Tuesday, December 4, 2012

IMHO: Coolest changes in Exchange Server 2010 since going RTM

Moments before being replaced by it's successor Exchange Server 2013 i want to share my thoughts about the IMHO coolest changes in Exchange Server 2010 since it's release on October, 8th 2009.

Off course lot's of improvements where made to make Exchange Server 2010 an even better product then it already was, i will not deny this. In a blog however, i think, you need to describe the most noticeable and biggest improvements. Therefore my top ...

1. Office Outlook 2003 support (SP2)
Although Office Outlook 2003 was supported since the RTM of Exchange Server 2010, it had some struggles getting it to work with Exchange Server 2010. This was al because of the RPC/TCP connections that Outlook 2003 is relying on. For some reason Exchange Server 2010 could'n handle these connections properly which related in view update problems when using an Outlook 2003 client. Microsoft tried to fix it in several Update Rollups and even in Service Pack 1, but the problems stayed. Since Service Pack 2 however we (Me and my collegeas at PQR) didn't find any big problems, concerning this issue, anymore. There are still some minor issues with the calender and icons in the address book but no real big problems.

Therefore i think this is THE biggest improvements since going to RTM. It kept us advising customers going to Exchange Server 2010 and upgrading the Office Outlook client at a later stage.

2. Hybrid Configuration Wizard (SP2)
I have always been a great fan of Public SAAS services. Especially Microsoft Office 365. In my humble opinion going hybrid should always be a consideration when talking to customers and creating a business case for a new Messaging Environment and even more.

Why you ask? In some cases it could enable customers to split functionality of e-mail to fit the needs of different types of users. I did some projects for big healthcare companies who wanted to provide the "caring" people a corporate e-mail address but not wanted to wast expensive internal IT resources. In these cases going hybrid was the perfect way to go. Providing internal users an on-premises mailbox and providing the less e-mail relying "caring" users an Office 365 Kiosk mailbox which is federated with the on-premises Exchange organization.

Configuring a full hybrid solution however was, until Service Pack 2, a pretty time consuming and intensive thing to do. You manually needed to configure about 75 steps. Since Service Pack 2 you still need some configuration (no it's not easy), but the introduction of the Hybrid Configuration Wizard definitely made it easier.

Therefore it's on number 2 in my list.

3. Introduction of the "New-MailboxRepairRequest" cmdlet (SP1)
Before it was always a struggle in dealing with database corruption. You either needed to:
1. Take the corrupt DB offline and manually repair, defrag and check it which was very time consuming if you had large DB's, or;
2. Create a new DB and move all mailboxes to the new DB which would cost you temporary storage utilization, or;
3. In a DAG solution create a new DB and perform a reseed action which was very time consuming, or;
4. Restoring the DB from the latest proper backup.

Therefore this new feature introduced in Service Pack 1 deserves a good spot on my list.

4. The ability to soft-delete mailboxes after move completion (SP1)
Can you remember this great functionality in Exchange Server 2007, where you could move a mailbox and set the move-mailbox cmdlet to hold-on the source mailbox in case something went wrong during the mailbox move? Well i used it quite often and was pretty stunned that this option was not available anymore in Exchange Server 2010.

Luckily Microsoft also noted this and restored a similar function back in Service Pack 1. It's not the same feature but you are able to restore a soft-deleted mailbox, by using the MailboxRestoreRequest cmdlet's, in case a move request went wrong.

5. The ability to place archive mailboxes on a different DB (SP1)
Although i was never a big fan of how Microsoft looks at archiving, the biggest new thing and also the biggest shortcoming in the RTM of Exchange Server 2010 was the location of the archive mailbox in the same DB as the production mailbox. In my opinion and many with me it didn't make sense at all. Since Service Pack 1 you can place archives of archive enabled users to a different database. This makes more sense.

I still think that "Microsoft" archiving is no real archiving. Compared to Enterprise Archiving products like Symantec Enterprise Vault or Commvault Archiving, you are limited to retention policies based on time and it only moves the item to another location. It also is quite expensive, considering an Enterprise CAL and Office Professional Plus is required. Enterprise Archiving Products are, besides cheaper, way more sophisticated then Exchange Archiving. You can for example create different archiving policies based on attachment sizes or else. Enterprise Archiving products also have better understanding of how to use storage more efficiently by using technologies like single instance storage, compression and de-duplication. Which al can save you a lot of storage at the end.

Still, if you want to go for Exchange Archiving, this feature deserves a spot in my list.

6. Cross-Site Silent Redirection for OWA(SP2)
One of the cool new things introduced with Service Pack 2 is the Cross-Site Silent Redirection. With this option you can redirect CAS request to a better servicing CAS server in another AD Site. You can also create SSO experience with this feature.

7. Mailbox Auto-Mapping (SP2)
Some love it, others hate it. Personally i love it. If a user has full-control permissions on a mailbox, the mailbox is automatically added to the users Outlook profile when logging into Outlook by using the autodiscover service combined with the Auto-Mapping feature. In my experience this saved a lot of IT admins and Service Desks a lot of incidents to help users adding all the mailboxes when a profile became corrupt or else.

Well these where my 2 cents for now ;)