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Troubleshooting Exchange Server 2003 Servers

6/18/2011 4:11:09 PM
The performance of an Exchange Server 2003 server depends upon the efficiency of general server processes, such as memory and processor operation, in addition to the processes specific to Exchange. Troubleshooting server health involves interpreting the values of the appropriate counters recorded in a performance log and taking action as required. If you suspect that a fault is occurring that could result in an unusually high or low counter reading, you can set thresholds to trigger an alert. The alert could in turn initiate logging of other counters.

Loss of data is a very serious matter in an Exchange organization, and you need to be proactive in troubleshooting data storage to prevent a disaster. If a disaster does occur, you need to have confidence that your data recovery process is operating correctly. If your servers are clustered to provide failover or load sharing, then you need to have procedures in place to ensure that those clusters are operating correctly and to repair any failures before they affect your users.

Troubleshooting Server Health

In this lesson, you learn the significance of the results obtained and the action that you can take when these results indicate a problem.

You can also set up alerts to indicate when resource usage or a performance counter exceeds a critical limit. There are many counters and instances of counters in an Exchange Server 2003 server. The following are among the most commonly used to diagnose problems with server health:

  • Memory\Pages/sec This counter indicates the rate at which pages are read from or written to disk to resolve hard page faults. It is the sum of Memory\Pages Input/sec and Memory\Pages Output/sec, and indicates the type of faults that cause system-wide delays. It includes pages retrieved to satisfy faults in the file system cache (usually requested by applications) and non-cached mapped memory files. If the counter value increases over time, it could indicate that memory is becoming a bottleneck. It can also indicate “leaky” applications that use memory when running but do not release it when they stop. Typically, the counter value should not exceed five. A value of 20 or more indicates a problem.

  • Processor\% Processor Time This is the percentage of elapsed time that the processor spends to execute a non-idle thread. The counter is the primary indicator of processor activity and displays the average percentage of busy time observed during the sample interval. It is quite normal for this counter to reach 100 percent. However, a value in excess of 80 percent averaged over a period of time indicates that the processor may be overloaded. If you have a symmetrical microprocessor (SMP) computer, then each processor is monitored as an instance of this counter. If you discover high readings for one processor and low readings for another, then you should use Task Manager to discover what processes have a hard affinity to the first processor.

  • Process\% Processor Time This indicates the percentage of elapsed time for which all of the threads of a process used the processor to execute instructions. An instruction is the basic unit of execution in a computer, a thread is the object that executes instructions, and a process is the object created when a program is run. Because there are many processes created in an Exchange Server 2003 server (or any server), there are many instances of this counter (for example, store). Use the counter instances to keep track of key processes. There is no “correct” value for this counter. You need to establish a baseline for normal operation and compare your current readings against this. If the processor time used by a particular process increases over time, you need to judge whether there is a problem with the process or whether this is normal behavior that indicates that you may eventually need to upgrade the processor.

  • MSExchangeIS\RPC Requests The MSExchangeIS object represents the service that allows access to mailbox and public folder stores. Remote Procedure Call (RPC) Requests is the number of client requests that are currently being processed by the information store. The RPC protocol is used to transfer messages between computers and across connectors. You need to look at the value of this counter, together with the readings for MSExchangeIS\RPC Packets/sec (the rate that RPC packets are processed) and MSExchangeIS\RPC Operations/sec (the rate that RPC operations occur) to determine whether there is a bottleneck in the system.

  • PhysicalDisk\Disk Transfers/sec The value in this counter indicates the rate of read and write operations on a physical disk. A physical disk can contain several logical disks or volumes. Conversely, if disk arrays are used, a logical disk can contain several physical disks. You can add this counter to a performance log, but you will get a value of zero unless the disk counters are enabled using the diskperf command-line utility. Do not enable disk counters unless you have a problem that you need to solve, and do not enable them for any longer than you must. Enabling disk counters can seriously degrade server performance.

  • SMTP Server\Local Queue Length This indicates the number of messages in the local queue on an SMTP server. You can get the same information from Queue Viewer, but a performance log lets you view a report over time and track trends. You should look at this counter in conjunction with the SMTP Server\Messages Delivered/sec counter, which indicates the rate at which messages are delivered to local mailboxes. It is possible that there are a lot of messages in a queue, but the queue is being processed at a rate sufficient to ensure that the messages are delivered promptly. You can also set alerts on counters such as SMTP Server\Badmailed Messages (No Recipient) so that you are warned if an excessive amount of anonymous mail is delivered, possibly indicating spamming or a Denial of Service (DoS) attack.

  • MSExchangeIS Mailbox\Local Delivery Rate This is the rate at which messages are delivered locally. The MSExchangeIS Mailbox object counters specifically measure mailbox, as opposed to both mailbox and public folder, traffic. Other counters that you might need to monitor are MSExchangeIS Mailbox\Folder Opens/sec, which is the rate that requests to open folders are submitted to the Information Store, and MSExchangeIS Mailbox\Message, which is the rate that requests to open messages are submitted to the information store. You need to compare these counter values against performance baselines to determine whether a bottleneck exists and to track trends over time.

Troubleshooting Data Storage

With the exception of RAID-0, the failure of a disk in an array is not always immediately obvious. It is possible to generate an alert if a counter such as Physical\Disk Transfers/sec drops to zero, but this would necessitate having the disk counters enabled (and may be a good reason for enabling these counters). You can also configure Monitoring And Status in Exchange System Manager to write an event to the application log in Event Viewer if free disk space in the array falls below a predefined limit, and you can configure Notifications in the Monitoring And Status tool to notify you by e-mail or by some other method specified in a script file when the event occurs. This will alert you if there are capacity problems, but will not indicate a disk failure in an array because the loss of a spindle in an array does not affect free disk space.

However, it is important that you deal with a disk failure immediately because your array is no longer fault-tolerant. If you are using RAID-5, then the loss of a spindle will result in noticeable performance degradation; basically everything slows down. In RAID-1 and RAID-0+1 arrays, however, the degradation in read performance may not be immediately noticeable, especially during quiet periods. Commercial hardware RAID systems can generate visual and audible warnings of disk failure, and you should take this functionality into account when choosing a system.

Mailbox and Public Store Policies

You can create mailbox and public store policies for any administrative group by expanding the administrative group in Exchange System Manager, right-clicking System Policies, and then specifying either a new mailbox or a new public store policy.

These procedures help to troubleshoot storage, because problems can occur when databases grow too large. Enforcing mailbox limits can prevent such problems. Proactive troubleshooting—that is, preventing problems from occurring—is the hallmark of the efficient administrator.

Troubleshooting Clusters

When a cluster node goes down and failover occurs, it is not always immediately obvious that you have a problem. You need to use Cluster Administrator on a daily basis to check the health of your clusters.

One of the main problems when using clusters is virtual memory fragmentation. You need to monitor the following virtual memory counters for each node in the cluster to determine when an Exchange virtual server must be restarted due to this fragmentation:

  • MSExchangeIS\V Largest Block Size When this counter drops below 32 MB, Exchange Server 2003 logs a warning in the Event Viewer application log (Event ID=9582). It logs an error if the counter drops below 16 MB.

  • MSExchangeIS\VM Total 16MB Free Blocks You should monitor the trend on this counter to predict when the number of 16-MB blocks is likely to drop below three. When this number drops below three, you should restart all the services on the node.

  • MSExchangeIS\VM Total Free Blocks This counter enables you to calculate the degree of fragmentation of available virtual memory. The smaller the average block size, the greater the fragmentation. You also need the value returned by the store instance of the Process\Virtual bytes counter. The average block size is the Process (store)\Virtual Bytes value divided by the MSExchangeIS\VM Total Free Blocks value.

  • MSExchangeIS\VM Total Large Free Block Bytes If the value in this counter drops below 32 MB on any node in the cluster, failover the Exchange virtual servers, restart all the Exchange services on the node (or restart the server), and then failback the Exchange virtual servers.

Troubleshooting Backup and Restore

An online backup uses a checksum to check files for corruption and writes events to the application log of Event Viewer if any inconsistencies are found. In addition, a backup log is generated. Thus if an online backup runs with no errors recorded, you can have a good degree of confidence that the data has been backed up correctly.

Sometimes an offline backup is necessary, either when an online backup fails or when third-party software is used that does not support online backups. In this case, you can use the eseutil command-line utility with the /k switch to verify the backup copy.

No matter how confident you may be about your online backup, it is wise to perform a practice restore. You can perform a practice restore on a recovery server, which is also used to recover deleted mailboxes after their retention periods have expired. A recovery server needs to be in a separate forest. You can also restore on the same server, or on a server in the same organizational group, by using a recovery storage group.

Recovery Storage Groups

A recovery storage group is a specialized storage group that can exist alongside the regular storage groups in an Exchange Server 2003 server (even if the server already has four normal storage groups). You can restore mailbox stores from any normal Exchange Server 2003 storage group to the recovery group. You can then, if appropriate, use the exmerge command-line utility to move the recovered mailbox data from the recovery storage group to the regular storage group.

Recovery storage groups allow you to restore without overwriting the data in the stores you backed up. This is important when you suspect there may be a problem with backups and you do not want to risk overwriting your current data with corrupted backup data. In addition, you can recover an entire mailbox store (all of the database information, including the log data) or just a single mailbox.

If you have confidence in your backup and restore processes, then backup becomes a troubleshooting tool rather than a troubleshooting problem. You can restore the last full backup and, when appropriate, the last differential backup or series of incremental backups. You can then replay any transaction logs that are stored on a separate disk to restore the data on up to the point of failure.

Practice: Configuring an Alert

In this practice, you configure an alert that triggers if 20 or more messages are waiting to be sent out from the Server01 mailbox. In your test network, this number is an arbitrary choice. On a production network, you would use a performance log and monitor Queue Viewer to create baselines for normal and busy periods. The number of queued messages that you choose to trigger the alert should be higher than the highest anticipated number during busy periods, and therefore indicate a fault in the messaging environment.

Exercise 1: Configure a Queue Alert

To configure a queue alert, perform the following steps:

On Server01, open the Performance console.

Expand Performance Logs And Alerts, right-click Alerts, and then click New Alert Settings.

In New Alert Settings, in the Name box, type Send Queue Alert and then click OK.

On the General tab of the Send Queue Alert dialog box, type Alert if 20 messages, and then click Add.

In the Add Counters dialog box, in the Performance Counters drop-down menu, select MSExchangeIS Mailbox. In the Select Counters From List box, select Send Queue Size (normally selected by default), and in the Select Instances From List box, select First Storage Group–Mailbox Store (SERVER01), as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Selecting a performance object, counter, and instance

Click Add to add the counter, and then click Close.

In the Alert When Value Is box, select Over.

In the Limit box, type 20.


The Alert When Value Is box can be set only to Over or Under. Therefore, Over means “greater than or equal to,” and Under means “less than or equal to.” So if you want the alert to trigger at 20 messages, you set “Over 20.” If you did not know this, you might assume that “Over 19” would trigger on 20. Examiners sometimes test areas where the intuitive answer is not the correct one.

Ensure that the sample interval is at the default value of 5 seconds. Figure 2 shows the alert settings.

Figure 2. Settings for the send queue alert

On the Action tab, select Send A Network Message To and type Administrator in the associated box.


This sends a network message to any PC (assuming it has a Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, or Windows XP operating system and the messenger service is enabled) where you are logged on using the Administrator account. You might want to consider sending messages to the ordinary user account that you created for yourself according to the Principle of Least Privilege. In a production network, you should log on using the Administrator account as seldom as possible. Also note that by default an event is logged in the applications log in Event Viewer, that you can start a performance log if an alert is triggered, and that you can run an executable file. This file could send you an e-mail message or, if you have the appropriate technology installed, could trigger a personal bleeper.

Click OK.

In the Performance console, click Alerts. In the details pane, right-click the alert and confirm that it has started (Start is unavailable).


You can also determine that an alert is running because it is green, but this method is not infallible. A newly created alert may be started but appear as red until the first time you click it. Also, those who are prone to color blindness easily confuse red and green.

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