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19/11/2553 Exchange 2010: Can You Have Too Muc…

Exchange 2010: Can You Have Too Much


RAM?
Nov em ber 1 1 , 2 0 1 0 01 :2 6 PM

W in dow s IT Pr o

Pa u l Robich a u x

Pilots hav e a say ing: "You can nev er hav e too m uch fuel, unless it's on fire." Of course, there's also the old
chestnut that claim s y ou can nev er be too rich or too thin. When it com es to Microsoft Exchange Serv er, is it
possible to hav e too m uch RAM?

Let m e backstop that qu estion with a bit of historical explanation. In the day s of 8-, 1 6-, and 3 2 -bit operating
sy stem s, we were pretty m uch stu ck with v irtual m em ory as a m eans of supporting address spaces larger than
the CPU's phy sical address space. A 32 -bit address space allow s 4 GB of addressable RAM. That am ount w as an
aw fu l lot in 1 9 85, w hen Intel introduced the 3 2-bit 803 86. Now it's not m uch; ev en the inexpensiv e com m odity
desktops sold at places such as Best Bu y and Office Depot sport 4GB of RAM, and m odern serv ers can hold a great
deal m ore.

How m uch RAM can Exchange Serv er 2 01 0 effectiv ely m ake use of? As with m any other scalability qu estions, it
depends.

Let's start with Microsoft's recom m endations, av ailable in the TechNet article "Understanding Mem ory
Configurations and Exchange Perform ance." These recom m endations can briefly be sum m arized as follows:

1 GB per CPU core for Edge Transport and Hub Transport serv ers
2 GB per core for Unified Messaging and Client Access serv ers
For Mailbox serv ers, 4 GB plu s betw een 3 MB and 30MB per m ailbox (so som ewhere between 7 GB and
3 4 GB for a 1 ,000-m ailbox serv er)
2 GB per core for serv ers that com bine Hub Transport and Client Access serv ers
For serv ers that com bine the Mailbox role with other roles, a m inim um of 8GB (4 GB plus 3 -
3 0MB/m ailbox)

These recom m endations seem pretty straightforw ard, sav e for the wide range giv en for per-m ailbox RAM
allocation (which Microsoft explains in m ore detail in the TechNet article "Understanding the Mailbox Database
Cache"; perhaps an exploration of this topic w ould be a good idea for a future UPDATE colum n.) The 30MB per
m ailbox recom m endation is for m ailboxes that send and receiv e a com bination of 500 m essages per day , so let's
adopt a m ore m oderate profile and say that our av erage users send and receiv e 250 m essages per day . In that
case, Microsoft's recom m endation wou ld be to use 1 2 MB per m ailbox for cache, plus 4GB so that for 2 ,000
m ailboxes w e'd end up with 2 8GB of RAM. That already seem s like a lot—but would there be any benefit to
pu tting, say , 3 2GB or 4 8GB in the serv er?

At first blush, it seem s that the answer is basically "no." Although the Extensible Storage Engine (ESE) cache
u ses m ore RAM if it's av ailable, Microsoft's perform ance data seem s to indicate that y ou get dim inishing retu rns
when adding RAM bey ond the recom m ended am ount for y our lev el of m ailbox activ ity . Giv en that RAM is fairly
cheap, adding m ore RAM doesn't harm perform ance, but it doesn't giv e y ou m uch of a boost either.

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19/11/2553 Exchange 2010: Can You Have Too Muc…
On the other hand, giv en su fficient RAM, y ou gain the possibility of v irtualizing y our Exchange env ironm ent
and thus m aking m ore efficient u se of the hardware y ou already hav e. Consider a 1 2-core serv er with 7 2GB of
RAM—this is a fairly burly serv er by cu rrent standards, but not outrageously so. This exam ple serv er wou ld be
way m ore hardware than y ou 'd need to handle 2,000 m ailboxes, so by running two v irtual serv ers on it, y ou
cou ld essentially hav e tw o quad-core serv ers w ith 3 2 GB of RAM each. This setup assum es, of course, that y ou
need to handle m ore than 2 ,000 m ailboxes. For sm aller env ironm ents, the extra RAM would be worthless, and
y ou'd be better off pu tting that bu dget into som e other aspect of y our Exchange env ironm ent.

As for CPU cores, that's another topic. The prev ailing wisdom in som e quarters is that y ou can nev er hav e too
m any cores, but that's not true for Exchange—as I'll explain in an upcom ing UPDATE.

Relat ed Reading:

Q. I read that I only need the standard edition of Window s Serv er 2 008 for Exchange Serv er 2 01 0. Is
this right?
Q. What are the sizing recom m endations for Exchange 201 0?
Going Virtual with Exchange 201 0
Exchange Serv er's Client Access: An Introduction

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