Tony Redmond's Exchange Unwashed Blog

May 1, 2012

Will "Death to Outlook" follow "Death to Word"? 3

A boring Tuesday in April brings me to contemplate the intriguing article entitled “Death to Word” (the title, at least, got your attention). Basically the author’s premise is it’s time for Microsoft to put Word for Windows into the spare parts bin. Some of the targets identified in the article are easy to anticipate. For example,” Clippy” makes yet another appearance as the animated icon everyone loves to hate. Other Word features that the author identifies as not worth having will probably surprise because you might consider them worth having, such as the way that Word automatically adds a superscripted “th” after ordinal numbers. To each their own, I suppose....More
Apr 26, 2012

FAST searching coming to Office 15 server applications

The canaries are really singing around Redmond to reveal details of the upcoming Office 15 product releases. At one level it’s kind of irritating to be bound by various Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) that are strictly enforced by Microsoft only to see how Microsoft clearly plants details with journalists in the obvious knowledge that this information will end up in the public domain in short order. But then you realize that this activity is all part of the game that plays out around the launch of any new product. It’s called marketing. One of the details that slipped out last week was the fact that Office 15 marks the introduction of FAST-based search technology into the Office 15 server products to provide a single, consistent, enterprise-class search capability across repositories managed by Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. Microsoft announced their intention to acquire the Norwegian-based FAST company in January 2008 for $1.2 billion. The deal was completed in May 2008 and since then Microsoft has been working to integrate FAST into its line-up in products such as FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint. The FAST engineering team remains based in Norway. Exchange has used different search capabilities over the years. Originally, it used MSSearch in Exchange 2003 and then upgraded to use its own content indexing search in Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010. The search feature has improved over the years through closer integration with the different parts of Exchange....More
Apr 23, 2012

Offline access through IE10;maybe an OWA feature in Exchange 2013?

With all the fuss and bother about the implementation of HTML5 in Internet Explorer 10 (as part of Windows 8), it’s interesting to reflect on how far we have come in terms of web clients for email since Exchange Web Access (subsequently Outlook Web Access) appeared in Exchange 5.0 (1997). The version of Outlook Web App (as OWA is known now) included in the latest version of on-premises Exchange 2010 and in Exchange Online as part of Office 365 is obviously more functional, better performing, and complete than its predecessor. In fact, OWA has been a huge part of Exchange’s success and a key contributing factor to Microsoft’s ability to launch Office 365 as there’s no way that a cloud service could compete without a great web email client. Of course, the lessons learned in OWA have also been used by Microsoft to build the Exchange Control Panel (ECP) and that’s another major Office 365 component that will probably exert a bigger influence over the on-premises product as new versions of Exchange roll out. In terms of technology, Microsoft has moved a long way from its implementation of WebDAV and DHTML for OWA in Exchange 2000 as described in Alex Hoffman’s blog or indeed, the EHLO post that covers the same topic in less detail....More
Apr 19, 2012

Does Microsoft Explain Cloud Outages Better Than Google?

On October 3, I wrote about the success that Google was then enjoying at achieving stellar levels of performance against SLA for Gmail, which had delivered 99.984% availability for users in 2010 and appeared to be doing even better in 2011. I guess the pressure of fighting multiple law suits must be transmitting stress from the executive suite elsewhere in Mountain View because Gmail has not delivered the same performance since. In fact, soon after I wrote the original piece, Gmail suffered a 50 minute outage on 31 October. Not so bad, but enough to put a big hole in their hopes of achieving the same SLA performance as in 2010. And then Gmail had another blip on April 17, 2012 when “something” caused a 64 minute outage that Google said affected less than 2% of their estimated 350 million users worldwide. Again not so bad, unless you were one of the 7 million people who were deprived of their email fix. It seems therefore that Exchange Online has been doing a little better in its competition against Gmail recently. There was the small matter of the APAC outage on March 16, but no one really counts a problem that only affected people at the other end of the world, do they? At least, that’s what it seemed like based on the lack of coverage in the mainstream IT media. I don’t want to keep on harping about cloud email outages because it really doesn’t matter all that much if either Gmail or Exchange Online are inaccessible for an hour or so every so often....More
Apr 17, 2012

Exchange’s monopoly and its importance to Microsoft

The key position that Exchange Server occupies in the Microsoft firmament and some of the challenges that it faces in the future are laid out in an interesting presentation called “10 Hypotheses for Technology Investing” that’s given by Roger McNamee, managing director and co-founder of Elevation Partners, a VC company that has had some notable successes with investments in Facebook, Yelp, and Palm. McNamee has been giving this presentation at various conferences for a while (the reason why many 2011 dates appear on the slides) in an effort to drive some debate about where the IT industry is going. Some interesting ideas are aired, including the impact of mobile devices on the fabric and function of the Internet; the impact of these changes on Google; how Apple’s closed-wall model threatens the kind of Internet that Google has built its success upon; and the disruption that has resulted from iPads (the first successful tablet) and what this means for other players. His views don’t make great reading if you’re a Microsoft stockholder (I’m not). McNamee boldly states that software development for Windows has all but stopped as developers rush to embrace the app model or develop for the web. In addition, Microsoft’s subscription model imposes a “tax” of roughly $1,000 annually per PC and that these factors contribute to the fall in the percentage of Windows in the overall pool of devices connected to the Internet....More
Apr 13, 2012

Exchange 2013 to RTM in mid-November 2012?

Well, if the information revealed by IDG and other publications is correct, Exchange 2013 (Exchange 15, don’t you know) will make its debut alongside the rest of the Office Wave 15 products in early 2013. Mary Jo Foley has previously reported that the "whisper date" (Microsoft leak) for the Office 15 Release to Manufacturing date is in mid-November. RTM is the point when the engineers have concluded that the code is solid enough to be unleashed into production and so the code is formally released to be made available to customers through various channels. The graphic describing the product roadmap revealed in the articles, which Microsoft apparently released to their Partner Network confirms that the "general availability" date for Office 15 products is in the end-2012/early 2013 timeframe....More
Apr 12, 2012

Exchange 2003 and Outlook 2003 enter the final two years

There’s been some recent commentary about the fact that Windows XP will reach its formal end-of-life milestone in less than two years time. What might just have passed you by is that the same thing happened for Exchange 2003 and Outlook 2003 on April 8, 2012. In other words, on April 8, 2014 these products reach their planned end-of-life and after that time Microsoft will cease to worry about small but important details such as security updates, bug fixes, and the like. Neither product will stop working when the magic date happens, but it’s a brave administrator that plans to continue into the unknown without the comforting feeling that they can call Microsoft support if they meet a bad bug or suffer a security issue. Actually, they can probably still call Microsoft support but I predict that the subsequent conversation will be a frustrating and unsatisfying experience. Come to think of it, just like many other telephone calls with support desks. Before I receive a barrage of hate mail to tell me just how horribly I have maligned support organizations, let me point out that I have both worked for and been responsible for product support and know exactly how difficult the job is and how unsatisfying calls can be from the other side of the phone line. Microsoft has already applied the mark of doom to Outlook 2003 by refusing to allow it to be a client for Exchange Online in Office 365....More
Apr 10, 2012

Dispelling myths and other half truths

Don’t believe everything that you read on the Internet. This is good advice that more people should really follow considering the amount of sheer dross that one comes across in an average day. A good example is a recent publication of a blog review that purports to compare Zimbra Collaboration Server (ZCS), the open-source based email server now owned by VMware, and Exchange 2010. The core theory advanced by the author, a fellow named Christopher Wells who rejoices in the splendid handle “vSamauri” (probably due to his experience in Japan coupled with his focus on VMware), is that ZCS can be simply dropped in to replace Exchange “in enterprise deployments of all sizes”. The ideas advanced in the article have been comprehensively addressed by a rebuttal written by Dave Stork and Michel de Rooij, so I won’t bother to repeat those points here. Instead, I’d like to consider some of the myths about Exchange that the article perpetuates....More
Apr 5, 2012

The Finer Details of Exchange High Availability

The esteemed Scott Schnoll, famed speaker at many TechEd and other conferences around the world, recently tweeted a reminder about one of the most useful articles published about Exchange 2010 High Availability that was originally published in May 2011. Good information like this article ages well and it’s always a pleasure to review to both reinforce knowledge and discover new details that had previously escaped your attention. Scott presents a number of misconceptions about Exchange high availability in the article. I especially like #4, which reviews how Active Manager makes use of the AutoDatabaseMountDial setting during automatic database transition. This is a property of a mailbox server that can vary from server to server within a deployment. Of course, the name of this setting doesn’t immediately tell you what it governs. It might be better named as AutomaticDatabaseTransitionThreshold (too long) or AutoDatabaseMountThreshold. In any case, the setting is named as it is and we are stuck with it....More
Apr 3, 2012

Immutability, Perry, and Exchange

Immutability is a word that trips elegantly off the tongue. It’s also a word that is used more often to describe an aspect of Exchange that receives increasing attention from the legal eagles (aka the fine, upstanding members of the legal profession who assist technologists to run computer systems in a legally-pleasing manner). I was reminded of this fact when I viewed a video where Perry Clarke, a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer who has made many contributions to the development of Exchange over the years, explained what immutability means in a practical sense to the contents of user mailboxes. In a nutshell, immutability is the driving factor behind many of the compliance features that Microsoft introduced in Exchange 2010 such as “dumpster 2.0”, retention and litigation hold, and archive mailboxes to create an environment where the system can retain data in an unchangeable form. The problem that these features seek to address is pretty simple. Up to and including Exchange 2007, it’s possible for users who want to cover their tracks to remove potentially incriminating data from mailboxes. The original dumpster implementation uses a special mailbox view to track soft-deleted items. In this context, “soft-deleted” means an item that a user has deleted from a mailbox folder that is kept in the database until its retention period expires....More
Mar 29, 2012

iPhone meet Exchange 2010

If you’re an Exchange administrator who has to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous Apple technology, aka the iPhones and iPads that have become essential business equipment over the last few years, you could do worse by placing an early order for iPhone with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 - Business Integration and Deployment. I don’t typically recommend books that have not yet been published because I know that many a twist lies between an author typing the last word and the final printed copy appearing. However, this book is written by Steve Goodman, a gentle soul who has made many previous contributions to the Exchange community, including his organization report written in PowerShell, a wonderful piece of work that creates a nice snapshot of an Exchange organization from the data held in Active Directory and other sources. The report works inside organizations that have Exchange 2003, Exchange 2007, and Exchange 2010 servers and includes details of such essential elements as Database Availability Groups. Steve has been grappling with iPhones and iPads in his daily work as an Exchange administrator for a large company. As such, you can take it that the advice given in the book is practical and down-to-earth. In fact, it’s the kind of stuff that an elder sibling might tell you as you head out into the world to deal with the various challenges that an email administrator faces. Seeing that it’s written by a PowerShell expert, there are plenty of useful code snippets that you can use to help control the i* devices through ActiveSync. All in all, well worth a browse. You never know when that VP of Operations insists that their iPad simply must be connected in a secure manner!...More
Mar 27, 2012

Of vaults and retention policies

A recent article describing the early history of the technology that subsequently became Symantec Enterprise Vault provoked some other memories of ideas that percolated up during the early days of Exchange that have subsequently found their way into the product, albeit in a form that is different to their eventual implementation. Early versions of Exchange depended on users to “do the right thing” and keep their mailboxes under control. Like many other noble aspirations, this concept was doomed to failure almost as soon as it appeared because users have much better things to do with their lives than to care very much about the contents of their mailboxes. Severe mailbox quotas proved to be the only effective tool to persuade users to remove the email equivalent of debris and clutter and so stop mailboxes from swelling to uncontrollable sizes. Of course, in those long-past days we were very concerned about the cost of storage. Most corporate mailboxes began with a quota of 50MB and might be allowed to grow to the almost unimaginable size of 500MB if you were an especially important executive or knew some saucy detail about the Exchange administrator’s personal life. Messages were smaller too as marketing departments had not yet found out how to incorporate rich graphic backgrounds into PowerPoint templates. All in all, it was a simpler time....More
Mar 22, 2012

Unreported and unloved: March 16 APAC Exchange Online outage

The Exchange Online outage that affected some users in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region on March 16 (March 15 in the U.S.) must be a candidate for the most under-reported cloud outage so far this year. Of course, I totally acknowledge that I jinxed Office 365 by publishing an article the same day to commend Microsoft on six months of solid operation. I apologize to my friends in Redmond and promise to rub a rabbit’s foot before commenting on Office 365 operations in the future. Getting back to the outage, it seems like the problem was DNS-related. A problem occurred in Microsoft’s Singapore datacenter that should have resulted in a smooth failover to servers in the Hong Kong datacenter. However, some DNS glitches got in the way and subscribers in Australia and New Zealand reported that they couldn’t access their Exchange Online mailbox....More
Mar 20, 2012

Office 365 price reductions - but what about Plan P?

Microsoft’s March 14 announcement that “the cost to run Office 365 becomes more efficient” and that ”we're able pass on savings to make it even more affordable for customers of all sizes to move to Office 365” is good news for many customers....More
Mar 16, 2012

Exchange 2013 anyone?

Now that Mary Jo Foley has published some information about the next major release of SharePoint that reveals the use of the product name “SharePoint 2013”, can we conclude that the next major release of Exchange will be “Exchange 2013”? After all, both products are part of the “Office 15 wave” (Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, etc…) whose concurrent arrival as a public beta is expected sometime later this year....More
Mar 15, 2012

Six months of solid Office 365 performance (but...) 4

I wanted to write an upbeat article to congratulate Office 365 on delivering a successful six months of flawless service since their last major outage on September 8/9 2011. Although six months is nothing really to boast about in an era when Service Level Agreements (SLAs) call for delivery of well over 99.9% availability, I think it’s still important to acknowledge progress and say that Office 365 now exhibits signs of a mature and reliable service in which customers can have confidence. And then my confidence was shattered by the Microsoft Azure outage (or rather, a service disruption) that was apparently caused by a software problem dealing with leap years. As Bill Laing, Corporate VP for Server and Cloud, reported, the problem appeared to be due to a “time calculation that was incorrect for the leap year”. Of course, leap years only occur every four years and February 29 2012 was the first time that a Microsoft cloud service woke up to find that February and 29 was now part of its reality, but wouldn’t you have thought that someone like a software architect might have taken leap years into account when Microsoft designed the service?...More
Mar 13, 2012

Exchange 2010 uses two distinct types of circular logging 2

Circular logging is not a new concept for Exchange as it’s a feature of the product ever since Microsoft released Exchange 4.0 in March 1996. Back then (yes, it was in the dark ages), disk space was very expensive relative to today and most servers came equipped with disks measured in hundreds of megabytes. But that was OK because the average size of a corporate mailbox was around 30MB and consumers hadn’t really figured out how to use email. The basic idea behind circular logging is that the Information Store process uses a constrained set of transaction logs to capture transactions, reusing logs in the set as the transactions contained in the logs are committed into the database. You can quickly see the attraction of circular logging in situations where disk space is tight because you always know that Exchange will never use more than five or six logs in the set and you don’t run the danger of exhausting available space on a disk because of an accumulation of logs. Early versions of Exchange used 5MB transaction logs, so a maximum of 30MB or so would be used for the logs. Current versions of Exchange use 1MB transaction logs. Circular logging is a property of a mailbox or public folder database....More
Mar 8, 2012

The early history of Enterprise Vault

Symantec’s Enterprise Vault (EV) product is possibly the industry-leading archive product for email. I say possibly because there are many different perspectives on this point that depend very much on the context of the observer....More
Mar 6, 2012

MEC returns in September 2012: the Exchange community applauds! 1

Microsoft has announced that the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) is coming back with the first conference planned for Orlando in September 24-26 2012. I think that this is terrific news. It’s something that I have lobbied many Microsoft people for over a long period and although I claim no credit for the decision, I am pleased because it shows a welcome willingness to listen to the technical community. MEC began at a time when Exchange competed against a wide range of other email systems from Lotus Notes to Digital’s ALL-IN-1 and MailWorks to Novell GroupWise. A need existed to inform customers and potential buyers about the product’s potential and how the technology in Exchange really worked. MEC allowed the Exchange developers to meet their target audience and learn from customers about the features that were really needed to make the product ultra-competitive. The unique combination of people, information, and the competitive environment resulted in much fun and many stories....More
Mar 1, 2012

Why sharing real-life support tools is so important 1

I guess that Microsoft troubleshooting utilities are like buses. You wait forever for one to come along and then two arrive at the same time. And so it is with the recent release of two Microsoft tools to help us maintain Outlook clients in robust good health. On February 21, I discussed the Outlook Configuration Analysis Tool (OCAT), a fine piece of work that should be of great help to administrators who need to debug a misbehaving Outlook 2010 or Outlook 2007 client. And now we have the Outlook Calendar Checking Tool (Calcheck), a command-line utility that is designed to scan for and report on issues that might cause problems in calendar items in a mailbox but not fix them. The functions of Calcheck are already covered in depth on the EHLO blog and no further comment is really necessary on that point. What I find interesting about these two utilities is that their authors appear to be from the Microsoft support organization, escalation engineers who have to understand and solve the more difficult problems that customers report to Microsoft. I like this very much because you can assume that the utilities address real-world problems. After all, why have they been written if not to help the support organization debug and fix customer problems?...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 and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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