Tony Redmond's Exchange Unwashed Blog

Nov 2, 2012

Apple releases iOS 6.0.1 to fix Exchange meeting bug

Buried at the bottom of the list of bug fixes in iOS 6.0.1 released by Apple on November 1 is the bullet saying “fixes a big affecting Exchange meetings”. I take this to mean that Apple has decided that their Mail application can’t hijack meeting requests and update the meeting organizer with the name of a device’s owner. I’m sure this development will be welcome by all and sundry. I’ve mentioned the hijacking problem before and concluded that, although Apple is obviously to blame because the reason why the problem exists is the way that their Mail application has implemented the ActiveSync protocol, it still seems that Microsoft should take a more active (no pun intended) stance on the many varied ways that ActiveSync licensees use (or abuse) the protocol. There’s no consistency across the range of ActiveSync clients from Windows Phone to Android to iPhone and all points in between. You can accept that the user interfaces will differ – in some cases radically – but it would be nice if consistency existed in actually sending and receiving messages, including calendar meetings. I’ve been told that Microsoft actively engages with ActiveSync licensees to help them to build better clients. I’m sure that this is the case and that in-depth technical debates rage over the connections between the different companies. It’s just a pity that the outcome has been less than perfect when code reaches the hands of end users, especially when it seems that bugs like the meeting hijack have been around for several versions of a licensee’s operating system. Maybe licensees just don’t listen or perhaps Microsoft isn’t emphatic enough. But enough of the doom and gloom. The bug is fixes and meeting organizers can sleep safely in their beds. Better news came when Microsoft released the evaluation edition of Exchange 2013 for download. Even if you’re not a TechNet or MSDN subscriber, you can now download the software for test purposes. Curiously, Bing wasn’t able to locate the page when...More
Nov 1, 2012

Using Exchange Standard or Enterprise Edition to Build a DAG

A recent discussion amongst some Exchange MVPs asked whether it was a good idea to implement a Database Availability Group (DAG) using the standard edition of Exchange 2010. Although this is obviously possible because Exchange 2010 does not require the enterprise edition to form a DAG, I’m not sure that this is a good route to take. In passing, you do need the enterprise edition of Windows 2008 R2 to be able to use Windows Failover Clustering, the fundamental underpinning of the DAG. Companies do need to keep an eye on cash spent on IT and a natural tendency exists to restrict spending whenever it’s not absolutely necessary. A DAG built on the standard edition of Exchange 2010 can support five mounted databases on each server (mailbox and public folder databases count against the limit). Given sufficient DAG members to support three copies of each database (two copies deliver reasonable redundancy; three provide a warm feeling), it’s therefore reasonable to avoid the higher software license fees required for Exchange 2010 enterprise edition and go ahead with the standard edition. I agree with this stance up to a point. A small DAG (say, three mailbox servers) can certainly deliver good redundancy at an excellent price point, especially if you deploy JBOD-style storage. But then I start to think about why the DAG exists. A DAG is there to deliver highly available mailboxes, pure and simple....More
Oct 30, 2012

Exchange 2013 reduces number of mounted databases to 50 2

I must have been asleep during Ross Smith IV’s Technical Keynote at the Microsoft Exchange Conference when the topic was apparently covered, but I certainly wasn’t asleep when Greg Taylor mentioned the fact that Exchange 2013 Enterprise Edition reduces the number of databases that can be mounted on a mailbox server from 100 to 50. Exchange 2013 Standard Edition maintains its ability to mount up to five databases. Cutting the number of mountable databases in half is clearly a pretty fundamental change that will affect the way in which some organizations have deployed Database Availability Groups (DAGs). For example, if you depend on mounting 60 or 70 databases on each DAG member in order to have three or four copies of each database, then your plans will have to change for Exchange 2013. But why has Microsoft taken such a step? On the surface, it would seem that this hamstrings the DAG a tad, but when you poke at the topic further you find that some reasonable logic has driven the decision. Although they share many aspects of the product architecture, Exchange 2013 is different to Exchange 2010. Take search for instance. Exchange 2010 uses the MSSearch component to create the content indexes of mailbox databases. Exchange 2013 uses the Search Foundation instead in order to share a common search infrastructure with other products, SharePoint being the most important because of the need to provide discovery searches across email and documents....More
Oct 25, 2012

The Emerging Need for More Supervision Over ActiveSync Implementations

I've mentioned the current set of ActiveSync problems experienced by Apple users a couple of times recently, including in a post last Wednesday and previously on October 9. The current stance of the Exchange development group is explained in their October 23 blog post and contains some interesting suggestions that will go down like a lead balloon with some users. For example, telling administrators to block iOS6 devices is absolutely possible, but explaining that Exchange includes this wonderful feature will be a hard sell to users. Or telling people not to mess with meetings or not to upgrade their devices when prompted by iTunes, switch to an IMAP4 client, or use Outlook Web App for now. All perfectly reasonable options in the eyes of those who don't use an iOS device while not being totally practical in the real world of dealing with users. In fact, the best advice is the last option - to wait until the mess is sorted out. The EHLO post hints that Apple is responsible without really saying that this is the case. I think that Apple certainly has to take action by adjusting some misbehaving iOS code to fix the "meeting hi-jack" problem (according to some reports, the fix is in iOS 6.01). However, it's also interesting to discover that some evidence is now emerging that Microsoft might also have to look at the way Exchange processes requests sent by ActiveSync clients. According to "The Unofficial Apple Weblog", the hijacked meeting problem is pretty old....More
Oct 24, 2012

Exchange 2013 and Office 2013 Professional Plus available for download 1

If you're a TechNet subscriber, you can now download the RTM version of Exchange 2013 and Office 2013 Professional Plus, the version that contains the version of Outlook 2013 that exposes all of Exchange 2013's features. Microsoft released the code earlier today. Of course, there's lots of work to be done to prepare for the deployment of these products and some companies won't even touch the RTM bits as they will consider that waiting for the first service pack to be a much better plan (see this post for some reasons why companies wait). Even so, it's great that the code is now available to allow testing to begin, including the work that third party software vendors need to do to ensure that their products work well with Exchange 2013. Remember that you need updates for Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2007 to allow these versions to co-exist with Exchange 2013. Microsoft has not released this code yet. Exchange 2010 SP3 is expected in early 2013 and no details are yet available as to what software version is necessary for Exchange 2007. Remember too that you need to update the Active Directory schema to support Exchange 2013...More
Oct 23, 2012

The road to economic competitiveness - ten years of I/O reduction for Exchange

It’s important not to get too carried away when you listen to the representatives of any company wax lyrical about the wonders of the company’s products. Unless of course you’re a member of a cult, in which case it’s probably a good idea to show an appropriate level of enthusiasm when being briefed about some new development or another. Microsoft holds that the reduction of I/O demanded by Exchange over the last three releases is a very good thing. Indeed, the claim made at the recent Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) is that the reduction is that Exchange 2013 is 99% more efficient than Exchange 2013 is when it comes to I/O operations generated by the Information Store. Many jokes were made that Exchange will soon be in the position that it will soon be giving I/O back to its customers, an odd situation should it ever come about. But as I listened to the claims, a horrible feeling came over me that the achievement of Exchange 2013 is simply a case of Microsoft catching up with Google in terms of operational economics. Let me explain why. When Google launched Gmail on April 1, 2004, they enjoyed the luxury of not having to deal with an installed base. They then took the advantage of being able to continually tweak a product that seemed to be in an almost-perpetual beta before removing the beta label in July 2009 in an attempt to make Gmail more acceptable to businesses. More importantly, Google enjoyed enormous economic advantages from the start by building Gmail...More
Oct 18, 2012

Coping with Swelling Mailboxes: Why Outlook 2013 Changes Caching

It’s always fun to try and understand the logic followed by developers when they add features to a new version of a well-established product, especially when they change the behaviour of the product. I wrote about the change in OST caching enabled in Outlook 2013 Preview on September 6 and concluded that the way that Outlook 2013 only cached a year’s email by default had the potential to confuse users. People generally don’t like it when email vanishes, even when there’s a good reason why this happens, as in the case when Exchange 2010’s Managed Folder Assistant (MFA) diligently processes mailboxes according to retention policies. The “disappearing mail” syndrome can generate many help desk calls along the line of “I know I had that email yesterday and now it’s gone. Please get it back for me”. Outlook 2013 also changes the internal format of the OST to compress some data fields in an attempt to make the file smaller on-disk. You can’t argue that there is goodness here because large mailboxes lead to larger OSTs and the OST file format has never been the fastest. However, the downside here is the need to recreate OSTs to compress data. Easy enough to do when you have ten or so PCs to upgrade; much harder and demanding of network bandwidth when hundreds of PCs start to run Outlook 2013. Given the obvious problems that can be anticipated when the time comes to deploy the client, why have the Outlook developers decided to change the OST format and the way Outlook caches data...More
Oct 16, 2012

Exchange 2013 counts data within databases better—may affect user mailbox quotas 1

One of the more interesting factoids about the changes that Microsoft has made to improve the Exchange Information Store is the way that reported mailbox sizes change. Apparently there’s quite a lot of overhead within the database that has never been charged against user mailbox quotas. I assume that the until-now-forgotten overhead includes general debris, forgotten messages, bits of email addresses, and similar crud that accumulates over time. The Exchange developers maintain that they are simply being more accurate in mailbox accounting. In any case, the Exchange 2013 boasts a brand-new Store process written in managed code (note to self: was the Exchange 2010 Store code unmanageable?). This is deemed to be a very good thing by those in the know, which clearly don’t include me. A separate worker process is now used to control each database and the whole shooting match is coordinated by a management process that keeps the workers in line. The Exchange 2013 Store remains based on ESE. The bunch who hanker after an SQL-based implementation of Exchange will be sadly disappointed at this news but the rest of us are quite content that ESE remains king of the Exchange heap. Among the other claimed benefits for the new Store such as yet another reduction in I/O, this approach allows problems that affect mailboxes to be confined to a single database and avoid affecting the other active databases mounted on a server. For instance, if a mailbox contains some corrupt items that are accessed by a client, the knock-on effect is now confined to the database and doesn’t extend across the entire mailbox server. You can’t argue with fault isolation. Of course, it’s the I/O reduction that gets the headline news, at least when Squeaky Lobster (really Ross Smith IV in a cunning disguise, kind of like Spiderman for Exchange geeks) speaks on the topic. It’s hard to remember when Exchange used to consume the I/O capacity of an entire SAN by simply starting its processes and the rat...More
Oct 12, 2012

Exchange 2013: the real journey starts now 1

Great excitement echoed through the halls of Building 34 in Redmond on October 11 when the Exchange development chiefs met to decide whether Exchange 2013 met the bar necessary to commit the code to RTM, or “Release to Manufacturing”. The vote was positive and the software (build 15.00.0516.32) has moved on to the next stage in its lifecycle, preparation for general availability. Given that Exchange is developed by a very large corporation that is beset by its own internal politics, the decision to release a product or hold it back is not always straightforward. In this case, I imagine that a fair amount of pressure arose from the fact that Exchange 2013 is just one part of Microsoft’s “Office Wave 15”, intended to be a coordinated release of major Office server applications such as Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync alongside client applications like Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint. In some respects, it would be inconceivable for Exchange to say “no” if all the other Office groups said “yes”. Discounting internal politics (yes, please, but not always possible), the bug count is another major influence on whether a product is ready to be released. Bugs are not created equal and one person’s terribly important bug might be placed in another person’s easy-to-ignore category. It all depends on whether a bug is obvious, stops major functionality working, can easily be reproduced, and so on. Product groups use a triage process to figure out whether a bug must be fixed...More
Oct 11, 2012

Expiring digital signatures and rereleased updates

A reasonable amount of confusion appears to have arisen after Microsoft re-released the latest roll-up updates for Exchange 2007 SP3 and Exchange 2010 SP1 and SP2 on October 9. Only one piece of additional functionality is included in the new software (KB2756987, a fix that ensures the correct search results are provided to Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013 clients), so it’s not the case that Microsoft suddenly discovered some lingering bug or horrible problem that they had distributed in error in the original releases....More
Oct 9, 2012

ActiveSync problems with iOS6 1

Online forums have many reports about ActiveSync problems encountered by Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 users after upgrading their Apple devices to iOS6. One issue is when a user “hijacks” a meeting by being made its organizer after they open a meeting request, sometimes associated with delegate access to the organizer’s mailbox. A related issue might be when a user edits a meeting on their device only to send a cancellation message to all involved, even when the meeting request isn’t sent by a delegate. Some reports indicate a connection with devices that synchronize with the Apple iCloud, others say that this isn’t a factor. What’s confusing the issue is that, aside from working with meeting requests on an iOS6 device (and potentially only devices that have been upgraded to iOS6 rather than coming fresh from the factory with iOS6 preinstalled), there doesn’t seem to be great commonality across the reported concerns. Microsoft Support and Apple are involved to drive to a solution but there’s no word yet whether the problem lies in the ActiveSync protocol or in Apple’s implementation of ActiveSync in their email client. Remember, Microsoft licenses ActiveSync to other companies such as Apple; Microsoft does not test, measure, approve, or qualify the implementation of ActiveSync thereafter. Sure, they work with partners to resolve issues when they arise, but there’s no big ActiveSync control organization testing partner code before clients are provided to end users. The openness of ActiveSync is one of its charms as it encourages innovation from partners to build really good email clients. The downside is that sometimes bugs creep through the development process and are only exposed in production. Meeting and other calendar data have always been an issue for mobile clients, mostly because the code that manipulated calendar data was scattered throughout different parts of Exchange. One set of business logic was used when an Outlook client updated a meeting; quite...More
Oct 4, 2012

Outlook 2013 introduces hybrid cached mode

One of the nice things about attending the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) is the chance to sit down with development engineers to learn about the software they’re working on. Karim Batthish introduced me to Allie Bellew because he wanted me to know about a new feature that’s coming in Outlook 2013. The problem that they are trying to solve is to provide users with quicker access to data when working in cached mode. As you might recall, Outlook 2013 changes its cached model to allow users to selectively keep a certain amount of data cached in the local OST while the remainder is held in the online mailbox. The theory here is that as we deal with larger and larger mailboxes, it doesn’t make much sense to keep everything cached because users really only need access to their most recent data. In any case, Outlook 2013 includes “hybrid mode”, which means that it’s got the ability to switch between cached and online data to display information to the user faster. The gate is 400ms, measured when the user logs on and connects to Exchange and updated when the user switches folders. If the network connection is good enough, Outlook can switch into hybrid mode to fetch data from the server and if not, access the OST. The thought might cross your mind that it’s always going to be faster to access information from a local source, especially when the OST is held on a SSD. This is true: local cached information is always faster and Outlook prefers to get data from the OST if possibl...More
Oct 2, 2012

Exchange 2010 SP3 prepares the way for Exchange 2013

Given the fuss around the Microsoft Exchange Conference, you might have missed Microsoft’s announcement of the upcoming release of Exchange 2010 Service Pack 3, but I didn’t. Indeed, it was a strange announcement in some respects because Microsoft generally doesn’t announce a service pack some three or four months before the software shifts. In this case, they had to release the news (which was an open secret anyway) because sessions at MEC such as “co-existence with Exchange 2013” discussed the need for customers to deploy Exchange 2010 SP3 before they can install Exchange 2013. A host of architectural and other changes are in Exchange 2013, many of which flow from the decision to retrench Exchange server roles into Client Access Server (CAS, or front-end) and Mailbox (or back-end). The older Hub Transport and Unified Messaging roles have been succumbed into CAS or Mailbox and there’s been a redistribution of workload across the server roles to make the CAS a true stateless server. Older servers have no knowledge of the changes in Exchange 2013. It’s logical that these servers would need to be updated to be able to co-exist alongside Exchange 2013 in the same organization. Exchange 2010 SP3 updates servers so that they can exchange messages and proxy connections with Exchange 2013 – and share the upgraded Active Directory schema required by Exchange 2013 to support its range of new features such as Data Leak Protection. You’ll need to apply SP3 to all Exchange 2010 servers...More
Sep 27, 2012

The upside and downside of Microsoft's focus on the cloud

The upside and downside flowing from Microsoft’s growing investment in cloud-based services was illustrated by two recent blog posts. On the downside, Microsoft announced that they were cancelling a range of on-premises security products including Threat Management Gateway (TMG) and Forefront Protection for Exchange (FPE). Microsoft’s new focus is on cloud-based security, a move that makes absolute business sense for Microsoft as it allows them to move out of what has become an area of low profitability when measured against engineering investment. In addition, Microsoft already has to provide anti-virus and anti-spam protection for Office 365 and can offset their costs against the monthly subscriptions that are now flooding into “the service”. All in all, it’s a good deal for Microsoft that will cause some pain for customers who need to get their heads around the new situation. I don’t treat the situation as a problem because I think it opens up a space where Microsoft previously took a lot of the available oxygen to innovation that will hopefully flow from other companies. Although the traditional on-premises anti-malware products will continue to handle situations such as regular scans of mailbox databases, I think that hardware-based appliances (perhaps virtualized) might be the right way to process the ever-increasing volume of inbound email. Time and investment will tell here. The upside of Microsoft’s focus on the cloud platform can be seen in the new monitoring...More
Sep 25, 2012

MEC shows that Outlook, OWA, and EAC user interfaces maturing nicely

The demos in yesterday’s MEC opening keynote revealed an improved user interface for Outlook and Outlook Web App (OWA) compared to the preview versions released in August. This is to be expected as the developers refine their code in a drive to eliminate bugs and streamline the UI before the products eventually ship, expected later this year or in early 2013. In any case, improvement is always good to see, even if some still believe that the Metro influence results in far too much white space, so much so that I’ve heard people complain of headaches after a day working with Outlook 2013. Perhaps the changes seen yesterday will help. The new user interface makes it hard sometimes to tell Outlook and OWA apart. OWA 2013 is now a very feature-rich client that shares many new features with its big brother, including inline editing of messages and the display of “people” data gathered from sources such as LinkedIn and Facebook (Twitter seems missing, which is interesting). These data sources are revealed by add-ins created using the new Outlook development model, which holds out the promise that apps developed now will survive without needed rework for future versions of Outlook. OWA 2013 also includes offline mode (providing you use a suitable browser), but lacks some of Outlook’s offline capabilities such as the OAB or local full-text indexing. No doubt these gaps will close over time. Outlook 2013 and OWA 2013 have also been optimized for touch with big buttons that are easy for fingers to locate. In addition, if you detach a touch-enabled client device such as the unnamed but highly likely to be Microsoft Surface from its keyboard, Outlook 2013 reveals a number of command buttons (including delete) positioned so that they’re easy to use with right-handed thumbs. No comment was made whether this is a configurable setting that left-handers can change. It probably is. Despite its twice-over remake in Exchange 2010 (once in RTM and again for SP1), OWA receives another...More
Sep 20, 2012

Questions for Exchange engineers at MEC

A Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) provides a unique opportunity to engage in direct debate with the Exchange development group. Lots of engineers and product managers will be present at the conference and they won’t be able to hide! Not that they would, of course, but it will be difficult for engineers and product managers to disguise their status given that many of them will be presenting sessions. Given a target-rich environment for people who might provide interesting answers to questions, here’s a selection of questions relating to Exchange 2013 that I’m interested in knowing more about. You probably have your own list, but for those who don’t… Explain the full deployment methodology required to introduce Exchange 2013 into an existing organization containing Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 servers. What server roles are introduced first, where do they go, and are there any specific interoperability issues to deal with? Why have you dropped context-sensitive menus and the PowerShell learning tools from the Exchange Administration Center (EAC)? Given that Exchange 2013 includes almost 200 new PowerShell cmdlets, it doesn’t sound like a great idea to drop features that helped administrators understand the syntax and use of Exchange’s cmdlets. What features of Exchange 2013 such as Data Leakage Prevention (DFP) and site mailboxes depend on Outlook 2013? Of course, some features also depend on SharePoint 2013 (site mailboxes again)....More
Sep 18, 2012

Choosing the right operating system for Exchange 2013 1

One of the interesting decisions awaiting those who want to deploy Exchange 2013 is the operating system to use. The choice is pretty straightforward. You can use either Windows 2012 Server or Windows 2008 R2 SP1. Is the choice then between the well-proven record of the latter and the new promise of the former? Let’s discuss. An obvious influence on the debate is the way that Microsoft now treats upgrades for new versions of Exchange. Whereas B2B (build-to-build) upgrades are supported within a specific version of Exchange, you haven’t been able to upgrade one version of Exchange to a newer release ever since Microsoft discovered the joys of forcing customers to deploy new servers for Exchange 2007. Of course, Microsoft had a great covering story when Exchange 2007 hove into view. The complexity of moving a server running a 32-bit version of Windows and a 32-bit version of Exchange to 64-bit versions of the O/S and email server were just too horrendous to be contemplated. Panic would ensure if Microsoft even attempted such a feat, so they simply said “we’re making this real easy for you – buy some nice new 64-bit hardware and have a nice day”. And so it came to pass that ever since we’ve experienced easy upgrades while making it possible for the friendly representative of our preferred server vendor to make their quarterly sales target. From Microsoft’s perspective, the decision to avoid in-place server upgrades makes life very much easier for the installation engineers...More
Sep 13, 2012

Will Exchange Customers Trust the Cloud to Provide Anti-Malware Protection?

The news that Microsoft will discontinue producing standalone releases of their Forefront-branded anti-malware products will come as a bit of a shock to many, but I think it makes good sense. Here’s why.First, the world of threat prevention and cure has come a long way since the first wave of email-transmitted viruses hit at the end of the last century. Although some spammers and virus authors might consider using a vector similar to the famous “I Love You” virus that launched an industry for email AV engines, I doubt that their work would make it past the first line of defense of any AV product available today. Much more intelligence (some might say deviousness) is exerted to penetrate the sophisticated AV scanning that exists today....More
Sep 11, 2012

Exchange 2013 Site Mailboxes; a new beginning for collaboration?

What are we to make of the latest attempt by Microsoft to achieve collaborative nirvana in the shape of Exchange 2013 site mailboxes as described in a recent EHLO post? Those of us experienced enough to have gone through many false dawns in the past might be forgiven to being a tad cynical about the promises of collaboration bliss, the easy interaction between SharePoint and Exchange, the completeness of discovery searches across multiple repositories, and the excellence of the Outlook 2013 user interface, but that’s not a reason to consign site mailboxes to the wastebasket, at least not at this point. Everyone will have their own definition of what collaboration means and how this can be best achieved within Exchange. Some believe that email (still the collaborative application par excellence) is good enough, provided it is used well. Others consider public folders to be capable of satisfying the needs of their organization and look forward to the advent of “modern” public folders in Exchange 2013. And there are many who have invested heavily in SharePoint and are annoyed that Microsoft has not been able to connect Exchange to SharePoint in any coherent manner since SharePoint was first released some eleven years ago. I doubt that site mailboxes will do much for anyone who is focused on email or public folders. There is sufficient in Exchange 2013 to keep these folk happy and anyway, the thoughts of having to deploy SharePoint 2013 into production....More
Sep 6, 2012

The Implications of Outlook 2013 Changing OST Cache Behavior 2

When I wrote about my initial experiences of Outlook 2013 Preview on July 24, I remarked that the installation of Outlook 2013 forced a recreation of my Offline Storage file (OST). The new OST was much smaller than the older version used by Outlook 2010, a fact that seemed to be a good thing at the time even if the creation of OSTs en masse might generate a resource consumption problem for servers if you deployed Outlook 2013 to multiple users at one time....More
What's Tony Redmond's Exchange Unwashed Blog?

On-premises and cloud-based Microsoft Exchange Server and all the associated technology that runs alongside Microsoft's enterprise messaging server.


Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro. His latest books are Office 365 for Exchange Professionals (eBook, May 2015) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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