This week HP have announced their Exchange-in-a-box appliance solution for building Exchange mailbox servers. I was lucky enough to see one of these back in December under NDA and find this an interesting proposition (I only saw the new hardware itself – anything in this post is from publicly available information). The HP solution takes much of the mailbox sizing, design, testing and implementation away and simply presents a packaged solution that’s ready to slot into your existing Exchange 2010 infrastructure, or to use for a new implementation or upgrade.
Right now (you can’t buy the E5000 yet!) the options aren’t exactly too complicated – you can build an equivalent solution by using the Exchange sizing calculator, specifying the right server, performing testing on the machine to validate that the hardware meets your specification before moving towards implementation. You can accelerate some of the design already by using the HP Sizer for Exchange 2010, or one of the pre-configured parts lists such as this one supporting 1000 2GB mailboxes.
So initially, it doesn’t seem like the E5000 series brings a lot to the table that you can’t get with a little effort. However, having seen the hardware in the flesh (and it’s new!) it is pretty impressive and from what I saw, you won’t be able to get the same kit using off the shelf bits. But my general feeling is that if you try, you can get better value with other HP kit. For example, with the HP Sizer tool, I think that it defaults to higher end disks and server hardware than is actually needed and you could get better value by putting the effort in with Microsoft Exchange sizing calculator. It remains to be seen if the actual specifications of the E5000 series go by default for 2TB SATA/Midline SAS disks and maybe even JBOD.
Looking behind the marketing – what will be offered?
The first thing I was hoping to find was some pictures of what’s available so you can see how cool the E5000 series units look. However in all the marketing information I can’t find anything – so I’ll avoid describing what it’s comprised of. However I have found what appears to be the list of the models that will be available, listen on the download page for it’s recovery DVD:
- BV839A – HP E5300 12TB Messaging System
- BV840A – HP E5500 32TB Messaging System
- BV841A – HP E5700 80TB Messaging System
- BV895A – HP E5500 16TB Messaging System
- BV896A – HP E5700 40TB Messaging System
So, that’s a fairly confusing line-up. Two E5500 and two E5700 models – one might assume one is to be configured as a DAG and the other not, or perhaps one is JBOD, one is RAID? Is the 12TB usable storage for mailboxes? Or is it just the total storage including system disks? I’m guessing we won’t know for sure yet. Based on the press release, the E5300 will have a list price of $36,000. This doesn’t compare too favourably to the list price of an MDS600 with 35 2TB disks (~$26K) and a couple of DL380s with 12GB RAM (~9.6K) so I would hope that it’s usable, RAID storage that’s inside.
So it’s an appliance.. Won’t I still need to test it? And can I add it into an existing Exchange 2010 DAG?
The first thing I thought when I heard about these is – OK, it’s a pre-packaged Exchange solution. But I am still going to want to check it performs correctly. Yeah, it might be configured to a known good configuration and tested in lots of scenarios, but I still want to check that the storage platform doesn’t have any issues. For example, during a recent SQL Server implementation we found that although everything passed the diagnostics fine the performance on the database disks was far lower than it should have been. After some more tests it turned out one of the disks in the RAID set was in fact faulty. The storage had been tested pre-delivery, so it shouldn’t have been an issue.
Why do I mention this? Well – the download link mentioned above is for the recovery DVD for the system. Naturally, I downloaded this to find out what it includes. As well as the obvious, like HP utilities, Windows and Exchange it also includes Jetstress. From a quick look, it appears that as part of the process of installing the E5000, you can run Jetstress pre-deployment.
And the other good news from having a look at the contents of the recovery DVD, appear to be that you can install it into an existing DAG, create a new DAG and of course install it into an existing Exchange 2010 environment.
In conclusion, it seems like it’s going to be a fairly compelling solution, firstly because of the hardware but mainly because of how apparently easy it makes it to deploy an enterprise ready Exchange solution into an organisation without complex calculations, deploying pre-requisite hotfixes, understanding how to use Exchange storage testing tools and of course deploying a database availability group according to best practises - or the cost of paying someone to do all that for you. You still might need to do a fair bit of work planning and executing your implementation or migration, but a pre-packaged appliance like this certainly makes everything easier.
What do you think? me know in the comments or via twitter.