I'm 'the tech guy' and as such will usually get questions that are not really in my area of expertise :)

Today's latest question is regarding moving a mail server to a new provider. Now shockingly I've realised how expensive this would be as it needs to be exchange. While I am putting together a list of providors I'm also looking into the cost of just buying a new server. The reason we are moving away from our current solution (Hosted ourseves) is due to capacity.

So can anyone reccomend what type of specifications would be best suited to running a mail server? Most probably it will be used as a file server as well. Therefore...

a) Need lots of space b) Lots of ram

Is that it?

  • 1
    How many users and how much disk is currently used? – tomjedrz Jan 24 '10 at 18:59
  • Yes, define 'lots'! – hmallett Jan 24 '10 at 19:20

Technet is usually a good place to start with this sort of specing exercise. Assuming that you are looking at exchange 2010 then this link will help out.


If you're already making the move, you might also consider the possibility of one of the many hosted Exchange providers. I just helped move my father's company over and it's been pretty successful. Depending on your scenario and install base, it could save a lot of money and/or admin time. Such providers can typically provide for backups, spam filtering, virus protection, etc, for a per-mailbox rate. Also, you no longer have to worry about the hardware details yourself.


It sounds like you are already considering hosting, as phoebus recommends. I absolutely second that recommendation. You indicated that the topic is not in your comfort zone, and this isn't something you just "set and forget". The hosting cost might look high, but when you consider the cost of the hardware, licenses, and the hours you will spend on getting it setup and keeping it working it will likely turn out to be a good deal.

If you do insist on rolling your own ...

1- I would not build a dual-purpose (Exchange and file sharing) server yourself. Exchange does not play well with other things; you will see weird problems. Consider MS Small Business Server, which is a pre-configured "all-in-one" server that includes Exchange, file/print services, remote access, web server, etc.

2- I suspect you are over-estimating the server you need. Assuming a small (~ 20 users) system, I imagine you can get a capable replacement for a few thousand dollars. I would get double the current RAM and 4-5 times the current server disk, and a box with room for upgrade later.

3- Make sure that you completely understand backup and restore. I would consider having a second box around and doing a test restore once a quarter or so. I would also consider the real cost of downtime to the business and evaluate redundancy, perhaps with something like DoubleTake.


Can't really comment on RAM, as I'm not too familiar with Microsoft exchange.

Storage-wise you obviously need to cater for your user needs and also email policies - do you limit mailbox size? what is the average mailbox size? how long do you keep emails? do you have archive strategy - like all emails older than say 6 months gets archived? Is archive stored on the same server? And finally multiply that by the number of current users and projected growth in user base in X years to come. That'll be your storage requirements.

And do not forget to have at least two servers - so that you have highly available mail system.

  • Ah all those things are wonderful... alas I'm 'the tech guy'. I've suggested lots of things that make sense which arent followed... such as not the same password for everyone in the company (HAH). Mail went down once cause someone unplugged the box, that was our e-commerce, mail and file store gone. – steve Jan 24 '10 at 16:15

This doesn't answer your question and is probably not what you want to hear but...

Exchange can be easy enough to install and configure, at least in a lab type setup, but it is a pretty complex bit of software that needs careful thought and planing. From what you've said so far I highly recommend that you not try to do this on your own, at least not with your current level of experience. You should be able to find someone locally who can give you guidance in regard to what you need and how to set it up, even if you don't want them to actually do the job for you. An experienced person can work with you to determine what you really need and take the guesswork out of it. It often happens that the expense of a third party contractor can work out much cheaper than ending up with an unsuitable or poorly performing system.



Some questions:

How large is large? Hundreds, Thousands? On today's hardware tens of people is not large... Even a hundred people may not be large, depending on their needs.

Are you trapped with Microsoft Exchange Server? I hope not. If at all possible, get your folks on Unix or Linux - it'll be easier on you and you'll get a lot more bang for the buck.

If you are forced into Microsoft Exchange, I urge you to get a prebuilt server system without all the bells and whistles (ie, get the extra memory yourself), and then add those yourself later. It's universally cheaper that way.

If you are contemplating Linux - or Unix, stick with a very popular type so you have the most packages and most prompt bug-fixes available.

Don't bother counting up megabytes; max out the hardware on memory as soon as you get it. The memory will never be cheaper and more memory is very much like adding a LOT of CPU. That is, the performance you get from a very fast/ expensive CPU is lost if you don't give it lots of RAM.

A Linux / Unix box of modest cost can handle a VASTLY heavier load than a comparable Windows system and can likely carry the burden of being a file server, too.

Buy LOTS of extra disk, and use rsync to synchronize regularly - maybe even hourly for the most important assets.

Good luck, RT

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