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Exchange Server 2013 Management and Maintenance Practices (part 6) - Prioritizing and Scheduling Maintenance Best Practices

12/22/2014 8:02:47 PM
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Best Practices for Performing Database Maintenance

The Exchange Server storage system is a database and requires routine maintenance to perform efficiently and prevent failures. Exchange Server 2013 fully automates the routine maintenance tasks of defragmentation and compaction. Exchange Server 2013 has advanced the health of the messaging system through the introduction of the following:

• Continuous online database defragmentation

• Continuous online database compaction

• Continuous online database contiguity maintenance

These features eliminate any necessity for planned downtime to perform database maintenance.

As messaging environments have evolved from “nice to have” to “business critical,” database maintenance has evolved from “should be done” to “must be done.” Potential causes of database corruption include the following:

• Improper shutting down of the system, including unexpected power outages

• A poorly maintained disk subsystem

• Hardware failures

• Failure to use or review systems or operational management tools

• Manual modification of Exchange Server databases

Automatic Database Maintenance

Exchange Server 2013 automatically performs database maintenance procedures on a nightly basis during the scheduled maintenance window. Exchange Server 2013 performs two distinct activities: Online Maintenance (OLM) and Online Defragmentation (OLD). OLM starts by default at 1:00 a.m. every day, whereas OLD is continuous.


Note

This is different than in Exchange Server 2007, in which OLD ran during the OLM process, resulting in potentially poor performance during maintenance windows and the requirement to stagger maintenance schedules.


The following tasks are automatically performed by these processes (OLM and OLD):

Cleanup of deleted items and mailboxes—Cleanup also happens during OLM. Cleanup is performed at runtime when hard deletes occur.

Space compaction—The database is compacted and space is reclaimed at runtime. Automatically throttling performance demands avoids performance impact on end users.

Maintain contiguity—The database is analyzed for contiguity and space at runtime and is defragmented in the background. Automatically throttling performance demands avoids performance impact on end users. The contiguity maintenance is integrated to Exchange Server 2013 and improves performance significantly.

Database checksum—There are two options for the database checksum tasks, either run the background 24×7 (the default) or run during the OLM window. In both cases, the task runs against both active and passive copies of the database.

By default, the OLM maintenance schedule is set to run daily from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Because the maintenance cycle can be extremely resource intensive, this default schedule is intended to perform the maintenance during periods when most of an organization’s mail users are not connected. Organizations might find the need to adjust these schedules when there are users connecting from other parts of the world or when there are 24-hour operations. Organizations should also take their Exchange Server backup schedules into consideration.

The OLD task runs continuously but is auto-throttled to prevent impact to the end user.

Taken together, the automatic maintenance regime is much more effective at keeping the database healthy and performing. In particular, the contiguity maintenance of Exchange Server 2013 reduces the I/O of the database immensely.

Prioritizing and Scheduling Maintenance Best Practices

Exchange Server 2013 is a very efficient messaging system. However, as mailboxes and public folders are used, there is always the possibility of the logical corruption of data contained within the databases. It is important to implement a maintenance plan and schedule to minimize the impact that database corruption will have on the overall messaging system.

This section focuses on tasks that should be performed regularly—on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly schedule. Besides ensuring optimum health for an organization, following these best practices will have the additional benefit of ensuring that administrators are well informed about the status of their messaging environments.


Tip

Administrators should thoroughly document the Exchange Server 2013 messaging environment configuration and keep it up to date. In addition, a change log should be implemented that is used to document changes and maintenance procedures for the environment. This change log should be meticulously maintained.


Daily Maintenance

Daily maintenance routines require the most frequent attention of an Exchange Server administrator. However, these tasks should not take a significant amount of time to perform.

Verify the Online Backup

One of the key differences between disaster and disaster recovery is the ability for an organization to resort to backups of its environment if the need arises. Considering the potential impact to an environment if the data backed up is not recoverable, it is amazing to see how often backup processes are ignored. Many organizations implement a “set it and forget it” attitude, often relying on nontechnical administrative personnel to simply “swap tapes” on a daily basis.


Note

A “backup” in Exchange Server 2013 does not necessarily imply solely a backup to tape media as a backup would have been known by years ago. With Exchange Server 2013, a “backup” may be a replication of the database to another server, so the verification of the backup will be to confirm that the data has successfully replicated and is up to date on the secondary server.


Whatever method is used to back up an Exchange Server environment, daily confirmation of the success of the task should be mandatory. Although the actual verification process will vary based on the backup solution being utilized, the general concept remains the same. Review the backup program’s log file to determine whether the backup has successfully completed. If there are errors reported or the backup job set does not complete successfully, identify the cause of the error and take the appropriate action to resolve the problem.

Some best practices to keep in mind when backing up an Exchange Server environment are as follows:

• Keep note of how long the backup process is taking to complete. This time should match any service level agreements that might be in place.

• Determine the start and finish times of the backup process. Attempt to configure the environment so that the backup process completes before the nightly maintenance schedule begins.

• Verify that transaction logs are successfully truncated upon completion of the backup.

Check Free Disk Space

All volumes that Exchange Server 2013 resides on (Exchange Server system files, databases, transaction logs, and so forth) should be checked on a daily basis to ensure that ample free space is available. If the volume or partition runs out of disk space, no more information can be written to the disk, which causes Exchange Server to stop the Exchange Server services. This can also result in lost data and the corruption of messaging databases.

Although it is possible to perform this process manually, it is easily overlooked when “hot” issues arise. As a best practice, administrators can utilize System Center 2012 Operations Manager (OpsMgr) or a third-party product to alert administrators if free space dips below a certain threshold.

For organizations without the resources to implement such products, the process can be accomplished utilizing scripting technologies, with an email or network alert being generated when the free space falls below the designated threshold.

Review Message Queues

Message queues should be checked daily to ensure that the mail flow in the organization is not experiencing difficulties. The Queue Viewer in the Exchange Toolbox can be accomplished for this task.

If messages are found stuck in the queue, administrators can utilize the Message Tracking and Mail Flow Troubleshooter to determine the cause.

Check Event Viewer Logs

On Exchange Server 2013 servers, the application log within the Event Viewer should be reviewed daily for any warning or error level messages. Although some error messages might lead directly to a problem on the server, some might be symptomatic of other issues in the environment. Either way, it is best to evaluate and resolve these errors as soon as possible.

Filtering for these event types can assist with determining if any have occurred within the last 24 hours.

Alternatively, if a systems or operational management solution (such as System Center 2012 Operations Manager) is utilized, this process can be automated, with email or network notifications sent as soon as the error is generated.

Verify Database Replication

Exchange Server 2013 leverages database replication for both redundancy and high availability, as such, verifying that database replication is occurring in the manner that the organization has set and expects replication to be working is critical.

In environments that have multiple DAG copies, administrators should ensure that the copy and replay queues are near zero, or at least not growing.

 
Others
 
- Exchange Server 2013 Management and Maintenance Practices (part 5) - Message Tracking
- Exchange Server 2013 Management and Maintenance Practices (part 4) - SMTP Logging
- Exchange Server 2013 Management and Maintenance Practices (part 3) - Auditing the Environment
- Exchange Server 2013 Management and Maintenance Practices (part 2) - Remote Connectivity Analyzer
- Exchange Server 2013 Management and Maintenance Practices (part 1) - Maintenance Tools for Exchange Server 2013
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