Just about any application can be virtualized today, and we all know you can virtualize Microsoft Exchange servers. In fact, given the right deployment with proper sizing and enough disks, a virtualized Exchange environment can run great.
Ideally these deployments consist of new virtual machines (VMs) with a fresh install of Exchange Server followed by some sort of data migration to the new server.
If you have an existing physical Exchange environment that you’re looking to virtualize, this is where things get a little grey. A physical to virtual (P2V) conversion — the process of converting a physical to virtual machine — is typically what is used to virtualize existing servers, but this should be treated with caution when dealing with Exchange.
In an ideal world, I would not recommend doing a P2V conversion on an Exchange mailbox server but instead deploy a new VM and reinstall Exchange on that VM, which gives you a clean build to work with. I have seen issues where the P2V conversion fails, is extremely slow, or corrupts the Exchange database.
That is why I always advise caution when P2V is being considered. Sometimes circumstances arise, however, such as failing hardware, and you may be forced to do something quickly to keep your server running. In that situation, a P2V conversion may be your only option.
Microsoft does support virtualizing Microsoft Exchange servers, and they’ve written some guidelines for virtualizing Exchange that are considered best practices. The support statement does not mention P2V or any process that converts a physical server to a virtual machine, so proceed with caution and at your own risk.
If you’re considering a P2V conversion of an Exchange server, I’ve compiled some tips and tricks for the P2V process, but you may want to check out my article on “Virtualizing Microsoft Exchange Tips and Tricks” if you’re new to virtualizing Exchange.
Some of these tips are lessons I have learned — sometimes the hard way — that can help make the virtualization process smoother. Depending on the roles that are held by the Exchange server, the process may differ form your typical P2V conversion. The following are guidelines to follow depending on your server environment:
The following steps are high level and can be applied to use with most of the conversion tools that are available today. I’ve used VMware Converter Standalone 5.5 for the purpose of this demonstration.
Remember, these steps are not endorsed by Microsoft but come form lessons I’ve learned. Hopefully you find these steps helpful if you choose to P2V an Exchange Server. Good Luck!
For more resources on virtualizing Exchange check out these sites.