Plan, monitor, and administer Exchange Server storage

Microsoft Exchange Server is one of the most popular messaging platforms for the Windows OS. However, it lacks some features that help email administrators perform their jobs most efficiently. Sun Microsytems' HighGround Storage Resource Manager (SRM) for Exchange Servers steps in to offer several of these helpful features. Highground SRM for Exchange Servers lets administrators monitor Exchange Server systems’ storage consumption, capacity, availability, and performance, as well the amount of email data that flows through each system. Its reports help you plan according to trends and create usage policies.

HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers is part of the SRM 4.0 family of products, which includes an Infrastructure Suite and an Application Suite. The Infrastructure Suite comprises HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers, SRM File Prospector Option, SRM Enterprise Edition for NetApp, and Surveyor SRM for Storage Consultants. The Application Suite currently includes only HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers. You purchase combinations of these products to meet your organization’s unique needs.

HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers isn’t a standalone product: It requires SRM Enterprise Edition. The products ship together on a CD-ROM. (To read the full-length review of SRM Enterprise Edition, see "Storage Resource Manager Enterprise Edition," http://www.win2000mag.com, InstantDoc ID 19886.) When you install HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers, SRM Enterprise Edition is installed automatically. HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers includes the HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers application and the HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers Agent. You only need to install the application on one server in your network. The product then installs Agents on the other Exchange Server machines you want to manage. The Agents collect the desired information and forward it to the system on which you’ve installed the application.

My network has two Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 Service Pack 3 (SP3) servers, both of which run Windows NT 4.0 SP6a and have 512MB of RAM. One server is a 650MHz single-Pentium III processor system, on which I installed the SRM Enterprise Edition application, the HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers application, and the Agent. On the other server, a 450MHz dual-Pentium II processor system, setup installed only the Agent. HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers setup also installed its databases on my 533MHz single-Pentium Celeron system running Microsoft SQL Server 7.0. The installation went smoothly. In short order, HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers was collecting data.

The ADVISORS, REPORTS, POLICIES, CONFIGURATION, and Alerts sections make up the products intuitive, dynamic Web-based UI, which Figure 1 shows (the Alerts option appears in the UI’s lower left corner). Sun Microsystems describes ADVISORS’s functionality as Activity Analysis. The ADVISORS features report the average number of messages sent and received per day and the average daily disk I/O for each monitored server. The ADVISORS features also offer backup trending, growth, and effectiveness reports and capacity planning reports. ADVISORS gave me a useful bird’s-eye view of my Exchange Server systems. For example, I quickly discovered which Exchange Server machine handles the most traffic and whether my scheduled backup window is sufficient for backing up all necessary data.

The REPORTS section lets you view reports on all Exchange Servers, a specific site, a server, a public folder, or a mailbox. Also handy is REPORTS’s ability to create both mailbox and server groups. This feature is important for organizations with a large number of Exchange Server machines that support a variety of groups. For example, in REPORTS you can create a server group that lets you monitor all payroll Exchange Server machines. To monitor the payroll Exchange Server users, you can create a mailbox group; in this group, you can include mailboxes from any monitored Exchange Server machine in this group.

POLICIES, one of HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers’ most important sections, contains seven options: Mailbox Quotas, Public Folders, Spike Detection, File System Capacity, Message Aging, Backup Status, and Server Availability. Mailbox Quotas lets you limit a mailbox’s size, the number of messages a mailbox can contain, the size of a message that the mailbox can contain, and the collective size of a group of users’ mailboxes. Public Folders is similar to Mailbox Quotas in that it lets you configure limits for public-folder size, message size, and total size of all public folders.

Spike Detection defines your Exchange Server database’s average growth rate (e.g., 20MB per hour). HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers then notifies you when―during a mail storm, for example―the growth rate exceeds this value. File System Capacity lets you define the thresholds for local storage. HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers alerts you when space on an Exchange Server system’s hard disk drops below the threshold. Message Aging lets you choose to display the age of the messages that reports about public folders and mailboxes include.

You use Backup Status to define what you expect of backups. For example, you can specify that backups should occur nightly, within a 6-hour window. If the backup doesn’t meet the criteria you set, HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers sends an alert to an administrator. You can define whose mailbox or beeper will receive these alerts. Server Availability alerts you when it discovers an unmonitored Exchange Server machine or when it can’t contact a monitored Exchange Server machine.

The CONFIGURATION features let you control the HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers application. The server and mailbox groups that I configured in REPORTS also appeared in CONFIGURATION. Groups you create in the CONFIGURATION section appear in the sections in which you might want to apply the group. You can use CONFIGURATION to set the intervals at which HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers scans your network for systems on which you’ve installed Agents or new Exchange Server systems on which you need to install the Agent. You can also set the intervals at which the Agents scan the monitored machines. This section also contains licensing information and options to configure what information HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers’ reports contain. From this section, you can also install an Agent on a remote system. Remote installation is a great feature if your Exchange Server machines are scattered throughout your organization.

The final section, Alerts, simply displays alerts that HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers has generated. This straightforward section required no special configuration.

The print documentation included two manuals: a Getting Started Guide and an Implementation Guide. The documentation is well written and provides many helpful screen shots.

HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers not only simplified day-to-day Exchange Server administration but also helped me take a proactive approach to managing my Exchange Server machines. HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers delivered on its glossy brochure’s promises. Installation and testing ran without a hitch. The product’s collection of policies and reports let me plan for Information Store (IS) growth, ensure that my current backup schedule sufficiently supported my Exchange Server databases, and identify improperly allocated Exchange Server resources (e.g., mailboxes and public folders). Any organization that supports multiple Exchange Server systems should look seriously at purchasing this product.

HighGround Storage Resource Manager for Exchange Servers
Contact: Sun Microsystems * 508-460-5152 or 800-395-9385
Web: http://www.sun.com/storage/highground
Price: HighGround SRM for Exchange Servers is part of a build-your-own product suite for which the base price is $2000 per managed box
Decision Summary:
Pros: Flexible reporting; ability to monitor multiple Exchange Server machines; ability to monitor at the mailbox level
Cons: None significant