Tony Redmond's Exchange Unwashed Blog

Oct 5, 2011

Writing books about Microsoft topics just got a little bit harder

An interesting blog from Microsoft relating that they have released (in beta) a new feature that allow you to pick up to 100 topics from the TechNet library, arrange the topics as you like, and then save the collection as a book that can be generated as a PDF (perhaps for use on a mobile device such as a Kindle) provoked the thought that writing books about Microsoft technology just became a little bit harder. Some years ago, those who wrote books on Windows, Exchange, and other Microsoft products were content in the knowledge that every couple of years Microsoft would turn the world on its head and release a new version of an application or operating system that would be completely different in many respects to its predecessor. Documentation would be sparse and incomplete and people had no way of finding out the essential information they needed to conduct a successful deployment without buying a book. Blogs existed but were not as common or as useful as they are today. The upshot was that each release was accompanied by a flood of books purporting to contain the secret sauce for successful deployments. Some of the books were good, based on practical experience, and really helped. Others, especially those rushed out to meet the RTM date of the product, were not as good. These books were based on beta code (that was always liable to change before RTM) and the standard of writing and editing revealed the pressures of a rush job. On the upside, the books always contained many screen shots to pad out pages and therefore provided a compelling picture-rich bedtime story for administrators. Today’s world is completely different in many respects. Books are still published about Microsoft products and we still have a spectrum of solid material to ho-hum error-ridden text available for purchase. The difference is that books now have to compete against a flood of information that exists in TechNet and other Internet sources. Of course, it is only right and proper that Micr...More
Oct 3, 2011

Google sets the pace in achieving 99.9%+ SLA performance for cloud-based application suites 2

Despite IBM’s claim that Lotus Live is a true contender, in the eyes of most companies who are considering cloud-based applications Google Apps and Office 365 are the only games in town. Given Microsoft’s difficulties in achieving its SLA, it’s worth looking at the SLA record of its major competitor. And some interesting facts come into focus if you look at the information presented in the Google Enterprise blog. First, in 2011 Google decided that they would exclude planned maintenance from the calculation of downtime. Scheduled maintenance has always been the get-out clause for services providers but now Google says that all downtime counts when they calculate SLA. Google further claims that they are the first major cloud provider to eliminate maintenance windows from their SLA. By comparison, the latest version of the Service Level Agreement for Microsoft Online Services (dated June 1, 2011 and available here) says that “Downtime means the total minutes in a month during which the aspects of a service specified … are unavailable, multiplied by the number of affected users, excluding (1) Scheduled Downtime…”...More
Sep 26, 2011

The Joy of PowerShell for Exchange Administrators 7

My recent post outlining how important PowerShell is to Microsoft Exchange Server and how some of the concepts established in the implementation of Remote PowerShell in Exchange 2010 are finding their way into Windows Server 8 provoked a flurry of email messages, some of which posed the excellent question, “I’m struggling to master (or even understand) PowerShell; how do I make progress?”...More
Sep 22, 2011

PowerShell: the gift that keeps on giving to Exchange 6

When reading the list of speakers for the Fall 2011 Exchange Connections conference, I was impressed to see Jeffrey Snover on the list of speakers who will deliver a keynote session. For those who are unfamiliar with his name, Jeffrey is the father of PowerShell and is therefore someone who has made a huge and important contribution to Exchange, albeit indirectly. His keynote should be worth the admission price alone. I realize that many of you who work with Exchange might not share my enthusiasm for PowerShell. After all, isn’t it just revisiting the command-line past, something that makes one think that you’re coping with the piping and scripting beloved of UNIX and Linux geeks? Well, the command-line nature of PowerShell is there for all to see and PowerShell is awfully fond of piping (and gets a lot of its power from this ability) and there’s no doubt that scripting is something that PowerShell devotees spend a lot of their time discussing, but all of this is missing the point. The reason why I think PowerShell has made such a contribution to Exchange, including Exchange Online in Office 365, is simple: it provides the ability to automate common administrative tasks quickly, simply, and accurately in a way that even the best-designed GUI-based management console will never be able to do. In addition, the Exchange development group took the fundamental decision from Exchange 2007 onwards to encapsulate the business logic that drives the product around what is now a very large set of well over 600 PowerShell cmdlets. This was a stunning and far-reaching decision that no other major Microsoft server product emulated for several years. Indeed, it’s only relatively recently that elements of Windows Server such as Active Directory have supported similar access via PowerShell (the TechNet articles on the topic are dated from February 2009).  In passing, let me say that “cmdlet” is one of my least favorite technical terms. I find it to be neither fish nor foul...More
Sep 20, 2011

Gartner wrong when they say that Gmail is ready to tackle Outlook 2

I sometimes wonder about the sanity of Gartner analysts. That thought wandered into my mind this morning when I read the headline in the U.K. Daily Telegraph newspaper proclaiming “Gmail ready to tackle Microsoft Outlook”. Apparently some of the leading analysts in Gartner have concluded that five years after its introduction, Gmail is finally ready to worry Microsoft. The report went on to say: "The road to its enterprise enlightenment has been long and bumpy, but Gmail should now be considered a mainstream cloud email supplier," said Matthew Cain, research vice president at Gartner. "While Gmail's enterprise email market share currently hovers around one per cent, it has close to half of the market for enterprise cloud email.” The report is really about the competition between Gmail and Exchange Online. In the larger scheme of things, it’s probably more firmly based on the competition between Google Apps and Office 365 because most large enterprises will make their buying decision on the basis of the capabilities of an application suite rather than a single application, even one that this so pervasive as email....More
Sep 18, 2011

Be there or be square: Come to Exchange Connections and have a great time!

There’s lots of new stuff to talk about at the Fall 2011 Exchange Connections conference in Las Vegas (Oct 31-Nov 3). Since the last conference we’ve seen the launch of Office 365 and a steady growth in interest from companies who have either started to use Microsoft’s cloud platform or are planning a migration from on-premises Exchange. Microsoft is also busy preparing Service Pack 2 for Exchange 2010 and have hinted at some of the new features included in this release. So there’s quite a bit for the Exchange community to review, discuss, ponder, and basically get sorted. My contribution to the conference is a keynote on November 2 when my topic is “Why Microsoft’s Head is in the Cloud and what this means to you”. My goal is to explain my view on the engineering and competitive pressures that Microsoft is under as it develops new versions of Exchange that are capable of delivering equally well for both on-premises and cloud customers. I also want to discuss factors that I think every company needs to consider before they make the decision to move to a cloud email platform and some of the practical aspects of migrations such as making support work in a cloud environment. Finally, I want to talk about the choices that face an administrator whose job has been to manage an on-premises Exchange deployment if their company decides to move towards Office 365. I believe that this discussion is timely and hope that it will be useful to attendees. So come along and debate the issues of the day with fellow members of the Exchange community – and take the time to hang out with all the experts who’ll be attending such as Paul Robichaux, Mike Crowley, Michael B. Smith, Jim McBee, Tim McMichael,Siegfried Jagott, Anthony Vitell, and Lee Mackey. Although we can’t guarantee how much fun you’ll have in Vegas, this group can guarantee real-life advice and guidance to solving some of the hardest Exchange conundrums that we all have to face. See you at Connections!...More
Sep 16, 2011

Office 365 book is a curate's egg for Exchange administrators

I’ve been reading a copy of the free ebook “Microsoft Office 365: Connect and collaborate virtually anywhere, anytime” by Katherine Murray. The book was released in mid August and is the first Office 365 title from Microsoft Press. Normally a major Microsoft product launch is accompanied by a flood of books on the topic, many of which are based on beta software....More
Sep 14, 2011

The Strange Case of IE9, MMC, and Exchange: Some light appears at the end of the tunnel 4

On August 17, I wrote about an annoying and longstanding problem that surfaced on computers where the Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010 management tools are installed once IE9 is introduced to the mix. Microsoft had been pretty quiet on the topic ever since reports first emerged in April that the Exchange Management Console (EMC) refused to close properly after the installation of IE9 and a firm impression had taken hold within the Exchange community that the Microsoft engineering groups responsible for the technology involved in the situation (Exchange, IE, and the Microsoft Management Console - MMC) were having some difficulty in figuring out the root cause and how best to address the problem. No one questions the fact that large organizations have their own tempo when it comes to resolving internal debates. Furthermore, no one questions that it can be hellishly difficult to determine just what’s going wrong when a new software mix suddenly exhibits odd behavior. Microsoft would therefore have been forgiven if they had used their own software bug reporting and resolution processes to address the bug in a reasonable timeframe....More
Sep 12, 2011

Are recent cloud outages a byproduct of the success of Office 365?

Details are slowly emerging about the DNS problem that caused the massive cloud failure for all of Microsoft’s hosted services on September 8. According to a statement given to, Microsoft said: “On Thursday, September 8th at approximately 8 p.m. PDT, Microsoft became aware of a Domain Name Service (DNS) problem causing service degradation for multiple cloud-based services. A tool that helps balance network traffic was being updated, and for a currently unknown reason, the update did not work correctly. As a result, the configuration was corrupted, which caused service disruption. Service restoration began at approximately 10:30 p.m. PDT, with full service restoration completed at approximately 11:30 p.m. PDT. We are continuing to review the incident.” Hmmm… this isn’t good. DNS is hardly an unknown corner of the Internet world and has been around nearly 30 years. It’s therefore surprising that Microsoft has problems with its management. CIOs considering a transition from on-premises IT to cloud services might well ask why the tools used to manage essential pieces of the infrastructure are not more robust and tested to ensure that any malfunction does not have a huge impact on services....More
Sep 9, 2011

Bad week for the cloud as both Microsoft and Google suffer outages 1

The fact that cloud services depend on a lot of infrastructure that has grown up gradually as the Internet developed provoked more headaches for Office 365 this week. Whereas the August 17 outage for North American users of Exchange Online was due to failed network components, Microsoft could not have been held responsible for the outage that afflicted Office 365, Azure, Hotmail and other cloud services on September 8/9 as the root cause seems to lie within the Domain Naming Service (DNS). Clients reported an inability to resolve the DNS names required to reach the Microsoft services and so were unable to connect....More
Sep 8, 2011

That blasted BCC 1

As someone who has been using email for over 30 years, you’d expect that I might learn the pitfalls that expose themselves to email users all the time. Things like the dreaded “Reply All” syndrome, when you attempt to send a cute reply to someone and end up by sharing the cuteness with everyone who was copied on the original message. Invariably this results in the message being delivered to hundreds of people, many of whom are totally underwhelmed by the content of the message and some who might wonder whether I ever spend any time doing anything productive. Such is life. Last week I committed a cardinal sin by BCC’ing someone on a message that I sent to a confidential distribution list. BCC isn’t a bad thing as such. Like CC, its name evokes memories of carbon paper being slipped between sheets of paper so that a typewriter can create multiple copies of important letters. And used properly, BCC is an excellent way of making sure that the recipient hears about information that they need to know without exposing them as a recipient. But when you make some a BCC recipient, they can reply all themselves and that’s when a world of pain can sometimes be exposed. Of course, my stupidity in addressing this particular person through BCC was swiftly rewarded when that person send a note to the other recipients. The fact that the distribution list was discussing confidential information and that they were not a member of the list was ignored....More
Sep 6, 2011

What Exchange hosting companies have to do to differentiate their product from Microsoft Exchange Online 1

Despite the recent hype around the launch of Office 365, Microsoft did not invent hosted Exchange. In fact, well before Microsoft got into the hosting business, other companies around the world were using versions as old as Exchange 5.5 to deliver a hosted email service for customers. Of course, in this era Microsoft didn’t do any engineering or make any other attempt within the product to help the hosting companies figure out how to deploy, manage, or evolve a shared messaging service and it was left to the hosting companies to work out solutions to many technical challenges, such as how to provision mailboxes, billing and reconciliation, SLA management, and so on. The world has now changed and Office 365 is a huge presence in the hosted Exchange market. To their credit, Microsoft has done a lot of heavy lifting in the engineering of Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 to make life easier for hosting companies (some would say that the advent of PowerShell support in Exchange 2007 was the single biggest advance). I also think that the Exchange development group has been pretty open with hosting companies as to what options exist – a look at Michael van Dijken’s August 8 post on Ian Hameroff’s blog gives some insight as to the messages that are flowing. This post follows a session at the recent Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference so you can take it that Microsoft is setting its stall out pretty well. However, nice as it is to open lines of communication, the downside that hosting companies now face is that they have to sell their services against the Microsoft marketing machine. In addition, Microsoft’s partner community is rapidly gearing up to sell Office 365 seats on a commission basis, further adding to the pressure within the marketplace. The question therefore for hosting companies is what should they do to prosper and grow their business in the new world of Office 365 where Microsoft sets the baseline expectation for customers in terms of the monthly cost of...More
Sep 3, 2011

HP sends webOS to incubate in OS&T

An interesting development on Friday was marked by HP organizational memos sent by Todd Bradley and Shane Robison to their respective organizations to outline some immediate steps taken to preserve value in webOS. Todd Bradley leads HP’s Personal Systems Group (PSG), the business unit that takes care of PCs and is now a prime candidate to be spun-off as a new company with Todd Bradley as its CEO....More
Sep 1, 2011

Gmail Regains Offline Capabilities, Still No Threat to Exchange Online 2

A day after Microsoft had poked fun at its major competitor for Office 365 with a note called “Whither art thou, Google Apps offline” that chided the Mountain View company for failing to deliver on its promise to replace the previous offline mode enabled through Google Gears, Google added the ability for its applications to work offline on August 31, 2011. It almost seemed that the two companies were in perfect step with each other, which must be a first. Gmail is the first application to boast renewed offline access with further updates for Google Calendar and Google Docs following. All of the applications are in beta status and access for Google Docs will remain read-only for now, which lessens its usefulness somewhat. Google Calendar functions as you’d expect, with the ability to answer to incoming meeting requests or schedule new events....More
Aug 30, 2011

"All in the cloud" turned into "all fall down support"

Although CIOs might appreciate Microsoft’s rapid offer of a 25% rebate on monthly fees in compensation for the 190 minute Office 365 outage on August 17, they will have been less impressed at the performance of the support ecosystem that surrounds Exchange Online. The rebate is the minimum credit called for by the Office 365 Service Level Agreement (SLA) and can be requested by customers once the service level delivered by Microsoft dips below 99.9%. In this case, Microsoft did well by immediately accepting that the problem was theirs and extending the 25% credit without forcing customers to go through the bureaucracy of submitting a claim detailing details of the incident, number of affected users, and so on. Getting back to support, the first thing to realize is that support is a difficult, difficult job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise as whoever thinks that support is easy has clearly never worked in the role. The delivery of good support depends on good people backed up by tools that help the support team detect, analyze, and rectify the problem as quickly as possible. Automation and knowledge bases play a huge part too as many support issues have been seen before and can be dealt with by automated processes. Aside from the heavy lifting that goes on as support teams determine the root cause of a problem and how best to fix it, how communication occurs with users marks out really good support from the merely efficient....More
Aug 25, 2011

Exchange Connections preliminary schedule makes its appearance

DevConnections has published the preliminary schedule for the Fall 2011 Exchange Connections conference in Las Vegas, NV (October 31-November 3). I’ve been coming to Exchange Connections since Microsoft killed off MEC to preserve the dominant status of TechEd. At least, that’s my theory and no one has been able to disprove it. Many people within Microsoft have attempted to resurrect a conference focused on Exchange and the ecosystem of Microsoft and other products that surround it, but none have yet succeeded. At least we have Exchange Connections to fill the gap and provide the Exchange community with a place to gather to hear about the latest developments, swap experiences, and talk to vendors about products built around Exchange. And to be fair to Microsoft, the Exchange development group is sending along some talent to present on topics as diverse as the changes incorporated in Exchange 2010 SP2 (presumably Microsoft will have shipped SP2 by then) and interoperability with Exchange Online (Office 365). Two of the more interesting sessions are “Virtualizing Exchange with Database Availability Groups” and “Load Balancing Connections”....More
Aug 24, 2011

Reflections on HP's August 18 announcements 1

Like every other HP stockholder, I lost money as a result of the recent set of decisions made by the HP board and announced on August 18. Commentators and analysts queued up to express surprise at HP’s plans to conduct a strategic review of the options for the PC Business Unit (PSG), drop the production of WebOS hardware devices (creating an opportunity for many to buy $99 TouchPads), and to spend a wad of cash on Autonomy. Taken separately, each of these steps might make total sense and prove to be well-founded in terms of HP’s long-term success. Taken together and when communicated in the way that the news rolled out, they convey an impression of deckchairs being energetically shuffled on a ship that might not have much of a future. I don’t think I would have even considered writing those kind of words about HP a year ago. Much has happened since Mark Hurd was dismissed for reasons that still remain somewhat murky to the arrival of a new CEO and the latest set of strategic moves. Change has not been good to stockholders with the share price declining by around 50% in that time. HP still throws off billions of free cash annually and offers the widest set of solutions in the IT industry but somewhere along the line the faith of stockholders has been sorely tested....More
Aug 22, 2011

Microsoft counts the cost of a failed network link

Apparently the root cause of the outage that stopped Exchange Online for North American Office 365 users last week has been traced to a failed Cisco router or other component. Sources say “networking gear” but aren’t more precise and Microsoft isn’t saying. A failure of such a basic infrastructure link that doesn’t seem to have been backed up with some redundancy is embarrassing all round and not what customers expect from high-quality datacenters designed to deliver essential services such as email....More
Aug 17, 2011

Cloud outages reinforce need for care when negotiating SLAs

Another month, another set of outages come along to delight those who follow Microsoft’s journey to cloud nirvana. On August 7 it was a power outage that affected their Dublin datacenter and affected service to European users of Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS). Curiously, the same outage (originally reported as being caused by a lightning strike on a transformer in the Dublin CityWest district and later assessed as a failure of the local power grid) also knocked out the Amazon EC2 service for some of their customers. Thankfully the BPOS outage didn’t last long and a flurry of Twitter updates helped to reassure customers that Microsoft was doing everything necessary to address the problem. Of course, this outage didn’t affect all BPOS users because Microsoft distributes companies across its cloud datacenters around the world, taking into account requirements such as data location (some customers require data to remain inside specific national borders), server and storage availability, and ability to on-board users. In addition, BPOS (and Office 365) “double-teams” datacenters so that if a customer loses service from one datacenter another datacenter is available to take on the load. Although BPOS outages have been reasonably common over the last year or so, we’ve heard from Microsoft that Office 365 would be different. The story goes that Office 365 has been re-engineered from scratch and will function better than BPOS....More
Aug 17, 2011

Why can't Microsoft get IE9 to work with the Exchange Management Console? 3

The thread complaining about problems administrators have on their Exchange servers once they’ve installed IE9 must be one of the longest-running and least productive (in terms of Microsoft response) of any on the TechNet forums. Certainly I can’t think of another discussion that has lasted four months (the original post was made on 7 April 2011) about what seems to be a pretty fundamental issue without a patch or some other positive response from the Exchange engineering group. Given the quality problems due to test issues that have occurred in two recent roll-up update releases for Exchange 2010 SP1, this kind of issue makes you think that the recent actions taken to improve testing before the Exchange development group releases anything might need to take IE into account. The problem is simple: when you have IE9 and Exchange 2010 installed on a Windows 2008 server (any version, any patch level), you cannot close the Exchange Management Console (EMC). Any attempt to close EMC results in the error: “You must close all dialog boxes before you can close Exchange Management Console” This occurs even when all dialogs (such as those that you’d use to view mailbox properties) are closed. Some reports indicate that the same issue occurs with Exchange 2007 servers, again once IE9 finds its way onto the box. The same problem can also occur on workstations that have the Exchange management tools installed, again once IE9 shows up and makes its presence felt. The only workarounds are to either use Task Manager to kill mmc.exe every time you need to close EMC or to remove IE9. The second option seems to be much the better option as the problem simply doesn’t occur with IE7 or IE8 on the server. EMC is an important tool for most Exchange administrators. Sure, you can fire up the Exchange Management Shell (EMS) and manage servers by typing individual commands in the shell but my experience is that quite a few administrators don’t like EMS very much and try to do as much as...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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