Installing and configuring MCDB in Exchange 2019 has been on my bucket list for a long time, but like most organizations my Exchange servers have been running on either Hyper-V or VMware. I have seen posts on the forums where people were able to publish SSD disks on VMware to VMs, but MCDB has been targeted towards bare metal deployments. But the good news is that I managed to get two big HP boxes to play around with 🙂
MCDB was introduced in Exchange 2019 to speed up access to information in mailboxes that is used frequently. According to the Exchange Preferred Architecture, Mailbox database are stored on (relatively) slow SATA disks. When using MCDB, frequently accessed mailbox information is also stored on SSD disks instead of spinning disks and as such it is much faster to access this information. It is a cache mechanism, so the information on SSD is a copy of information on the spinning disks. If the SSD disk is lost, performance will drop but no information will be lost.
MCDB is useful when running Outlook clients in online mode, for example in a Citrix environment. OWA can also benefit from the improved performance.
MCDB is built on top of Database Availability Groups, so it is not available on single servers (I assume you don’t have a DAG with only one server). It also depends on the AutoReseed feature, so you must deploy this first before configuring MCDB.
My Servers have eight disks installed:
- 2 SSD disks for boot and system.
- 4 SAS disks (10 krpm) for Mailbox databases (I preferred SATA disks, but the servers came with these disks).
- 1 SSD disk for MCDB.
- 1 (large) SATA disk for storing other information (IIS logs, Queue database, ISO image etc.).
Three of the SAS disks contain two Mailbox databases each, the remaining SAS disk is used as a hot spare for AutoReseed.
I have blogged auto AutoReseed in Exchange 2013 a long time ago (https://jaapwesselius.com/2014/08/09/implementing-and-configuring-autoreseed/ and it hasn’t changed much) but I will repeat the most important parts of it.
In short, AutoReseed is using the ‘multiple mount points per volume’ option in Windows. For example, the first disk is mounted in C:\ExchVols\Vol1, but this disk is also mounted in C:\ExchDbs\MDB11 as shown in the following image (where only 2 disks are shown):
To achieve this, add additional mount points using the disk management MMC snap-in. In the screenshot below, Disk1 is mounted in C:\ExchVols\Vol1, and C:\ExchDbs\MDB11 and C:\ExchDbs\MDB12 are additional mount points on this disk:
Mailbox database locations are strict when using AutoReseed. For example, MDB11 mailbox database and logfiles must be created in the following directories:
The locations of the mount points are properties of the Database Availability Group:
You can check the correct values using the Get-DatabaseAvailabilityGroup command in Exchange PowerShell:
[PS] C:\>Get-DatabaseAvailabilityGroup -Identity DAG11 | select AutoDag* AutoDagSchemaVersion : 1.0 AutoDagDatabaseCopiesPerDatabase : 2 AutoDagDatabaseCopiesPerVolume : 2 AutoDagTotalNumberOfDatabases : 6 AutoDagTotalNumberOfServers : 2 AutoDagDatabasesRootFolderPath : C:\ExchDbs AutoDagVolumesRootFolderPath : C:\ExchVols AutoDagAllServersInstalled : False AutoDagAutoReseedEnabled : True AutoDagDiskReclaimerEnabled : True AutoDagBitlockerEnabled : False AutoDagFIPSCompliant : False AutoDagAutoRedistributeEnabled : True AutoDagSIPEnabled : False
Create all Mailbox databases, mount them and create Mailbox database copies in the correct locations with the correct names. That’s all it takes to configure AutoReseed. When one of the disks containing Mailbox databases fail, the repair workflow will kick in and in about an hour the spare disk is configured, and a reseed will start. All steps of the repair workflow will be logged in the event log. The last entry with a successful reseed is shown in the following screenshot:
Now that we have AutoReseed up-and-running, we can continue with configuring the MetaCache Database.
Configuring MetaCache Database
One of the prerequisites of the MetaCache Database is a fully functional AutoReseed configuration as outlined in the previous steps. Of course, you also need one or more SSD disks, depending on your disk layout.
The official recommendation for the SSD disks is one SSD disk on three spinning disks. Also, the SSD disk should be a raw disk (not formatted) and it must be exposed as MediaType SSD in Windows. To check this, use the Get-PhysicalDisk | sort DeviceID command in PowerShell as shown in the following screenshot:
As for sizing, 5% or 6% SSD capacity of the total HDD capacity is sufficient. So, if you have 8TB of storage for databases, your SSD capacity can be approx. 400 GB.
Important to note is that the disks must be symmetrical amongst all Exchange 2019 servers in the DAGs.
The first step is to configure the DAG for use with MCDB. MCDB uses the following properties of the DAG for its configuration:
- AutoDagTotalNumberOfDatabases. The number of Mailbox databases in the DAG.
- AutoDagDatabaseCopiesPerDatabase. The total number of copies (active and passive) of each individual Mailbox database.
- AutoDagTotalNumberOfServers. The number of Exchange 2019 Mailbox servers in your DAG.
In my lab, there are two Exchange 2019 Servers in a DAG, 3 spinning disks (plus 1 hot spare), 6 Mailbox databases and 2 copies (one active, one passive) per Mailbox database.
Use the following command to set these properties:
[PS] C:\> Set-DatabaseAvailabilityGroup DAG11 -AutoDagTotalNumberOfDatabases 6 -AutoDagDatabaseCopiesPerDatabase 2 -AutoDagTotalNumberOfServers 2
The second step is to configure the MCDB prerequisites using the Manage-MCDB command. This command takes the DagName, SSDSizeInBytes and SSDCountPerServer options.
The Manage-MDCB command is default not available in PowerShell. You must import the Manage-MetaCacheDatabase.ps1 script (found in $Exscripts) first using the following command:
CD $ExScripts Import-Module .\Manage-MetaCacheDatabase.ps1
This step is not in the Microsoft documentation, it took me quite some time to figure it out 😦
The SSDSizeInBytes can be found using the following command:
Get-PhysicalDisk -DeviceNumber x | Select Size
The command for the MCDB prerequisites will be something like this:
Manage-MCDB -DagName DAG11 -ConfigureMCDBPrerequisite -SSDSizeInBytes 119998218240 -SSDCountPerServer 1
The third step is to allow (or disallow) an Exchange 2019 server to use MCDB using the ServerAllowMCDB parameter of the Manage-MCDB command. To do this, execute the following Exchange PowerShell command on each DAG member:
[PS] C:\> Manage-MCDB -DagName DAG11 -ServerAllowMCDB:$True -ServerName EXCH11
This is shown in the following screenshot:
The fourth step is to actually configure MCDB on each Exchange 2019 server. In this step, the raw (unformatted) SSD disk is formatted and the mount points for the MCDB instances are created. To do this, execute the following Exchange PowerShell command, again on each DAG member:
[PS] C:\> .\Manage-MCDB -DagName DAG11 -ConfigureMCDBOnServer -ServerName EXCH11 -SSDSizeInBytes 119998218240
As shown in the following screenshot:
This is all it takes to configure MCDB on a DAG and it is now ready to create the MCDB instances and populate it with cached data. The creation and population (en thus enable acceleration) is initiated by a fail-over. You can use the following MCDB command to initiate this fail-over:
[PS] C:\> .\Manage-MCDB.ps1 -DagName DAG11 -ServerAllowMCDB:$True -ServerName EXCH11 -ForceFailover $true
And fail-over back to the previous state:
[PS] C:\> .\Manage-MetacacheDatabase.ps1 -DagName DAG11 -ServerAllowMCDB:$True -ServerName EXCH12 -ForceFailover $true
When it comes to monitoring there’s not much to see. You can use the Get-MailboxDatabase command to retrieve configuration properties of MCDB, and you can use the Get-MailboxDatabaseCopyStatus command to see ‘some’ health information regarding MCDB as shown in the following two screenshots:
Get-MailboxDatabase -Identity MDB11 | fl *metacache*
[PS] C:\> Get-MailboxDatabaseCopyStatus | Select Identity,MetaCacheDatabaseStatus
Unfortunately, Unfortunately that’s it, no more options for monitoring, not even counters in performance monitoring.
So how do you know it works?
Besides the Get-MailboxDatabaseCopyStatus command, you can check the SSD disk which is visible in the Explorer. When configured, the SSD disk is mounted in C:\ExchangeMetaCacheDbs and C:\ExchangeMCDBVolumes. You will find a special (small) MCDB version of the Mailbox database as shown in the following screenshot:
Since this is a regular physical disk you can find it in perfmon, but there are no MCDB specific counters here.
The most interesting thing to test is just login to a Mailbox in one of these Mailbox databases. The look and feel is seriously better than without MCDB. When opening a mailbox in Outlook online mode, or in OWA is just much faster. I have also tried opening a Mailbox remotely via a 20 Mbit line (fiber, so low latency) and it also works better than Exchange without MCDB.
Exchange 2019 came with this new feature called MetaCache Database, where mailbox data is stored on SSD disks. In the Preferred Architecture, mailbox databases are stored on large SATA disks, but to improve performance frequently accessed data is stored on SSD disk.
The tricky part in configuring MCDB is the configuration of AutoReseed which I find more complex. The lack of proper monitoring is disappointing, but when configured it works very well and you will experience an improved performance. Like most of us, I have worked a lot with properly designed virtualized Exchange environments, but never seen an Exchange environment working as fast as a bare metal Exchange environment with Exchange 2019 and MCDB.