Texas Christian University (TCU) is a private, coeducational school in Fort Worth, Texas. Until recently, TCU relied heavily on Microsoft® Exchange Server 2003 for e-mail, which it used to facilitate communication and collaboration among students and faculty. Due to student population growth and longer data retention policies, TCU had reached the limits of its e-mail storage system. Also, users were struggling with the relatively small mailbox sizes available to them. TCU decided to upgrade to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and to convert to native clustering. It also implemented highly virtualized HP 3PAR Utility Storage to boost disk capacity utilization. As a result, TCU reduced performance issues, increased mailbox size, implemented a clustered continuous replication solution, and provided a platform for continued growth.
Texas Christian University (TCU) is a private, coeducational university located in Fort Worth, Texas. Founded in 1873, the university’s mission is to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community. To provide a collaborative, vibrant, and world-class learning environment for its 8,700 students, TCU relies heavily on e-mail for communication and collaboration among students, faculty, and staff.
In 2004, TCU deployed Microsoft® Exchange Server 2003 e-mail messaging and collaboration software for its messaging needs. The solution supported 17,000 mailboxes from a primary data center in Fort Worth, with a backup data center located about a mile away. Between the two sites, TCU deployed 12 dedicated servers and 1.6 terabytes of data storage.
The university kept its 3,000 faculty and staff mailboxes on two pairs of servers that were clustered using a third-party application. Its four student mailbox servers were not clustered to reduce costs and could support 3,500 students each. The installation also included three front-end servers and a Public Folder server.
Every student was allotted 100 megabytes (MB) of mailbox storage, and most students accessed their e-mail using Microsoft Office Outlook® Web Access. Faculty and staff each received 200 MB of mailbox storage, and most used the Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 messaging and collaboration client to access e-mail.
While pleased with Exchange Server 2003, TCU was facing a hardware refresh and had outgrown its storage system as student population increased and as it implemented longer data retention policies. “We were starting to run into a brick wall with the hardware. This resulted in some user experience issues,” states Philip Howell, Client/Server Lead for Texas Christian University.
Students and faculty also struggled with the relatively small mailbox sizes available to them. Many users worked with large files related to research projects and found that their mailboxes were filling up quickly, which resulted in many special requests for increases in mailbox size. The university could not adequately address these requests for increased capacity with its existing storage environment. Scaling its infrastructure to meet its growing storage needs was often painful and not cost effective.
Another concern was the university’s server clustering solution. “We were using a third-party application to do our software mirroring and clustering. While we hadn’t experienced any problems, we were eager to use a Microsoft application to reduce complexity and software maintenance costs,” states Bryan Lucas, Executive Director of Technology Resources for Texas Christian University. “It was just one additional application that we had to manage and keep up to date.”Solution
The TCU IT team decided to upgrade to Exchange Server 2007 and to implement a highly virtualized storage infrastructure. The team’s goals for the project were to reduce performance issues, increase mailbox size, improve availability by utilizing Exchange Server 2007 cluster continuous replication (CCR), and provide a messaging platform for the continued growth of TCU.
||With HP 3PAR Utility Storage and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, we increased our maximum mailbox size by fivefold with only 1.2TB of initial storage allocation, compared to the 12.9TB of dedicated storage our previous storage solution would have required.
Client/Server Lead, Texas Christian University
TCU wanted to take advantage of the CCR functionality in Exchange Server 2007. CCR is an asynchronous replication technology that creates a copy of the mail databases.
The production mail database, or active node, is continuously copied to the passive, or backup, node using logs. If a failure occurs, the passive node is automatically activated without any impact to the end user. Howell explains, “With Exchange Server 2007 and CCR, we could introduce clustering in our primary data center and replicate to our disaster recovery center, thus allowing us to use a portion of the disaster recovery center for our production environment.”
TCU installed Exchange Server 2007 on 11 servers running the Windows Server® 2008 operating system. The architecture consisted of seven mailbox servers, two client access servers, and two hub-transport servers. TCU was able to consolidate its student mailboxes down to three blade servers. The number of mailboxes per server increased from 3,800 to more than 4,800. The servers are actually capable of handling about 6,500 users with Windows Server 2008.
For the 3,000 faculty mailboxes, TCU implemented two pairs of servers in CCR clusters. One server in each cluster is located in the main data center, and the second is located at the disaster recovery data center, providing geographic redundancy without having to implement additional clusters.
TCU used Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V™ virtualization technology to streamline its testing of Exchange Server 2007. By setting up the test environment on virtual machines, TCU was able to perform all of the testing quickly on one server.Adding Data Storage Capacity
TCU decided that a converged storage solution was the most cost-effective option for the university. “As energy costs become more relevant to our budget, we started looking at storage alternatives,” explains Lucas. TCU purchased an HP 3PAR Storage System to handle the university’s storage needs, including the storage for Exchange Server 2007. The platform's pioneering thin technologies helped TCU boost capacity utilization by removing allocated but unused space from its aging storage volumes. TCU also implemented HP 3PAR System Reporter Software for monitoring and reporting on performance and capacity usage across the system.
With improved data storage, TCU administrators were able to increase e-mail storage allocations for students from 100 MB to 500 MB per mailbox, and for faculty and staff from 200 MB to 1 gigabyte (GB) per mailbox. TCU now allocates 4 terabytes per student server for data storage, with another 300 GB for logs, for a total of 4.3 terabytes per server. Thanks to HP 3PAR Thin Provisioning Software, TCU only uses about 350 GB of physical storage per server, resulting in a total usage of about 1 terabyte for all three servers. Thin Provisioning enabled TCU to save 75 percent of physical storage that was not purchased.Easing Administration Tasks
Exchange Server 2007 provides the TCU IT staff with updated administrative functionality. For instance, staff now can remotely manage Exchange Server 2007 from a desktop computer through the Exchange Management Console in Exchange Server 2007. The Exchange Management Shell, built on the Windows® PowerShell™ command line interface, provides a rich, flexible scripting environment that reduces the complexity of creating scripts and makes it easier to perform tasks in bulk, such as user account creation.
Says Lucas, “The changes to the Exchange Management Shell are phenomenal. Our administrators can use scripts for most everything they need to do. If they get stuck trying to figure out how something works, they have the help available right there; they don’t have to go digging around.”
TCU also streamlined administration considerably by moving to HP 3PAR Utility Storage. The built-in management capabilities of the HP 3PAR Storage System have drastically reduced overall management complexity and administrative effort. For example, TCU no longer wastes time carving out LUNs (Logical Unit Numbers) and can add storage “on-the-fly” to accommodate its expanding student population.
Deploying the Solution
||We moved the entire student population to Exchange Server 2007 over a holiday break…. All the mailboxes were moved at night. Anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 mailboxes a night were moved, depending on mailbox size.
Client/Server Lead, Texas Christian University
TCU first deployed Exchange Server 2007 to its students. “We moved the entire student population to Exchange Server 2007 over a holiday break, when a majority of the students were not on campus. All the mailboxes were moved at night,” explains Howell. “Anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 mailboxes a night were moved, depending on mailbox size.” After the student mailbox move, TCU migrated all faculty and staff mailboxes.
“The configuration of Microsoft Exchange 2007 clustering was pretty easy to set up,” says Howell. “I estimate it took four hours from the time that we finished racking the hardware to the time we were ready to move mailboxes to the servers. It’s really unbelievable how easy it is to implement successfully.”Benefits
By upgrading to Exchange Server 2007 and consolidating servers, TCU has improved the performance and availability of its communications solution and raised not only allotted mailbox size, but also the online access to the network by students, faculty, and staff.
Fewer Performance Issues
TCU saw immediate performance benefits from the combination of Exchange Server 2007 and HP 3PAR Utility Storage. Server latency—the time that it takes for the server to respond to a request for data—has been reduced from 45 milliseconds to 5 milliseconds, across the board. Disk queues—a measure of how many outstanding requests are waiting for service to either a logical or physical disk—have been virtually eliminated, dropping from up to six times the recommended maximum, to nearly zero. The smaller the number for disk queues, the faster the response the users receive.
Reduced Storage Requirements, Increased Mailbox Size
The fivefold increase in mailbox size is a huge benefit for users. And, due to HP 3PAR Thin Provisioning Software, TCU can allocate storage to Exchange Server mailboxes only when it is needed. “With HP 3PAR Utility Storage and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, we increased our maximum mailbox size by fivefold with only 1.2TB of initial storage allocation, compared to the 12.9TB of dedicated storage our previous storage solution would have required. As usage increases, we can transparently add storage," adds Howell. "We didn't have to purchase idle excess capacity.”
TCU estimated that using direct attached storage would have cost nearly U.S.$3 per mailbox in storage costs alone. With Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and HP 3PAR Thin Provisioning Software, the storage cost per mailbox was reduced by 80 percent to approximately 60 cents per mailbox.Improved Web Access
With the Exchange Server 2007 solution, TCU’s help desk has seen a decrease in calls, thanks to the increase in e-mail storage. Howell estimates that calls to the help desk related to mailbox storage have been reduced by 85 percent.
With Exchange Server 2007, the enhanced Outlook Web Access program has improved access to e-mail and public folders for TCU students, faculty, and staff who are away from their desktops or portable computers running Office Outlook 2007. Notably, many students have commented that Outlook Web Access 2007 calendaring is much richer, enabling them to better coordinate schedules to reduce the frustration associated with determining meeting times between classmates and professors.
Higher Availability at Lower Cost
By using CCR in Exchange Server 2007 to help ensure high availability, TCU is saving $6,500 a year, which is the annual cost of the third-party solution it previously used for clustering. Howell states, “Though our experience with our third-party clustering product was outstanding, it added an additional layer of complexity, as well as an additional vendor. By using failover clustering services in Windows Server 2008 and CCR technologies in Exchange Server 2007, we simplified our environment and support paths.”
In addition to raising data and service availability, CCR also provides for scheduled outages. When the TCU IT team needs to install updates or perform maintenance, an administrator can manually switch to the passive node to perform the needed maintenance.
CCR also enables TCU to perform tape backups against the passive node, resulting in more stable performance. Says Howell, “Complexity has definitely been reduced, and the clustering is easier to manage, thanks to CCR.”Enhanced Operating System
TCU is delighted with the combination of Windows Server 2008 and Exchange Server 2007. “Windows Server 2008 is light years ahead in terms of ease of use and reliability,” explains Lucas. “Setting up clustering was much easier than what we had experienced in the past.”
By using Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V virtualization technology for its test environment, TCU was able to reduce costs related to the testing of Exchange Server 2007. “Now, when we test, we don’t have to worry about hardware rental or upgrading the test lab to handle the power draw for a new rack of equipment. When we virtualized, it essentially reduced our hardware cost down to zero,” Lucas says.Scalability for Future Growth
With Exchange Server 2007, scaling for future growth is simple. As the university continues to add students, it can easily install additional storage to the HP 3PAR Storage System or additional blade servers—with little to no impact on the existing infrastructure.
HP 3PAR Utility Storage
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Learn more at:
www.hp.com and www.hp.com/go/3PAR
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