When to use ESEUTILS to Defrag your Databases (or when not to)…

There are many questions in a number ofExchange forums which relate to the above question so I thought I would do a post which gives my opinion on when an Exchange Administrator should (on indeed should NOT) consider using ESEUTIL to perform an off-line defrag of their databases.
Before I begin I would like to do a brief overview of ESEUTIL.

What is ESEUTIL?

ESEUTIL (located in the <Exchange Installation\Bin> folder– might be considered by many to be the dark over-lord of database utilities which, in the blink of an eye can reduce your information store to a quivering mass of non-functional dog do-do, and accelerate the demise of your career as an Exchange Admin. However, is ESEUTIL really that bad? – I suppose that the answer to this is yes and no asusing the tool incorrectly –or –when it is not need can produce undesirable situations– the following are some quick bullet points about the Pro’s and the Con’s of using the ESEUTILS:

Pros:

  • Using ESEUTIL correctly and when required (more on this later) can physically reduce the size of your information store databases
  • When you have no other options left and you have a dead database ESEUTIL can get you some data back (by using the dreaded /P switch)
  • ESEUTIL can be used in a recovery scenario to roll forward to a specific point post a disaster as long as you have the Transaction Logs (but then again so can most decent backup products for Exchange)
  • ESEUTIL can be used to check the structural health of your database
  • ESEUTIL can be used to clone your database

Cons:

  • Its command line based, messing up a command could leave you with a dead database
  • Any Database that you intend to run ESEUTIL against must be off-line – therefore users cannot access the system resulting in lengthy down-time
  • Its slow – Depending on your hardware ESEUTIL will run at around 3 – 6 GB per hour (under a repair) and can be in-determinant during defrags
  • Its not intelligent – this is dangerous, for example – a Defrag process creates a new database, copies useful data from the old database to the new and then deletes the old PRODUCTION database and renames the TEMP database to the same name as the old – what if power is cut to the server during the Production Delete? and the rest of the process does not finish – ouch!

Generally speaking you should only use ESEUTIL under the following Circumstances (there are generally no exceptions):

  • When you have no usable backup of your Exchange Databases – Repair Scenarios
  • When you have had a lot of transient behaviour in the database – Defrag Scenarios – for example;
    • A large number of users have either left the company, or moved to another store within the environment
    • You have installed a archiving solution into your environment and it has been running for at least 5 months
    • You have hit a limit on the Database (in the standard Edition of Exchange only) – this scenario should not happen when using SP2 of Exchange 2003 or Exchange 2007
  • When you have good reason (good means Application Event Log errors) that suggest a corruption in the Database – Integrity Scenarios
  • When you wish to replay log files into the Database
  • When it is recommended by Microsoft Product Support Services, or when you are confident about using the command syntax and you are sure that it is going to be of benefit to you

OK, But I am still interested in ESEUTIL – can you give us some further information?

ESEUtil is designed to check and fix individual database tables based around the JET BLUE engine, however products like Exchange are comprised of many structured and complex pages (which can be either 4 or 8 kilobytes in size) which in turn are linked via indices which are accessed sequentially (this is called ISAM).

As a result ESEUTIL is not Necessarily aware of the data contained within the database pages – nor the relationships between database pages. The results of which when ESEUTIL is used for example using its “Hard Repair” (/P) mode, when it finds a damaged page or index it deletes it, nothing else, just deletes. Given the previous scenario you may of had a database that will not Mount – however /P will potentially get you into the position where it will Mount – but you will normally find missing data within Exchange.

An example of which ismany years ago when consulting I encountered an Exchange 5.5 system where the Information Store would not start.
There was no backup therefore I had to use ESEUTIL /P in order to get the store to start – ESEUTIL fixed the database and the store service then started, however, every user in the database lost access to all their attachments (the icon would show in Outlook indicating that the message had an attachment, but attachments could be accessed).

Additionally ESEUTIL can be used to de-fragment, check the Integrity of, recover (Hard and Soft), copy, checksum, anddump various informational aspects of your databases.

The following is a list, brief description and danger rating (in my opinion) of the commands the ESEUTIL can perform – remember all of these commands require that the database that they are being run against is dismounted or the Information Store is stopped:

Mode Modifier
Description
Danger Rating
When Should it be used
 
/D De-fragmentation Mode – this is used to compact the physical size of your Exchange Database – it makes all storage within the database contiguous and remove unused white space. This also re indexes the database. Medium / High Where it has been determined that there is significant "white space" in the database, Where you receive an Event entry in the application event log advising your perform an off-line de-fragmentation, Where the database size restrictions of the Standard Versions of Exchange has been reached.
/P Hard Repair – repairs damage at the structural table and storage engine levels – can result in data being lost. High Ideally NEVER – you should always have a healthy backup of your Exchange Server's databases, if in the event that you do not – and the database will not mount you can use this command to physically repair the database – however expect data lose
/C Restore Mode – Is used to run a Hard Recovery on the database (not to be confused with a "Hard Repair") using the Restore.env file from an Online Backup – this is the process where Transaction Logs can be replayed into the database to bring it up to date – it is often better to allow your Exchange Backup software to complete this task for you (providing that it supports this feature) by using the "Last Backup Set". Medium / High During restore scenarios – you should use this command with care – and ensure that you have a verifiable sequence of transaction logs for replay.
/R Recovery Mode – This is commonly know as the process of replying logs into the database. Medium / High This switch should be used during Hard or Soft recovery scenarios where the transaction logs need to be manually replayed – under soft recovery scenarios it is assumed that the transaction logs have not been move or removed from their default locations.
/G Integrity Mode – This process is generally considered safe as it operates in "Read only" mode. This switch can be used to find specific issues with your database. Low This switch should be used to find specific issues with your Exchange Databases in order to determine the correct course of action – however it is recommended that the database be in a "clean" shutdown state prior to running the tool.
/K Checksum Mode – Verifies the an Exchange Database at page level. Low The /K Switch can be used to also check the consistency of log files, patch files and checkpoints – however it does not perform any recovery on the database.
/Y Copy File Mode – Added in Exchange 2003 is the preferred method to copy an Exchange database Low For many reasons that I will not go into here – the traditional Windows based copy command is not particularly efficient at copying Exchange EDB files – therefore if you are in a situation where you would like to take a copy of any one of your EDB file you should use the /Y command.
 

ESEUTIL – De-fragmentation Mode [/D];

OK, now that we have had a look at ESEUTIL and indeed established that it is indeed a tool that needs to be respected I would like to go over the command switch of ESEUTIL which most people to ask Questions about the DEFRAG – or – the /D Switch.

The de fragmentation Mode of ESEUTIL is designed to reduce the physical size of your Exchange Databases –as online de-fragmentation does not physically reduce the size of the DB –is essentially performs internal maintenance within the Exchange Database.

It does this by creating a temporary Database file, reading through the live database page by page and copying all relevant data into the Temp database (note it skips over white space identified by the online maintenance (event ID 1221) in the Live Database) this process is generally known as re-organisation.
When all of the data from the live database is copied over into the temp database, the live instance is deleted and the temp database is renamed to that of the previous live instances (although this is a very simplified overview of the command).

All indexes in the database are also recreated as part of this process. You should be aware that you will at least 110% of the size of your production database free on the drive in order to have a successful de fragmentation, although should this not be possible you have the option of either redirecting the Temp file to another disk on the server – or – by following the steps in this article http://articles.techrepublic.com.com/5100-22_11-5285289.htmlyou can copy all of the required files to another server with enough space to handle the defrag, but bear in mind that you will have to copy the database back from the additional server which adds to the overall down-time of your mail system – and also introduces the (small) chance of corruption during the copy back from the source server over the network.

The basic command syntax for the De-fragmentation command is as follows: ESEUTIL /D – for example ESEUTIL /D x:EXCHSRVRSG1DBPriv1.edb There are a number of partner command line switches which accompany the de-fragmentation mode which are as follows:

/S – Specify the location of the Streaming File (this option is not implemented in 5.5 or 2007)

/T – Specify the location where the Temp Database file is to be created (useful if the disk that the database is on does not have enough free space to complete the De-fragmentation)

/F – Specify the location and the name of the temp streaming file (this option is not implemented in 5.5 or 2007)

/I – Do not de-fragment the streaming file

/P – Do not delete the temporary database files at the end of the process

/B – Make a backup copy of the database

Given the above commands and options – if I wished to defrag my Priv1.edb which is located on Drive X:, but place the temp file on L: I would use the following command: ESEUTIL /D x:EXCHSRVRSG1DBPriv1.edb /T L

From the above you can derive that the syntax for a successful command is: ESEUTIL /D One of the questions that many people ask how much space can they generally expect to claim back by performing an off-line defrag on their information store – the answer to which is pretty difficult to give, and should be mainly based around minimum expectation.

For example: the normal and widely accepted way to gain an idea is to check the Event Log for Event ID 1221 – see below:

eseev1

Essentially the part of the Event Description which states “has‘n’ megabytes if free space” is the bit that you are interested in. This the value of ‘n’ in the Event is generally described as the least amount of space that you can claim back (to within one megabyte). There is another way in which you can calculate the amount of space that you might gain back – however it does require you to take the database off-line to perform the process.

Although this is a pain – I have found this method to be pretty accurate when determining space reclamation metrics:

  • In the Exchange System Manager Dismount the Database that you wish to process
  • Open a Windows Command Prompt ([ Start -> Run -> Type CMD the press ]) and type in the following command:

ESEUTIL /MS >c:Analysis.txt and then press enter – see below;

eseev2

This will produce a text file (located in C:) called Analysis.txt – when you open this file you will see that it is split up into two sections: SLV Space Dump – this relates to the STM File (not in Exchange 2007) – see below:

eseev3

At the bottom of the SLV dump (you will find a section entitled “TOTALS”) here there is an entry called “FREE” – the value of this when multiplied by 4096 (this length of a database page in Exchange 2003) will give you the free space in the STM file in bytes – so from my results above: 78 * 4096 = 319488 bytes 319488 bytes = 312KB – space that could be reclaimed The other section of the report which is called the SPACE DUMP (which is much longer than the SLV dump as it relates to the EDB file) – looks like the following (please note that the following example has been cropped):

eseev4

At the bottom of the SPACE DUMP on the far right hand side (under the “AVAILABLE” column) you will have a value. In my case this value is 524, again this is the free space in bytes – therefore in order to determine how much space that I would get back I would use the following calculation: 524 * 4096 = 2096 KB – space that could be reclaimed

Checking the Event 1221 events is easy and does not cause any disruption to normal operations, however using the ESEUTIL /MS does require the store to be off-line – personally I feel that using the ESEUTIL /MS command gives you a more accurate representation of the space that could be recovered, but you need to be aware that it does cause disruption and that it is perhaps more prudent to go with the 1221 indicator.

If you are considering defragging your Exchange Databases you could build the space analysis in the down-time required. I would personally only use the ESEUTIL /MS method to check for potential space under the following circumstances:

  • When a large number of people (much greater than 500 users whom were heavy users) have left the organisation and their mailboxes have been deleted from the store (Purged)
  • When a company instigates a program such as Mailbox Archiving where mail items going back many years are removed from the store
  • You know for a fact that there are been no defrag performed on the store for a number of years (at least 3 years).

Now that we have an idea about how much space MIGHT be reclaimed, the question that needs to be answered is – “Do I actually need to defrag the database?

Do you Need to Defrag Your Database?

OK lets consider the basic reasons why an Exchange Admin would consider De-fragmentation of one of their databases and then go over some explanation of as to why a DEFRAG might not be your first option even though it might seem so:

  • Performance issues
  • Running out of space on the Database Disk
  • General Space reclamation
  • When asked to by Microsoft PSS

Performance Issues:

One of the first things that I would like to address is that having a large database does not always mean that you will have poor performance.

In Exchange 2003 Enterprise Edition the theoretical maximum size of a single Database can be 16TB (or as often described “unlimited”) whereas in Exchange 2003 SP2 STANDARD Edition the maximum size of the Database is 75GB – however in practicality one would assume that there must be a point where Size = Performance.
I have seen Exchange Database instances which have reached sizes between 190 and 220 GB (and I also know of larger sizes) which perform very well, however the underlying hardware has been specified to cope with the IO and Operation Per Second (IO/OPS)demands that such a size would require.

It should also be noted that an Exchange Database should be cared for – they should be monitored, have sensible online maintenance windows which complete and backup regimes that are successful and serviced sensibly.

Diametrically – I have also seen Database sizes of56 GB which perform very badly, this can be linked to the hardware, online maintenance does not run correctly and no form of checks are made upon them.

So in terms of the [ Size = Performance ] theory (considering the statements above), the outcome means that the formula (as stated) might change to: Size (of DB) + Administrative Specification + Administrative Habits / User Habits =Desired Deserved Performance.

Essentially if you specify your hardware according to accurate load, ensure that required routines run against the databases (and do not overlap with backup schedules) then you can expect the overall physical file sizes to reach significant proportions without manual intervention, however if you do not follow initial sizing guidelines and allow for your Exchange server to proceed un-monitored and do not regulate the actions of your user population then your are asking for trouble.

In terms of my statement “regulating the actions of your user population” – Thereis another school of thought(on overall performance) right from the development team of Exchange) whereit is stated that the amount of items in “Critical Path Folders” – e.g. Inbox, Calendar, and Sent Items can also have an effect on the performance of a user / database – have a look at the following article here: http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2005/03/14/395229.aspx(and read the comments) – essentially if you allow for your users to use Exchange as a “Filing System” you might (or perhaps will) experience performance issues.

So in summary if you are experiencing performance issues with your Exchange Databases, before you consider using ESEUTIL to defrag, have a look at other root causes. As mentioned above it is possible to have really large EDB files and acceptable performance, so in the first instance use tools such as PERFMON which will give you useful information about what your Exchange Server is doing.

The following is a link to the Microsoft’s Exchange Performance and Scalability Guide here you will find an overview of which counters within PERFMON are relevant to Exchange (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa996078.aspx) I also recommend that you down-load the PerfMON Wizard whichautomates the configuration of anumber of counters that can provide dataregarding the performance of yourInformation Store.

Also if you experiencing performance problems itis anideatohave a check what is going on inside your Exchange databases– this can be accomplished by opening up the Exchange System Manager then navigating to the following: [ Administrative Groups -> Servers -> Your Server -> Storage Group -> Database Name -> Mailboxes ]and have a look under the “Total Items” column readings here will give you an idea if any (or many) of your users are falling into the criteria which the article on the Ms Exchange Team blog describes.

esm1

My final comments on performance are that you should ensure that the setup and configuration of you Exchange Disk subsystem is configured and specified to theload and size of the database –if you are experiencing performance problems –before even considering a Defrag have a look at the following:

  • Are you using the correct RAID levels for your Databases and Transaction Logs (RAID 5 (or 10) for Databases RAID 1 for Transaction Logs)
  • Have you separated out your Transaction Logs from your Databases
  • Does each database exist on its own LUN
  • Move the TEMP/TMP to a high performance drive
  • Are you using 10K or 15K drives?

If you have gone through all of the above and feel that everything is is, then it might be worth considering Defragging the Database.

Running out of space on the Database Disk:

From what I have seen in the Forums this is one of the most common reasons for administrators wishing to runESEUTIL /D.

Whenever you can – the best option is to add further disk and the move you databases over to the new storage rather than Defrag; I say this as generally you are never looking at huge amounts of space being reclaimed from your Databases when you use ESEUTIL in defrag mode – so in the end you are putting off the inevitable (running out of space) therfore the best option is to bite the bullet so to speak and add further storage.

To give you an idea of storage reclamation I recently ran a Defrag against my corporate databases and the following are the space saving results (bear in mind that it has been 3 years since I last defragged the stores, and for two of the 3 years we have been using Enterprise Vault:

esm2

As you can see for the time periods involved, the amount of users and the presence of an Archiving solution the space savings are not huge. However if you are not in a position to increase the storage within your server then you would have little choice but to use ESEUTIL /D however I would recommend the following prior to running the defrag:

  • Examine the Application Event Log for ID 1221 – or perform a ESEUTIL /MS against the databases (then use the method of working out the potential space reclamation from above) – this will help you work out how much space you will get back – you might be faced with a situation where the amount of space that you reclaim is only enough for another month – therefore you will need to present a business case for upgrading the server.
  • Ensure that you backup your Databases prior to running the Defrag
  • Prepare your business for down time – depending on the hardware that you have and the size of your Databases ESEUTIL /D can take quite a while to run (for example if you look at my table above SRV2–GeneralStorageDB.edb took 17 hours to complete – and that was without any other databases mounted or being defragged on the same server).

General Space reclamation:

General space reclamation suggests that an administrator is using ESEUTIL /D as part of a scheduled and regular maintenance task. Please do not do this – from the examples that I have given above even with high user turn over, an archiving solution and several years between defrags I only claimed back slightly over 21 GB from 12 Databases if you examine the tables from a per database perspective the actual space reclaimed represents a very small percentage of the overall size of the DB.

Scheduling regular Defrags (for example every 6 months) only guarantees that your database will be off-line for several hours every 6 months. If you have the inclination to reclaim space periodically and you are Using the Enterprise Edition of Exchange server – then perhaps a better way of doing this is to create a new database and then move your users over to the new database – this can also be scheduled.

This eliminates down-time and also serves the same purpose as defragging.

When asked to by Microsoft PSS:

Those of you whom have support agreements with Microsoft may be asked to defrag a database as part of a support call.

Normally PSS will be trying to get an index rebuild rather than being interested in shrinking the size of the database –however, they know what they are doing –but ensure that you follow their instructions to the letter.

Summary:

Ultimately your Exchange database belongs to you, therefore as an Admin you are best placed to make a choice on the course of action that you wish to take. The above is general advice from experience –however it may not fit all scenarios, so just to finish if you are going to perform this taskplease consider the following pointers:

  • Always ensure that you have a backup of ANYExchange Database that you are going to Defrag –ensure that you have tried to restore it prior to starting.
  • Understand that Defragging is a lengthly process –your database will be out of action for asignificant period of time.
  • Ensure that your server has a working UPS – nothing worse than a power outage right in the middle of using this tool.
  • If you have the Enterprise Edition of Exchange – consider creating a new store and moving the users over rather than a off-line defrag.
  • If you have performance issues consider the performance area and the options given there before Defragging – there is nothing worse than taking your database down for 10 hours and then getting no perceivable benefit.
  • Do your homework on the amount of space you might get back – similar to above, nothing worse than 10 hours down-time and only getting back 1 GB
  • Don’t use ESEUTIL /D as part of a regular schedule – its not worth it.
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