E-mail has become the most critical tool for businesses today, and Microsoft Exchange is central, with its approximate 80 percent market share in the small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and small-to-medium enterprises (SME) e-mail markets. The outage of an Exchange server immediately puts IT managers at the center of chaos with a business imperative to recover and restore Exchange services as soon as possible. In an informal survey of corporate IT users, Exchange availability and recovery was named as their No. 1 pain point in 2007 and so far in 2008. It is easy to understand why. The business impact of an Exchange failure has made protecting Exchange environments on the top of every SMB and SME’s to do list. It is so important and widely-used, implementing managing and protecting Exchange environments are on the top of every IT managers “to do” list.
Channel providers selling or implementing Exchange systems know that the top concerns are managing their customers’ rapid growth in e-mail data, avoiding downtime, and recovering from outages. A recent report from Osterman Research found that e-mail growth has increased more than 20 percent a year. At the same time, the average e-mail system experiences nearly 70 minutes of downtime a month. E-mail systems are becoming more critical and integral to all business activities, and users are becoming less and less tolerant of downtime. At the same time IT managers have to commit to higher e-mail availability requirements and faster recovery times in internal service level agreements (SLAs), requirements they just don’t have the ability to meet. Add in tighter budgets and fewer skilled IT resources, and you can see why IT management is under stress.
Legacy tape backup systems have largely been relegated to archival storage applications and are no longer viable as the first line of defense for data protection and disaster recovery. For most SMB and SME customers the potential risk of hours or days of downtime inherent with tape-based data recovery is no longer acceptable. Other customers have implemented point products such as clustering or replication technologies to protect data, but are still looking for a better solution. These techniques do not support continuous availability of applications and are also incapable of meeting the instant recovery time objectives demanded by businesses today. Snapshots have become a widely-used option to attempt rapid recovery, but they address only a small piece of the data availability puzzle and still leave a company vulnerable to losing any new data created since the last snapshot was taken, which can include anywhere from five minutes to several hours of email.
Additionally, the design of Microsoft Exchange itself can be the source of problems for SMB/SME customers during downtime. During recovery, Exchange is not usable until all of the data is ready. The application requires a series of checks in order for the application to reload, a process that can keep email disabled for hours.
Most businesses would find it difficult if not impossible to operate for a few hours, let alone an entire day, without access to e-mail. The lost business and customer service shortfalls will put a serious dent in the bottom line of any business.
Another challenge for Exchange users is moving the corporate e-mail system from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007. Data protection and recovery during migration is paramount, as failure or other problems occur most frequently during this step.
When helping end user customers decide on appropriate solutions, end users should consider the following to ensure continuous availability:
- How critical is your Exchange data?
- What is the potential business impact of an Exchange outage? What happens in the company when email services go down?
- What is your SLA for Exchange availability and recovery time?
- How much data is at risk in your backup window? How long would it take to recreate this data if you had to recover to the last backup?
- Would it be valuable to be able to recover to any point-in-time within seconds?
While most IT users are focused on data accessibility and recovery, data recovery is useless without access to the application that created the data. Only by delivering a package of services that addresses both rapid data and application recovery can resellers provide their customers with a complete and safe recovery solution.
Gary Gysin is the CEO of Asempra Technologies that provides solutions to the issue with Exchange through its business continuity server.
"Appeared in DRJ's Winter 2009 Issue"