If you've planned or performed a Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 migration, you're well aware of how complicated the process can be. A factor that can make it even more so is having to support multiple OSs—Windows, Mac—and ensuring that the different clients you're running on those platforms are ready for the back end upgrade. Not to mention the headaches around multiple mobile device OSs, and the variety of update levels each of those devices might be at (yes, I'm looking at you, Android).
After all the basic challenges have been met so that you can be sure to have a fully functioning messaging environment post-migration, it might be time to start looking at implementing some of the new features that Exchange 2010 brings with it. Of course, some of those features will actually figure into your design and deployment—using database availability groups (DAGs), for instance. And that's about the point where we left off in the last part of our discussion with the Penton Media IT team about their Exchange 2010 migration.
Penton Media is the parent company of Windows IT Pro. I talked with the company's senior systems architect, Brent Mammen, and Exchange administrator, Sean Cox, to get the inside story about how they managed the company's migration from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2010. In the first two parts of this interview, they talked about how they prepared for the move and how they actually performed the migration. In this final installment, we talk about some of Exchange 2010's new features and how (or if) they're being used in our environment.
BKW: How did the migration to Exchange 2010 go overall? Did the preparation you did prove to be adequate? Did things go as you'd planned?
Brent: I think so. The curveball was Service Pack 1 coming out about the time that we were starting our deployment, and our decision to go ahead and roll it out with Service Pack 1. But I'm glad we did. We would have run into those same problems down the road after we'd already had it up and running, so I'm glad we did it ahead of time.
Sean: And probably on a grander scale. With more people on Exchange 2010, any of those issues could have been a lot bigger because it could have been a lot more people having them. Doing it at an earlier stage—and I think that was one of the reasons we decided to do it—we'd be able to control the people having the issues because we control who we migrate over.
Brent: There were some fixes, obviously, in Service Pack 1 that were beneficial. One that I can think of is that SSL offloading did not work properly until Service Pack 1. So we were ordering our certificates, getting them installed on the load balancer, but still doing SSL to the back end—we would have been if we didn't have Service Pack 1. So, there were significant improvements with Service Pack 1.
BKW: What about administrative improvements that came with SP1? I think they made quite a few changes that put functions in the GUI that previously were only available in PowerShell—is that a big issue for you guys or not?
Brent: Yes, they added some control through Exchange Management Console that was strictly available through the shell before SP1.
Sean: They made quite a few of those additions, and that's always nice. Adding that functionality into the console gives you two avenues. Depending on the level of the change, it's something that Help desk people might be able to do. It would be a lot easier with them doing it through the console rather than trying to learn the command line stuff through the shell.
BKW: You've talked about some of the new features of Exchange 2010 already, such as DAGs, and Exchange Control Panel (ECP), but there are many other new features, such as Personal Archives. What other features new to Exchange 2010 have you implemented, and how are they working in environment so far?
Sean: The Personal Archive, in all honesty we haven't sat down and talked about that.
Brent: I don't know if it fits well with our company. First of all, with Exchange 2010, you're able to have larger databases, and larger mailboxes, and cheaper disks. At that point, does archiving really have the appeal it used to have? Usually, people were using archive for cheaper storage, right? But storage in 2010 has gone cheaper. So the archiving functionality, I'm not sure has a good fit. Now, if we run into a business scenario where it does make sense, then yes, we'd certainly look at it and put it in there. The Exchange Control Panel, yes, it's been good. People are able to see their devices. We've had some people that have lost their devices and that were able to actually go into Outlook Web App and wipe their own device. We talked before about that we have not deployed Outlook 2010. From an employee perspective, the things that have helped, that have been beneficial with Exchange 2010—Outlook Web App is very nice. It gives you the Outlook 2010 interface, if you will. We've also integrated OCS directly into Outlook Web App. You see status, and you're able to IM people directly from Outlook Web App.
Sean: That's a great addition to OWA.
Brent: Things like MP3 voicemail attachments. Prior to Exchange 2010, we had WMA support, so some of our mobile devices had to have a third-party player in order to listen to their voicemail. Now, native with Exchange 2010, we were able to have MP3 attachments, which I believe every device will play by default.
Sean: That's been a change that was added to all the databases, and then was added to all the mailboxes that were migrated over. You know how we have the managed folders for retention? Well, [Microsoft is] looking to eliminate managed folders and migrate to retention policies. You can actually no longer control managed folders on the back end through the console; it's exclusively through the shell now because they're trying to migrate off of that and go to retention policies. The issue with that is that unless you exclusively use OWA 2010, to benefit from that you have to have Outlook 2010. And as we mentioned previously, we don't own that, we don't have that rolled out to the masses, so that's really an enhancement that we can't benefit from. We're sticking on the managed folder side right now.
Brent: While we're talking about clients, we do have a fairly large Macintosh population—I believe a little over 300 Macintosh devices in our environment. Prior to our migration, we had to upgrade those clients to the Web Services Edition of Entourage in order to support Exchange 2010. So we did a little bit of leg work on the Macintosh side to get those upgraded. I think most of the updates were pushed out, but we still had to coordinate with the employees to make sure they knew what was happening on their computer when their Entourage was upgraded.
Sean: That actually delayed us initially from starting the migration for probably about a month by the time we were able to get all our ducks in a row to get that pushed out and tested.
BKW: You mentioned the new audio formats for voicemail, but you didn't mention the new voicemail transcription—which personally, I think is an absolutely wonderful feature, particularly on my mobile device.
Sean: Even on the desktop it is because you can just browse over the voicemail like an email and see if it's something you have to address right away or if it can wait, without even listening to it.
Brent: I know on our intranet site we've had some people making fun of some of the transcriptions. Some of them are hilarious. But for the most part, I can at least get an idea what the voicemail message is about and whether I need to do something with it right now or if it can wait.
Sean: Some people might not like this, but in all honesty Microsoft does a much better job at the translation than Google Voice does.
Brent: I would agree with that.
Sean: I've seen some incredibly funny translations on Google Voice compared to what the message actually was, and though it can be amusing on that with Microsoft, I feel they do a much better job than Google Voice does.
BKW: I interviewed Adam Glick from the Microsoft Exchange Server team a couple weeks ago, and he brought up the point that once you have that voicemail in your Inbox, it's searchable just like any other email. You don't have to remember who sent it or whatever—you just do your Outlook search.
Sean: Very cool.
BKW: Is a move to Outlook 2010 in the roadmap for us at this point?
Sean: It's all a question of finances. That's why we're hoping to engage our IT specialists, our gurus out of the Windows IT Pro group, to say, "Hey, these are the benefits that Outlook 2010 would provide in our organization, these are the benefits that Lync would provide over OCS if we were to go ahead and spend the money to upgrade." Things like that, and I think they can give use better example of how it would help our business, where we're kind of limited to what we see in our own little world here.
BKW: I was going to ask about Lync as well. Have you had the chance to look at that yet?
Sean: Looking at it, the upgrade path is quite convoluted. It requires a considerable amount of resources. What we're trying to look at is what kind of benefit do we get and how much is it worth to the company to get those benefits. It's a very complicated environment. I would love to see at some point us implement Lync and then give our employees the ability to either have a Microsoft Lync phone or a Cisco phone.