from the deployment wizards, there are a few other nice touches. For example, before the deployment, you have the chance to run the Exchange Pre-Deployment Analyzer and JetStress to validate the storage. After the deployment, you can run the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer to validate the system.
Managing the System
After the system is deployed, HP provides the capability to keep the hardware up-to-date with the latest firmware. However, the Windows and Exchange software updating is entirely up to you. As such, you'll still need to manage patches, antivirus updates, and antispam updates the same way you would manage them in a standard Exchange deployment. In fact, aside from some HP tools built into the Server Manager window, there's nothing to distinguish this deployment from a standard Exchange deployment. The built-in tools give you an overview of the system's health through views of the hardware state and services state, as well as some basic information on the state of Exchange. For example, in the standard Server Manager interface, you'll find a node named System and Network Settings in the HP E5000 System Manager area. It gives you a page full of links to access the HP installed utilities, such as the HP Array Configuration Utility, HP Lights-Out Configuration Utility, and HP System Management Homepage. The latter provides a window into the hardware of the system, much like you get with any HP server.
On the HP E5000 System Manager node, you can get access to reports on the status of Exchange. The reports are essentially precanned PowerShell commands whose results are shown in the Server Manager window. Among other things, you can see the status of the mailbox databases and high availability copies as well as reports on mail queues and numbers of active users being served by the Client Access servers.
Some administrators might feel that HP and Microsoft should have included Microsoft Forefront Online Protection for Exchange (FOPE) and a management console that reports on key indicators with the appliance. However, other administrators might be pleased that they can manage the appliance just like any other Exchange server.
Well Worth Evaluating
The HP E5000 series is a great system to get an Exchange deployment up and running quickly. If the prepackaged units fit your user population needs, then all will be well. If not, consider using a traditional Exchange deployment instead. The appliances are easy to configure, and HP support is generally helpful once you reach the right department. The HP E5000 series is well-worth evaluating if you're planning a small or mid-sized Exchange deployment or you need a simple yet efficient branch office solution. Windows IT Pro contributing editors Paul Robichaux and Tony Redmond helped HP create a series of videos about the HP E5000 series if you'd like more information about the appliance. Go to www.youtube.com/hewlettpackardvideos and search on E5000.
HP E5000 Messaging System for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010