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Demystifying Exchange 2010 SP1 Virtualization


i-away

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It’s been a few months since we announced some major changes to our virtualization support statements for Exchange 2010 (see Announcing Enhanced Hardware Virtualization Support for Exchange 2010).
Over that time, I’ve received quite a few excellent questions about
particular deployment scenarios and how the changes to our support
statements might affect those deployments. Given the volume of
questions, it seemed like an excellent time to post some additional
information and clarification.

First of all, a bit of
background. When we made the changes to our support statements, the
primary thing we wanted to ensure was that our customers wouldn’t get
into a state where Exchange service availability might be reduced as a
result of using a virtualized deployment. To put it another way, we
wanted to make sure that the high level of availability that can be
achieved with a physical deployment of the Exchange 2010 product would
not in any way be reduced by deploying on a virtualization platform. Of
course, we also wanted to ensure that the product remained functional
and that we verified that the additional functionality provided by the
virtualization stack would not provide an opportunity for loss of any
Exchange data during normal operation.

Given these points, here’s a quick overview of what we changed and what it really means.

With Exchange 2010 SP1 (or later) deployed:
  • All Exchange 2010 server roles, including Unified Messaging, are supported in a virtual machine.
  • Unified Messaging virtual machines have the following special requirements:
    • Four virtual processors are required for the virtual machine. Memory should be sized using standard best practices guidance.
    • Four
      physical processor cores are available for use at all times by each
      Unified Messaging role virtual machine. This requirement means that no
      processor oversubscription can be in use. This requirement affects the
      ability of the Unified Messaging role virtual machine to utilize
      physical processor resources.
  • Exchange server virtual machines (including Exchange Mailbox virtual machines that are part of a DAG),
    may be combined with host-based failover clustering and migration
    technology, as long as the virtual machines are configured such that
    they will not save and restore state on disk when moved, or taken
    offline. All failover activity must result in a cold boot when the
    virtual machine is activated on the target node. All planned migration
    must either result in shutdown and cold boot, or an online migration
    that makes use of a technology like Hyper-V Live Migration. Hypervisor
    migration of virtual machines is supported by the hypervisor vendor;
    therefore, you must ensure that your hypervisor vendor has tested and
    supports migration of Exchange virtual machines. Microsoft supports
    Hyper-V Live Migration of these virtual machines.

Let’s go over some definitions to make sure we are all thinking about the terms in those support statements in the same way.

  • Cold boot
    This refers to the action of bringing up a system from a power-off
    state into a clean start of the operating system. No operating system
    state has been persisted in this case.
  • Saved state
    When a virtual machine is powered off, hypervisors typically have the
    ability to save the state of the virtual machine at that point in time
    so that when the machine is powered back on it will return to that state
    rather than going through a “cold boot” startup. “Saved state” would be
    the result of a “Save” operation in Hyper-V.
  • Planned migration
    When a system administrator initiates the move of a virtual machine
    from one hypervisor host to another we call this a planned migration.
    This could be a single migration, or a system admin could configure some
    automation that is responsible for moving the virtual machine on a
    timed basis or as a result of some other event that occurs in the system
    other than hardware or software failure. The key point here is that the
    Exchange virtual machine is operating normally and needs to be
    relocated for some reason – this can be done via a technology like Live
    Migration or vMotion. If the Exchange virtual machine or the hypervisor
    host where the VM is located experiences some sort of failure condition,
    then the result of that would not be “planned”.

Virtualizing Unified Messaging Servers

One
of the changes made was the addition of support for the Unified
Messaging role on Hyper-V and other supported hypervisors. As I
mentioned at the beginning of this article, we did want to ensure that
any changes we made to our support statement resulted in the product
remaining fully functional and providing the best possible service to
our users. As such, we require Exchange Server 2010 SP1 to be deployed
for UM support. The reason
for this is quite straightforward. The UM role is dependent on a media
component provided by the Microsoft Lync team. Our partners in Lync did
some work prior to the release of Exchange 2010 SP1 to enable high
quality real-time audio processing in a virtual deployment, and in the
SP1 release of Exchange 2010 we integrated those changes into the UM
role. Once that was accomplished, we did some additional testing to
ensure that user experience would be as optimal as possible and modified
our support statement.

As you’ll notice, we do have specific
requirements around CPU configuration for virtual machines (and
hypervisor host machines) where UM is being run. This is additional
insurance against poor user experience (which would show up as poor
voice quality).

Host-based Failover Clustering & Migration

Much
of the confusion around the changed support statement stems from the
details on combination of host-based failover clustering & migration
technology with Exchange 2010 DAGs). The guidance here is really quite simple.

  • First, let’s talk about whether we support third-party migration technology
    (like VMware’s vMotion). Microsoft can’t make “support” statements for
    the integration of 3rd-party hypervisor products using these
    technologies with Exchange 2010, as these technologies are not part of
    the Server Virtualization Validation Program
    (SVVP) which covers the other aspects of our support for 3rd-party
    hypervisors. We make a generic statement here about support, but in
    addition you need to ensure that your hypervisor vendor supports the
    combination of their migration/clustering technology with Exchange 2010.
    To put it as simply as possible: if your hypervisor vendor supports
    their migration technology with Exchange 2010, then we support Exchange
    2010 with their migration technology.

  • Second, let’s talk about how we define host-based failover clustering. This refers to any
    sort of technology that provides automatic ability to react to
    host-level failures and start affected VMs on alternate servers
    .
    Use of this technology is absolutely supported within the provided
    support statement given that in a failure scenario, the VM will be
    coming up from a cold boot on the alternate host. We want to ensure that
    the VM will never come up from saved state that is persisted on disk,
    as it will be “stale” relative to the rest of the DAG members.

  • Third, when it comes to migration technology in the support statement, we are talking about any sort of technology that allows a planned move of a VM from one host machine to another.
    Additionally, this could be an automated move that occurs as part of
    resource load balancing (but is not related to a failure in the system).
    Migrations are absolutely supported as long as the VMs never come up
    from saved state that is persisted on disk. This means that technology
    that moves a VM by transporting the state and VM memory over the network
    with no perceived downtime are supported for use with Exchange 2010.
    Note that a 3rd-party hypervisor vendor must provide support for the
    migration technology, while Microsoft will provide support for Exchange
    when used in this configuration. In the case of Microsoft Hyper-V, this
    would mean that Live Migration is supported, but Quick Migration is not.

With Hyper-V, it’s important to be aware that the default behavior when selecting the “Move” operation on a VM is actually to perform a Quick Migration. To stay in a supported state with Exchange 2010 SP1 DAG
members, it’s critical that you adjust this behavior as shown in the VM
settings below (the settings displayed here represent how you should
deploy with Hyper-V):

Figure 1:
Figure 1: The correct Hyper-V virtual machine behavior for Database Availability Group members

Let’s
review. In Hyper-V, Live Migration is supported for DAG members, but
Quick Migration is not. Visually, this means that this is supported:

Screenshot: Live Migration of Database Availability Group in Hyper-V
Figure 2: Live Migration of Database Availability Group member in Hyper-V is supported (see large screenshot)

And this is not supported:

Screenshot: Quick Migration of Database Availability Group in Hyper-V
Figure 3: Quick Migration of Database Availability Group members is not supported

Hopefully
this helps to clarify our support statement and guidance for the SP1
changes. We look forward to any feedback you might have!


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