Tips, news, and community resources for messaging admins
Reporting on OWA Usage
I recently came across Microsoft's Log Parser utility, which you can use to run queries against a variety of log files, specifically those in the W3C Extended log file format (IISW3C). I decided to try using Log Parser to gather more-detailed statistics about Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) than Performance Monitor provides, such as information about usernames, connecting IP addresses, and bandwidth.
To use Log Parser to collect IISW3C log-file information, first make sure that your IIS logs are enabled and are set up to collect the appropriate information. Open the properties of the Web Sites folder in IIS Manager, then select Active Log Format. In the window that opens, under the Advanced tab, select every item that you want to monitor in the log. Next, copy the IIS log files from \\owaserver\c$\windows\system32\logfiles\w3svc1 to C:\owa.
The first query that I ran, which I got from Microsoft TechNet and which Listing 1 shows, returns the number of hits per hour. (Some code lines are wrapped in the listings because of space constraints.)
Next, I developed the query that Listing 2 shows, which obtains data about the bandwidth that OWA used. Then, with help from a member of the LogParser Forums at http://www.logparser.com/instantforum33/default.aspx, I wrote a different query that returns unique logons per hour. (You can view this query and the original post from which this tip is adapted at http://msd2d.com/content/tip_view item_03noauth.aspx?id=d8f61600-172e-4ad4-a5b2-5e9526890cca& section=exchange.)
Exchange 12 Previews
In mid-March, Microsoft released a series of Exchange 12 preview Webcasts that made public some interesting tidbits about some of Exchange 12's new functionality. These four preview Webcasts were what Microsoft calls "200-level" sessions: They had some technical detail, but not much; "300-level" and "400-level" sessions, which you'll find more often at events such as Microsoft TechEd and Exchange Connections, have more technical depth and meatier demos.
The four preview Webcasts covered several aspects of Exchange 12:
- Terry Myerson, general manager of the Exchange team, presented an overview of Exchange 12 features.
- Perry Clarke, a product unit manager (PUM) on the Exchange team, spoke about architectural changes in Exchange 12, including the new setup program (a major improvement over its predecessors), and some information about the new server roles that Exchange 12 supports.
- David Lemson's session was about the new client-access functionality in Exchange 12. The session highlighted some impressive new functionality for clients, including pervasive document access and the Calendar Concierge.
- Marco DeMello, another PUM, presented a good session about Exchange 12 security features, including the interesting disclosure that the edge-server role in Exchange 12 can automatically protect email from eavesdropping and that we're finally going to get the capability to automatically strip attachments according to content type, extension, or file size.
David's session, my favorite of the four, highlighted some very cool new features. Microsoft OWA gains the ability to browse the Global Address List (GAL); you can see a person's free/busy map when you select his or her GAL entry, and OWA gets the full Conversation view that's so useful in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 and Microsoft Entourage. The new version has a totally revamped interface for choosing meeting times, which is a huge improvement over the existing system. This new interface depends on the Calendar Concierge, a service running on the Exchange client-access server that automatically tentatively accepts meetings and puts them on your calendar. That means your calendar will always be up to date even when you don't have Outlook running. All users, including those using OWA or Exchange Active-Sync (EAS), will see an up-to-date calendar at all times. The new version has improved resource booking as well.
All these calendaring features are powered by an availability Web service that makes free/busy information available to Web-services clients (including, in this case, Outlook 2007 and OWA 12). Any Web-services application can produce and consume free/busy data through this interface. This approach means that the familiar Schedule+ Free/Busy public folder is no longer necessary if your environment is running only Exchange 12. Outlook 2003 and earlier still require the public folder. Exchange 12 has an interoperability mechanism that lets the availability service check free/ busy data for users on Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange 12 servers, then unify the results.
OWA's new document-access capabilities are very exciting. It's common for mail messages to contain links to intranet file shares or Web sites. If you're on the intranet when you click one of those links, you'll get the correct content—but if you're not, you'll get nothing but an error message. OWA 12 includes a proxy that provides read-only access to intranet documents in Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server libraries and file shares. I'll be writing more about this feature in a future article because it enables a wealth of new scenarios.
To see the Webcast recordings for yourself—which I strongly recommend—visit http://www.microsoft.com/events/series/tnexchangeserver.mspx. Microsoft also released two 300-level Webcasts on April 18 and April 25.
Microsoft Offers Exchange Hosted Services
In 2005, Microsoft made (or finalized) a spate of messaging-and security-related acquisitions, among them its purchase of FrontBridge Technologies, a managed services provider. Microsoft recently announced that it has integrated FrontBridge's technology into the Exchange Server product line.
The result, first off, is that the FrontBridge product line has new branding: The former FrontBridge services are now offered under the Exchange Hosted brand. Don't confuse hosted Exchange (where you buy mail service from hosting companies such as Mi8 or Blue Ridge Networks) and the new brand name.
More precisely, there are now four Exchange Hosted services. First, and most familiar, is Exchange Hosted Filtering, which provides message hygiene and filtering via a four-stage process. This service combines all of FrontBridge's previous filtering offerings into one unified service. The filtering process includes antivirus scanning using your choice of four engines (Trend Micro, Symantec, Sophos, and Kaspersky Lab); spam filtering; and policy controls that let you block or redirect messages according to their origin, destination, or content. The Exchange Hosted Filtering service also includes a feature that I wish would be included in Exchange 12: filtering mail by character set.
The Exchange Hosted Archive service is a hosted alternative to maintaining your own archive of message traffic. This service requires you to use Exchange's built-in message-journaling functionality to capture new mail, but it includes a tool for capturing existing mail and moving it into the archive. All messages, and their attachments, are indexed for searching, and there's a Web-based interface for finding and reviewing specified messages. The service has one interesting wrinkle: Although you may choose to allow users to see their own archive contents, there's no way to delete messages from the archive until they reach the end of the designated archiving period.
The Exchange Hosted Continuity service promises to gather a lot of attention as we move toward another Atlantic hurricane season, because it maintains a rolling 30-day archive of customers' mail at a secure data center. The archive is always accessible via FrontBridge Web Access, an OWA clone. Interestingly, the continuity service doesn't require separate activation; it's always on. MessageOne has dominated this market segment for the past few years with its Emergency Messaging System (EMS) product; it will be interesting to see how this particular service market evolves as it becomes more competitive.
The fourth service, Exchange Hosted Encryption, is easier to demonstrate than to explain; basically, you can use it to securely send email to recipients outside your organization who might not have secure communications capability. Filo D'Souza, group product manager in the Exchange Hosted Services team, uses the example of a hospital that wants to send email to patients; the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that such communications be encrypted, but what if the patient is using, say, Hotmail? The Exchange Hosted Encryption service sends the recipient an unencrypted mail that contains an HTTP Secure (HTTPS) link to the service's site. This unencrypted message basically says, "You've got mail." When the recipient uses the link, he or she can authenticate to the service (a one-time process), then use the resulting credentials to securely get mail. Several appliance and software vendors (e.g., Tumbleweed Communications) currently offer this capability, but it's notable that Microsoft is making it available as a low-overhead hosted service.
These are all significant announcements, to be sure. However, perhaps the biggest announcement here concerns the schedule for future releases of these hosted services. One of the big advantages of hosted services is that they can be updated at any time without affecting customers' servers or clients; Google and MSN have proven that it's possible to make dramatic architectural and service changes without interrupting clients' access. Eschewing the traditional Microsoft development model, the Exchange Hosted Services group is aiming for a series of releases approximately once per quarter.