In-Depth

3 Exchange Server Add-ons You Don't Want to Miss

Mimosa, Quest and CA provide functionality that Microsoft hasn't added yet.

Although Exchange Server 2007 is itself a bundle of features like high availability (HA), disaster recovery, unified messaging and so forth, there's still plenty of room for products designed to complement it. And there are literally hundreds of those products from which to choose.

So, you might be wondering: Why these three products? Are they in the same category? Are we looking at recovery, availability, migration? Are we pitting the products against each other? Nope, not at all. These three Exchange add-ons are not related to one another; we didn't do a comparison between them; and we aren't even stating that these are the absolute best add-ons for their particular category. We simply think these products are great, and worth noting.

NearPoint
Mimosa Systems
NearPoint is all about archiving, management and recovery, and it's quite impressive. The solution begins by creating a secondary copy of the database on an alternate server, and then capturing log files from the Exchange system after they've been committed to the disk. Those log files are shipped to the NearPoint system through a data-capture method called Continuous Application Shadowing. The contents are then processed through a method that's known as Smart Message Extraction (SME).

Initially, the log shipping may sound a bit like what Microsoft already offers through the continuous replication high-availability offerings built into Exchange 2007. However, the indexing of content is an exciting twist in the data-protection abilities that NearPoint provides, which Exchange doesn't offer. It's good to note, too, that while NearPoint is not an HA solution, the 4.0 release -- which is due out this month -- will have the ability to work side-by-side with Exchange 2007's cluster continuous replication.

One of the features I really enjoyed learning about when running through a live discussion with the folks at Mimosa Systems was the SME process, which runs completely on the NearPoint server. SME breaks up the message information itself, as well as the properties of the message, including context information for folders, permissions and flags, and a record of whether the message was opened, edited, replied to, forwarded or deleted. Now think about that for a moment. Not only do you have an archive of your e-mail, which puts you within legal compliance due to the nature of business these days, but you have the ability to tell if a message went to a person and if the person read it, simply marked it as read, forwarded it or so forth. If a person now says, "I never saw that e-mail," you can prove whether or not he opened it -- which could come in quite handy.

Here are the top reasons Exchange admins might like Mimosa NearPoint:

  • Continuous data protection (CDP) Exchange capture provides granular restore and recovery capabilities

  • Complete capture of Exchange data means being able to purge Exchange aggressively; there are customers doing 60- and 90-day deletes of Exchange because they know that the NearPoint archive has them covered

  • Integrated recovery means better recovery point objectives and lower recovery time objectives; additionally, disk-based recovery means not having to restore backup tapes

  • It's easy to deploy and maintain because there are no agents to install on Exchange or on user laptops or desktops

  • It doesn't alter the existing Exchange environment

  • It improves Exchange efficiency by not requiring MAPI crawls or journaling

  • The eDiscovery module (shown in Figure 1) allows a legal department to conduct legal searches on its own and to execute legal hold on its own

  • NearPoint's seamless end-user access via Outlook and .PST management tool, which allows users to continue to access their .PSTs in an Outlook view with folder hierarchies in place, keeps end users happy and not calling the help desk
Figure 1
[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. The NearPoint eDiscovery Application.

Exchange Migration Wizard
Quest Software
While Exchange 2000/2003 systems have the ability to transition to Exchange 2007, Exchange 5.5 can only be migrated to 2007. The terms may seem similar, but a transition preserves the configuration, while a migration actually requires a move from 5.5 to 2000/2003 and then a transition -- leaving the door open to all sorts of failure points along the way.

I've been teaching migration and transitioning to Exchange 2007 for the past two years now, and one question that everyone asks at the end of my sessions is, "OK, so that's how we're supposed to do it using the free tools. Now tell us the best way to do it." Typically, I explain the need to search for a respected migration tool that will take users from 5.5 directly to 2007 -- one that fits their pricing budget. It just so happens that Quest Software has such a tool, and it gets rave reviews from Exchange admins who've had the pleasure to work with it.




REDMOND RATING
Mimosa Systems NearPoint Quest Exchange Migration Wizard CA XOsoft
Installation 20%
10.0
10.0
9.0
Features 20%
8.0
10.0
10.0
Ease of use 20%
9.0
7.0
9.0
Administration 20%
10.0
9.0
10.0
Documentation 20%
10.0
9.0
8.0
Overall Rating:
9.4
9.0
9.2

Key: 1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent  5: Average, performs adequately   10: Exceptional

Exchange Magic
If you've never worked with Exchange Migration Wizard (EMW) before, you should know that it isn't for the faint of heart. You absolutely should seek out consultation for its use. Quest Software offers experts in the industry that can help you complete your migration.

In terms of what EMW offers, here are a few bullets to keep in mind:

  • EMW is the only migration product on the market that can seamlessly take you from Exchange 5.5 directly to Exchange 2007. It provides for "coexistence" with 2007 as well, for as long as you need, until you migrate completely.

  • EMW synchronizes mail, calendars, free/busy and public folders. Calendar, free/busy and public folders can sync bi-directionally.

  • The directory-synchronization process provides a unified Global Access List experience that protects the ability to reply, as well as group memberships, and also allows Source and Target Exchange organizations to seamlessly share the same namespace without worrying about complicated SMTP routing problems.

  • Synchronization agents allow pre-sync of data to avoid migration bottlenecks when low bandwidth is a factor. The same architecture allows for thousands of mailboxes to be cutover in short intervals.

  • EMW's Outlook Profile Updating Utility provides intelligent, unattended updating of MAPI profiles so Outlook settings are preserved for migrated users. Support for RPC-over-HTTP is also included.

  • EMW provides rollback and undo mechanisms for migrated mailboxes and Outlook MAPI profiles when needed.

  • EMW can migrate Outlook offline folders without having to resynchronize .OST files.

Personally, my favorite feature here is the coexistence with 5.5. There are tools that may offer an overnight "shutdown Exchange for a weekend" migration, but to be able to migrate slowly and coexist for a period of time allows IT administrators to cope with the migration in a way that addresses the scheduling concerns of a larger migration -- and the political issues that unfortunately come into play when dealing with such a move.

Migration Manager
In addition to EMW for a 5.5 to 2007 migration, you may want to consider the Quest Migration Manager for Exchange (QMM-EX) for moving to 2007. If you've ever looked at a transition to 2007 within the same forest, you know the Microsoft method is solid. You can put your Exchange 2007 server within the forest and move mailboxes fairly easily. However, if you plan on transitioning from forest to forest -- for example, in the event your company purchases another forest and you have to migrate from one forest over -- or if you want to simply migrate over into a do-over domain, so to speak, to clean up your environment and re-do configuration of your infrastructure from scratch, you should look at the QMM-EX.

Robert Sandri, a strategic systems consultant for Quest Software, says, "Quest Migration Manager for Exchange is the successor to Quest's Exchange Migration Wizard [see Figure 2]. QMM-EX provides the equivalent migration functionality of EMW, only for migrating from an Exchange 2000/2003/2007 source environment."

Figure 2
[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 2. The Quest Exchange Migration Wizard.

Adds Sandri: "QMM-EX has the same-style centralized project-management console and distributed-agent architecture that allows large-scale parallel data sync between migrated environments. QMM-EX also boasts a Web-based statistics portal that automatically tracks the synchronization and migration status of mailboxes, calendars, public folders and free/busy data in near real-time."

XOsoft Replication and XOsoft High Availability
CA
With business continuity being a key buzzword in the Exchange world and Microsoft offering four flavors of HA in Exchange 2007, it seemed reasonable to include a product add-on that can extend beyond the built-in features of Exchange. This one fits the bill.

Initially, the functionality of XOsoft looks similar to what Microsoft provides with Exchange 2007: it gives the ability to provide replicas that are standing by locally or off-site to step in when a disaster strikes. Much like the continuous replication offerings in Exchange 2007, CA XOsoft High Availability (XOsoft HA) provides asynchronous replication of the app data, and push-button or automatic failover to the standby server.

Some of the features that go beyond the built-in solutions to Exchange 2007 include the following:

  • CDP for recovery from data that becomes corrupted; a "rewind" feature for granular and speedy recovery

  • A CDP Repository so users can search and recover items without the help of admins

  • An Assured Recovery option that gives users the ability to conduct disaster-recovery testing without fear of hindering the production environment, allowing validation that the recovery solution is working properly and the environment is truly prepared in case of disaster

These are great features, but what really caught my attention were the different platforms it supported. The site says XOsoft "supports Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server,

Oracle, Microsoft IIS Web servers, Windows file servers, BlackBerry servers and other applications on 32- and 64-bit Windows, AIX, Linux and Solaris servers. Supports both physical and virtual servers like VMware Infrastructure and ESX, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer and Virtual Iron."

So, we have here a solution that will replicate data for both a physical and virtualized environment. If you're thinking about virtualizing your disaster-recovery site, or virtualizing both your production and disaster-recovery site systems, having the tools in place to quickly recover in the event of a disaster and offer necessary business continuity through HA solutions is critical.

A Potpourri of Solutions
Microsoft has created an amazing framework in Exchange 2007 while leaving behind hooks and holes upon which other developers can build. Third-party vendors appreciate the ability to improve upon the product, especially one as solidly built as Exchange 2007. It's not that Microsoft couldn't develop some of these features -- it's obvious that it has and continues to add features like HA, anti-spam and so on -- but Redmond can't please everyone with every feature. That's what third-party add-ons are all about.

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