How migrating to Exchange Server 2010 can save money on storage

See how one company cut storage costs by migrating from a mixed Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange 2007 environment to Exchange Server 2010.

When Steve Derbyshire, IT operations director at NEC Philips Unified Solutions UK, decided to implement Exchange Server 2010, he says he did so for three primary reasons: to get everyone on the same level of server software, to improve resiliency and to reduce storage costs, if possible.

Migrating to Exchange Server 2010 -- More bang for the buck
Since migrating to Exchange Server 2010 in July 2009 as part of the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program, the company has increased its email system storage capacity by a factor of eight through the use of serial ATA (SATA) disks, Derbyshire said. This comes at only 25% the cost of new Fibre Channel (FC) disks, which would have been required if the company had maintained its mixed Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange 2007 environment, he added.

While NEC Philips' small Exchange Server 2003 system had been on a single direct-attached storage (DAS) server, its Exchange Server 2007 environment was backed by a Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN). "We were nearing 80% or higher capacity on the SAN, and we would have had to extend it had we stayed with Exchange [Server] 2007," said Matt Hawkins, consulting team leader at NEC Philips.

In terms of storage volume, NEC Philips had 500 GB of storage allocated to Exchange Server 2007. The company now has 6 TB for Exchange Server 2010 and spend only a quarter of what it would have to double the Fibre Channel SAN capacity to 1 TB, said Hawkins. "We've even done away with mailbox limits; we've got so much SATA that storage mailbox size is not a problem."

"We knew going to SATA gave us the potential to do something like this, but until we got Exchange [Server] 2010 up and running, did all the calculations and made sure we had sufficient bandwidth between our two sites, we weren't sure we were going to be able to do it," Derbyshire added. "I thought we would [save money], but I hadn't expected it to be quite as dramatic as this."

To date, NEC Philips has saved roughly $3,000 in storage costs, but this is a drop in the bucket, added Derbyshire. "Ours is a small installation; extrapolate that up to a large organization and the numbers get interesting."

More significantly, NEC Philips has eliminated third-party cold-standby and associated costs using Exchange Server 2010's database availability group (DAG) capability. With DAG, NEC Philips can run a secondary, active server for disaster recovery. Using DAG on SATA will save the company roughly $19,000 a year, Derbyshire said.

Spinning up Exchange Server 2010 savings
Unlike its predecessors, Exchange Server 2010 offers disk input/output (I/O) that's suitable for economical SATA disks. According to Microsoft, Exchange Server 2010's latest mail server software lowers overall disk I/O by up to 70% compared to Exchange Server 2007.

"Exchange [Server] 2003 is a high I/O, read/write technology because it's reading and writing all over the platter -- wherever it finds open spots," said Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, a Microsoft consulting firm in Oakland, Calif. "It's designed that way because when it was built, there were no fast hard drives or large memory spaces. But now, when we can put 16 GB or 32 GB of RAM in a 64-bit computer and have four or eight cores for processing the information, that [technology] doesn't make sense."

In the background, Exchange Server 2010 defragments the disk and cleans up all open spots so that it writes information sequentially. "This might make it 20% to 30% slower to write, but the read time is 40% faster," Morimoto said. At end of the day, this means storage cost reductions for enterprises.

"The fabric that organizations have to lay down for Exchange [Server] for storage went from $10,000 to $25,000 per terabyte of very high-speed Fibre Channel to $500 hard drives," Morimoto said. "Do the math -- $25,000 a terabyte or $500 a terabyte. Which one would you choose?"

Like NEC Philips, George Hamin, director of e-business and information systems at Subaru Canada of Mississauga, Ontario, also relishes that it no longer needs to invest in Fibre Channel drives for its Exchange Server environment.

"Originally, we had only a small portion of our user base email -- basically for just the most important people, like directors and vice presidents -- on the SAN, backed up and replicated," Hamin said. "The rest of the user community had local storage. Now we're in the process of moving everybody over to SAN without having to upgrade the SAN itself. We'll have to add disk to accommodate the additional mailboxes, but the actual processor itself doesn't need to change."

This is the kind of capability that makes Exchange Server 2010 more affordable than Exchange Server 2007, which Subaru Canada migrated from per terms of its maintenance agreement, Hamin said.

SAN sensibility
With examples like these, Microsoft widely touts storage cost reductions among the chief benefits of migrating to Exchange Server 2010. In a return on investment/cost savings analysis Microsoft completed with 100 early adopters, the company found the average savings was in the 50% to 80% range, said Julia White, director of Exchange product management at Microsoft.

"We saw a ton of savings around the storage side, as well as high availability and the DAG architecture," said White. "That's where you see the hard-cost savings as companies look to increase mailbox sizes and use lower-cost storage to make that economically sensible," she said.

As an example, White points to financial services firm BCG Partners. Once BCG Partners migrated to Exchange Server 2010, she said, the company was able to redeploy a $1 million SAN from email to another project, instead using a couple hundred thousand dollar DAS-based storage solution.

"Across all of early adopters that deployed on a lower-cost storage model, the numbers are pretty staggering," White said. "Cost-savings, if not the first, is the second reason in terms of what's compelling people to migrate to Exchange [Server] 2010."

Morimoto, however, says he hasn't seen cost savings from storage as a primary migration driver among his clients, although, he has no doubt that there are savings to be had. But migrating doesn't come for free, added Morimoto, even if you've got a software assurance license for free upgrades.

Schultz is a longtime IT writer based in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

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