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I'm thinking of using Ubuntu and VM Ware Server to run Windows Server virtualized. I want to run Exchange Server and some minor apps on a hosted dedicated server with 6 GB RAM and Intel Quadcore CPU.

How workable is this?

Are the RAM and CPU enough if I need to run Exchange Server for 5 users over the Internet on a 10mbit uplink?

How difficult is it setup windows server and exchange when they are virtualized? Exactly how would you do this?

Alternatively, if you had to setup windows server and exchange for a small organisation with very limited resources, how would you do it? We are trying to avoid DIY, having a server on the LAN, but we're open to suggestions.

Thank you kindly.

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what versions?? – Nick Kavadias Oct 23 '09 at 11:53
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Exchange 2007 will run nicely on VMWare ESXi also. I would not use VMWare server though, it was never meant to be a virtualization environment for production servers. To make sure your setup is supported, this might be worth a read:

And here's the list over Hypervisors supported by Microsoft (As you can see, VMWare Server is not in the list)

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We've been running Exchange 2007 on a HyperV-based VM for about 3 months now. I've only given it 4gb of ram to play with so far, and it seems fairly happy. I've got about 45 users and a dozen general-use mailboxes. Traffic is fairly heavy (I've got a handful of users who are convinced email is a great file transfer mechanism), but I did leave the default attachment size cap in place.

Given what you've described, I can't imagine you'd have any problem.

As far as DIY goes, I've only run into a couple of minor issues doing a bit of reading beforehand and researching as I go. I can't speak to performance from a datacenter, but that's the beauty of running it in a VM. Drag and drop it to a local server if it doesn't work out.

edit Running on a Dell PE 2950, 3x sata 250 hdds w/ PERC 6/i (raid5) (a bit of overkill, the Exchange VM is only using about 80gb currently - but I plan to run more VMs on this box if possible), and of course an extra NIC to devote to VMs.

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Very interesting, thank you. So you were running it locally, then? Only 4 GB RAM is good, what other hardware did you use? – Telman Oct 23 '09 at 12:29
Just adding the detail into the original post, the comment box gets so cramped. ;) Hope that helps. – Kara Marfia Oct 23 '09 at 15:30

If your five users are fairly typical users and not constantly hammering their exchange accounts then I think you'll be fine.

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The amount of email sent/received by each user is moderate, say 10/10 emails per day. However, the users will send a bunch of attachments (pdf, .doc, images) every day, some might even be a couple of MBs in size. But I think this is mainly a question of having enough disk space, right? – Telman Oct 23 '09 at 11:50
Yeah I think you'll be fine. – Chopper3 Oct 23 '09 at 11:51

I would consider running VMWare ESXi (free) so it's a "bare metal" hypervisor rather than sharing the server on a system that may be used for other tasks at the console. Better performance and less chance of a crash wiping the workstation and the server, since normally you want to maximize your uptime on the mail server.

There are websites that discuss how to do a DIY server for ESXi on the cheap...say, $500...I think they're referred to as white boxes. Try googling for ESXi white box. It's picky about the hardware support, but if you get supported hardware ESXi can be a very reliable product on which to run systems free (we're hosting seven servers in an ESXi system now). Make sure you have a good backup plan in place so you can duplicate your VM's to another storage area, though, or at least have a good in-place backup in the VM in case something crashes or gets corrupted down the road. One big benefit of VM's is the ability to copy the (huge) files over to another system and fire up your server if there's hardware failure...minimizes downtime.

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I'll start researching ESXi along with Hyper-V, but both sound better than a Linux::Wm Ware Server::Windows Server stack. Thank you for that very useful information. – Telman Oct 23 '09 at 12:09
FYI - HyperV is also hypervisor-based. There may be features on which ESX wins, but that's not one of them. 2008 Server Core would in theory provide a very similar environment. – Kara Marfia Oct 23 '09 at 12:12
HyperV is hypervisor based but is also larger. I've read that the management tools are still maturing as well compared to VMware. No doubt it'll get better but right now I personally see more buzz on VMWare's tools than HyperV...but YMMV, of course :-) The reason it's better than Linux+VMware Server is that you have more to maintain with a workstation running the VMWare virtualizer, along with a slight performance race since you have things on the workstation running alongside the virtualizer. If running servers, use a bare-metal hypervisor. – Bart Silverstrim Oct 23 '09 at 12:28

We are currently running Redhat 5.0 w/ vmware server 1.0.x (on an HP 360G4) The vmware software only allows upto 3GB to the virtual machine, even though we have 8 in the box and RHEL sees all 8 and uses it( PAE Kernel). The performance is okay even though we're running off of local SCSI disks and a disk attached via eSATA. We haven't noticed a whole lot of things going wrong with it, it actually plays slightly better than it did physically.

The only problem we are running in to is what Kara Marfia has described, even more so our users believe Outlook is a great spot to store documents! sigh so we're working on getting our mailboxes down from 46GB

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I've been running an Exchange 2007 Server on a VM, for 5 users for a nearly a year now and it works fine. The Exchange VM only has 2Gb RAM but runs fine with that in its limited use. Exchange is a bit of a memory hog, so that's the area to focus on, if your adding more users, or using it alot you should look at getting some more memory. If your receiving alot of mail then disk throughput may then become an issue, so its something to keep an eye on.

Setting up and using Exchange in a VM is pretty much the same is in a standard environment. I have run Exchange on both Hyper-V and ESX environments and both have run with out issue. For your environment, where you are trying to avoid self hosting this sounds like it will do fine, especially if you are going to have the hardware anyway. Alternatively, if you don't need the VM, you could scrap that altogether and get a hosted Exchange solution, if would most likely be more cost effective.

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We currently have a Dell PowerEdge with 16GB of RAM hosting ESXi. I have DC, Exchange and a test server currently set up and everything has been running smoothly for a little over a year now. One thing to note about Exchange (which has been mentioned before) is that it will take as much memory as is available to it (specifically the store.exe process). We originally bought the system with 8GB of RAM and I had given the Exchange VM 3GB of memory. It ate that up immediately. Just recently I threw in another 8GB and gave the Exchange VM 8GB to play with (for some breathing room) and I noticed right after it started up store.exe was consuming as much available memory as it could get its hands on. It's currently providing service for about 30 people, so you should be fine with just 5.

I was also able to put the ESXi hypervisor on a SATA-connected 2GB flash card (bought after the fact) so the system boots incredibly quickly and then uses its RAID drives for VM storage. I strongly recommend ESXi over Hyper-V.

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