Microsoft Exchange Server, especially aspects of Exchange administration, has become increasingly important to business operations in recent years. For example, 10 years ago, having Internet email was a nice but unnecessary capability. Today, most businesses would be hard-pressed to operate without it. Consequently, antivirus and antispam concerns are constantly on most administrators' minds.

But another, lesser-known, management category—storage management—is a fascinating and fast-changing field that's commanding the attention of Exchange administrators. As Exchange stores grow larger—and as their business value increases—administrators need new and better ways to manage that storage, and vendors are eagerly building new products that deliver storage-management improvements.

Storage management encompasses a variety of tasks, including backing up and restoring data, monitoring and managing the use and availability of space on storage systems, and replicating or copying Exchange data. However, the hot spot in Exchange storage management is making point-in-time (or snapshot) copies to speed backup-and-restore operations. The introduction of Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) in Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003's support for VSS have convinced several storage vendors to build software that uses VSS.

For more complete background information about VSS, see "Volume Shadow Copy Service," April 2003, InstantDoc ID 38282. For now, here's a brief refresher: VSS-aware systems need three components: a requestor that asks VSS to copy data, a writer that lets specific applications use VSS to write data, and a provider that copies that data.

Exchange 2003 includes a VSS writer, so to start managing Exchange storage you need to obtain only the appropriate requestor and provider. Requestors are typically built into backup programs; the Windows NTBackup utility includes a simple requestor.

Computer Associates (CA), VERITAS Software, and other backup vendors are racing to add VSS providers to their products. Obtaining a provider can be complicated because VSS generally requires a Storage Area Network (SAN). Several major SAN vendors, including EMC and HP, have announced or delivered VSS provider support, and other major vendors are closely watching customer demand to determine whether they should do so. I'm betting that competitive pressure will eventually force all the major SAN vendors to adopt VSS.

If you aren't using a SAN, you still might be able to gain some of the benefits of point-in-time data copying by using a third-party replication product to copy your Exchange data from one location to another. Several vendors offer Exchange replication products, ranging from software-only packages such as VERITAS Storage Foundation to hardware-based replication solutions such as EMC's Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF) family of products. Microsoft doesn't support the use of third-party replication in Exchange, however, so you'll need to choose your vendor carefully to make sure you have adequate support.

This Buyers' Guide lists VSS and replication products that work with Exchange. As you investigate these products, be sure to ask the vendors for customer references so that you can get an assessment of how well the products work in production environments. Being an early adopter of storage-related technologies is somewhat risky because the data that the products store and protect is so important.

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