Protecting Exchange 2010 with vShield 5.0

by Jeff Szastak

Enhancing Exchange 2010’s Security Profile

In this post we will discuss using vShield to bolster the protection profile of Exchange 2010. We will start off with a brief discussion on vShield, and then move on to discussing the Exchange 2010 architecture, and then finally how we implemented vShield around Exchange 2010.  

vShield 5.0 Overview

The VMware vShield product family is the foundation for trusted cloud infrastructures.  vShield enables adaptive and cost-effective security services within a single management framework. vShield is a suite of products comprised of vShield Edge, vShield App, vShield Data Security, and vShield Endpoint. For purposes of this post, we will focus on two of the four products, vShield Edge and vShield App.

vShield Edge provides network edge security and gateway services to isolate VMs in a port group, vDS port group, or Cisco Nexus 1000v. vShield Edge is a stateful inspection firewall that can provide NAT, DHCP, IPsec Site to Site VPN VPN, and Web load balancing services for the virtual data center.

vShield App is a layer 2 / layer 3 virtualization aware, hypervisor based firewall that protects applications in the virtual datacenter from network based attacks. A major benefit to vShield App is configuring access control polices are based on logical and physical constructs versus purely physical constructs that a traditional firewall leverages. An example of this would be the ability to create rules based on a vApp (logical) versus IP Address (physical).

Exchange 2010 Architecture Overview

We built Exchange 2010 within the construct of a vApp. A vApp allows you to group VMs together and perform management functions against those VMs, such as power on, power off operations. vApp provide the ability to create ‘nested’ vApps. We leveraged this ability to create a multi-tier vApp for Exchange.

We created a root vApp labeled Exchange and then nested three different containers, based on Exchange 2010 roles (CAS, HUB, Mailbox). We then explicitly configured boot order within the CAS, HUB, and Mailbox vApps and at the Exchange Level.



We separated out the individual Exchange 2010 roles into individual VMs for the CAS, HUB, and mailbox roles. We used Exchange 2010 SP1 installed on Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard / Enterprise.  We also configured the SAMESUBNETDELAY setting to 2000ms since we are using HA, DRS, and vMotion with DAG. More information on running DAG on the vSphere platform, see the whitepaper Using VMware HA, DRS, and vMotion with Exchange 2010 DAGs. The VMware software used in this configuration was vSphere 5.0 and vShield 5.0.


For networking we used the vSphere Distributed Switch with one Port Group for production traffic  and a second Port Group dedicated to DAG replication traffic. In addition, we limited the number of ports in the DAG replication network to 2 so we would not have to worry about addition VMs being plugged into this Port Group. In the screen shot below, you can see the HUB01 and MBX01 VMs both using the Production dvPortGroup and the second vNIC on MBX01 using the ExchangeDAG dvPortgroup.


Once we got Exchange up and running we installed vShield. vShield installs default open so we were able to leverage the traffic flow reports inside vShield to assist us in creating the rules around Exchange 2010.

 Building the Rules

As stated earlier, vShield installs default open which allows us to leverage the traffic flows within vApp to better understand communication activity amongst systems. We decided to gradually lock down Exchange 2010 by first configuring VM to VM rules, and then implementing port based rules based on the TechNet post detailing ports used by Exchange 2010:

We built our rule sets using logical constructs within vCenter Server.  For example, we built a rule stating the Mailbox vApp is allowed to communicate with the HUB vApp. By creating the rule against these logical constructs, any VMs placed into these containers will inherit the rules of that container.


As we built the rules we monitored traffic flows between Exchange 2010 systems, which was key in validating we correctly configured the rule sets and also identified other key traffic activities that were not documented in the aforementioned Ports Used by Exchange 2010 article. An example of this was UDP 139 from the Exchange vApp to our Domain Controller vApp.  

Closing Remarks

Configure an external syslog server for vShield. As you build your rules, enable logging of the rule in order to validate enforcement of the rule. Start with general rules, like VM to VM rules and if necessary move down to port specific rules. Both of these will provide better protection, be sure to implement the appropiate level for your enviornment. Be aware that as the rules become more granular you must be more diligent to ensure all ports required by the application and OS are available. When you have validated your configuration is correct, change the default allow rule to deny.

This blog is part of a series on Virtualizing Your Business Critical Applications with VMware. To learn more, including how VMware customers have successfully virtualized SAP, Oracle, Exchange, SQL and more, visit