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Thursday 31st July 2014
Mastering Microsoft Exchange Server 2013
Roughly a year ago I started planning the replacement of the company’s Windows Server 2003 servers with Windows Server 2012 servers, and started preparing for the Exchange Server 2007 to Exchange Server 2013 upgrade. At the time, the finalized version of Exchange Server 2013 was not yet available from Microsoft, yet there were already books on the market that explained how to install and configure Exchange Server 2013. Some of the reviews attached to those books were quite critical, suggesting that it was better to wait for other books to be released. Service Pack 1 for Exchange Server 2013 was just released on February 24, 2014, so I suppose even this book might need a couple of small edits for accuracy once the Service Pack is installed.

I am a hands-on IT manager that has worked with various versions of Microsoft Exchange over the last 14 years. I do not have a significant amount of expertise with Exchange, however I planned and performed the company’s migration from Exchange 5.5 in an NT 4 domain to Exchange 2007 in a Windows Server 2003 R2 Active Directory domain roughly seven years ago – that migration required a brief couple of hours early in the morning where the mailboxes existed in Exchange 2003.

Fortunately for those companies already using Exchange 2007, the transition from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2013 should be much more simple, at least based on the information found in the “Mastering Microsoft Exchange 2013” book. Just install Exchange 2007 SP3 and then Rollup 10, and then install Exchange 2013 Cumulative Update 2, redirect AutoDiscover and other virtual directories to the Exchange 2013 server, move the mailboxes, uninstall Exchange 2007, and unplug the old server. For the most part the book is extensively detailed, yet there are still small details that are left out of the book. For example:
* What should be done at 3AM when the installation of Exchange 2007 SP3 fails because some obscure item could not be automatically uninstalled, thereby leaving Exchange 2007 down and inaccessible to end users?

* What needs to be done to the client computers so that the Exchange 2013 self-signed certificate that is valid for five years may be used rather than having to obtain a certificate from a well-known certificate authority?

* Will any sort of prompt appear in an end-user’s Outlook program after that user’s mailbox is moved?

* What are the options for a client computer that is running either Windows XP or Windows Vista and Outlook 2003? If the Outlook Web Access supports HTML5, will it gracefully degrade in web browsers that do not support HTML5?

* What if a backup program other than Windows Server Backup is utilized, are such backups valid?

* What other items might need to be considered before uninstalling Exchange 2007, such as: reconfiguring and bouncing the Oracle databases; modifying the PBX phone system’s SMTP settings; adjusting the SMTP settings of all of the printers and fax machines; locating and replacing all programs that depend on Exchange’s MAPI protocol; replacing all of the BlackBerry phones or upgrading to a newer version of BES; changing and recompiling all of the mail enabled custom programs that use hard-coded IP addresses or names for the email servers; potentially waiting for all non-active directory joined computers to try to access the old server and then be redirected to the moved mailbox on the new server; etc.

The Mastering Microsoft Exchange book is already a 700+ page book, long enough that after reading the book cover to cover, one might question whether or not the book contained sufficient information to carry out the Exchange task at hand – unless good notes with page number references were recorded while reading the book. I suspect that answering the above questions might have extended the book another 300 pages. Hidden inside the book’s pages are gems of information, such as:
* There is no need to install the release to manufacturing version of Exchange 2012 on a new server, just install the latest Cumulative Update (or the Service Pack that was just released a couple of days ago).

* If possible, do not configure a CNAME or SRV record because the Outlook client computers will then display a warning message when started.

* 8GB is the minimum amount of memory for Exchange 2013 (Side note: 8GB was not enough memory to keep Exchange 2007 happy, why would that amount of memory be sufficient for Exchange 2013?), while the author recommends considering the purchase of a CPU with 8 cores.

* The information store service must be restarted any time a new database is created; existing databases should not exceed 200GB except in rare circumstances.

* After a mailbox move an Outlook Web user might not be able to reconnect to Exchange for 15 minutes.

* Devices using ActiveSync should connect to the Exchange 2013 Client Access Server, which will then connect to the Exchange 2013 mailbox server role. If the user’s mailbox is on Exchange 2007, then the Exchange 2013 mailbox role connects to the Exchange 2007 Client Access Server, which then connects to the user’s 2007 mailbox server role.

* Exchange 2013 has built-in send connectors for Exchange Servers in the same site – these built-in connectors will not show in the user interface. This tip disagrees with page 50 of the “Pro Exchange Server 2013 Administration” which states, “An Exchange server is by default not able to send messages to any other server. To achieve this function, however, a send connector has to be created.” It might be interesting to determine which book is correct.

The book has a very detailed chapter that explains how to work in PowerShell. On a side note, I am still left wondering why Microsoft did not incorporate GUI equivalents of all PowerShell commands that are required to properly configure Exchange 2013; or the counterpoint of why force an Exchange Administrator to install the full GUI version of Windows and use the GUI Exchange interface if it is possible to perform the entire Exchange configuration using cryptic PowerShelll commands that will be used once and forgotten.

The book makes effective use of screen captures, including those screen captures only when doing so improves reader comprehension. The diagrams, for example the Exchange data and transaction logs diagram on page 10, and the memory allocation diagram on page 206, sometimes lack sufficient explanation to help the reader understand concepts without the reader first spending a lot of time trying to decode the author’s intention for the diagram.

Errors or Concerns Identified So Far (I might update this list later):
* Page 73 of the book states about RAID 5 arrays, “These arrays are suitable for use with legacy Exchange Server mailbox databases on smaller servers, depending on the type of data and the performance of the array.” RAID 5 should not be used anywhere near any modern servers, it is simply not a safe enough option due to the increasing hard drive capacities and increasingly long rebuild times when a hard drive must be replaced. Using the manufacturer’s unrecoverable read error (URE) statistics for some Seagate and Western Digital drives (1 in 10E14 (1 in 100,000,000,000,000) bits read), the probability of encountering an URE when replacing one drive during an eight drive RAID 5 rebuild (with 3TB drives), resulting in a lost RAID 5 array, is roughly 76.98% (calculated as (1 - (99,999,999,999,999 / 100,000,000,000,000) ^ 147,000,000,000,000)).

* The book is missing an _ character in front of autodiscover when describing the requirements for a DNS SRV record on page 156.

* There was no mention that Outlook clients will have to close and restart Outlook after a mailbox is moved. The book simply states on page 361, “When the move is complete, the Active Directory attributes are updated, the old mailbox on the source database is deleted, and the new mailbox is activated… Client accesses to this mailbox will now be directed to the new mailbox database.”

* Pages 655 through 664 of the book did not state whether or not the new Data Loss Prevention functionality requires additional licenses beyond the standard Exchange CALs. DLP requires Enterprise CALs, per an Internet search.

Overall, this is a very good and thorough book, and a few errors from a book this size is not only acceptable, but probably expected. The “Pro Exchange Server 2013 Administration” book probably does a better job at outlining the various steps required to accomplish a task before diving into the details of each of the steps in a given task. That said, this book probably does a better job at providing the various filler details that are required for a successful deployment. However, some of those “gem” filler details mentioned previously in this review are difficult to located when skim reading the book, for example when trying to determine how to kill that unwelcome security warning that appears whenever a VPN connected non-domain-joined client starts Outlook.

 
 
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