Parallel Migrations: Exchange Server 2007 and Server Virtualization

As if migrating to Windows Vista alone weren’t enough, the Penton Media IT team dealt with the need to migrate and make other infrastructure changes and upgrades, including moving some servers from physical to virtual machines (VMs) and moving from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.

Q: What was your experience moving to virtual servers?

Brent Mammen: While visiting the sites, we took the opportunity to P-to-V \[move from physical to virtual\] a number of old physical servers to new VMware ESX Server environments. The VMs give us much more manageability. We gained the obvious physical space, but also in a virtual environment we gained the ability to share storage, processor, and memory among multiple servers. With the newer hardware optimized for VMs and faster Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) hard drives, the server performance has increased across the board.

Chris Ripkey: That’s been a lifesaver for us. Our business is a lot better off with VMware. The ability to manage our whole virtual environment from one central console has brought a lot of benefit to our department.

Lucas Smith: Virtualization cut our costs. Each one of our sites has a domain controller (DC), a file server, and DNS server that runs fully disconnected from Overland Park \[Penton headquarters\] and doesn’t require Overland Park to run. Four years ago, we would have been rolling out two servers to every site to keep the DC and file server functionality separated. But with VMware, we have one box and run two VMs at every site; it’s saving us $10,000 at each site.

You also get snapshots—if we’re doing an upgrade, we can snapshot it, do an upgrade, and roll it back if it goes wrong. We didn’t have that before. I’m doing a lot of consolidation with VMs. It's so much easier to manage: You don’t have to worry about a console to manage because there’s no console. VMware has been a very stable platform. We started running it three years ago when we installed ESX Server 2.5, and when 3.0 came out, with tremendous improvements, that’s when we started rolling our production servers out to it.

Q: Why did you take on the additional task of moving to Exchange 2007 and making infrastructure changes?

BM: It seemed an impossible task at the time we started discussing it \[migrating to Exchange 2007 in tandem with the Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 migration\], but after many strategy sessions, we started to think, “Why can’t we just do this as a single project and be finished with it?” It all came down to timing. We have a great group of people \[in our IT department?\]. Obviously we have to be very sensitive about disrupting our employees, but in the end it was really a single interruption. I feel it was beneficial to the entire organization to do it that way.

CR: Our staff is very small \[10 IT people\]. We were doing so many new products; for the amount that were doing at the time, I think it was required that we have additional help. It was a resource-time issue. Horizons Consulting did the email-migration project. These guys are pretty good—they’ve done a lot of migrations. Our focus was working on the desktops and Active Directory (AD) and Group Policy, plus the image, deployment, and server configuration. It was good and bad—there were times when we felt a little frustrated because we weren’t involved in the email-migration process, but there were times when we were glad we weren’t involved.

Q: Such as when?

CR: We had some internal problems—for example, when accounts were created, our Help desk, they’d create an account and put it in the wrong organizational unit, and it would replicate and remove the account from our old AD domain. It was more of a process problem. Until everyone was migrated, we weren’t allowed to touch AD before the migration; we didn’t want those accounts to have issues again. So we instituted an AD lockdown to prevent unnecessary changes to AD. This allowed us better troubleshoot mailbox-migration failures.

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