Exchange 2007: So Far, So Good
The new Exchange offers welcome changes on the admin side, but not as many on the client side.
Among the major improvements to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 are better security,
more flexible deployment options and easier administration and management. Early
users say they're pleased with the changes but are facing hurdles with widespread
Besides the fact that Exchange 2007 is a native 64-bit application that often
requires new hardware, it also demands a complete overhaul of any current Exchange
2003 infrastructure. Plus, the true benefits of Exchange become clear only when
using it with Microsoft's other new 2007 releases like Office 2007 and SharePoint
Brandon Haag, executive director of IT at Gainesville State College in Gainesville,
Ga., says he plans to move the school over to Exchange 2007 sometime this summer
as he moves to Microsoft's other new suites. "The main incentive for moving
to Exchange 2007 is the additional capabilities we'll get from integrating with
SharePoint Server and the Office 2007 suite," he says. "Obviously,
when you get everything updated and at the same level, they all play a very
sweet tune." Getting to that point will take time, though, as moving to
Exchange 2007 is a major upgrade.
Role With the Punches
Exchange Server 2007 introduces an expanded concept of server roles. In Exchange
2003 server roles existed, but they were fairly primitive, allowing only for
front-end and back-end roles.
In Exchange 2007, server roles are far more robust, which gives admins unprecedented
flexibility and deployment options. For example, server roles can split the
functions of an Exchange server and place each role, or a combination of roles,
on different servers. This eases management and performance constraints.
Exchange 2007 introduces five new server roles: Edge Transport, Hub Transport,
Client Access, Mailbox and Unified Messaging. This breakdown lets smaller organizations
deploy several roles on one hardware server, while larger organizations can
divvy up the roles among several servers, clustering and load balancing the
application to ensure optimal performance.
For the most part, early users are intrigued with the new server roles. In
fact, many are already using one or two Exchange 2007 server roles in tandem
with their current Exchange 2003 infrastructure. This lets them take advantage
of some new features while putting off the pain of a wholesale upgrade.
For example, Haag is using the Exchange 2007 Edge Transport server in front
of his Exchange 2003 infrastructure to take advantage of 2007's more robust
anti-spam capabilities. According to Microsoft, the Edge Transport uses connection
filtering, content filtering, recipient filtering, SenderID and sender and IP
reputation to reduce the amount of spam delivered to the end users' inboxes.
"All of my incoming e-mail is going through the Edge server and being
filtered before it reaches my Exchange 2003 servers," Haag says. So far,
it seems to be working.
The downside of server roles is that they can make it more costly to implement
Exchange 2007. "It's great that they split it up like that, but now it
increases the cost to run it," says Thommi Montoya, an independent consultant
based in Tempe, Ariz. "You're buying another four Windows licenses and
another four Windows servers, all of which are 64-bit servers. It's definitely
more robust, but also a little more costly." That cost may be offset by
savings in ROI, he says, but that won't become apparent until Exchange 2007
is deployed more widely.
The Good and the Bad
Early users are also excited about the revamped Outlook Web Access (OWA) within
Exchange 2007. OWA has been overhauled and is now far more feature-rich and
robust. The only major complaint users have is that the new features are available
only on Microsoft's own Internet Explorer (IE) browser, and not competitive
offerings like Firefox.
"That was pretty disappointing," says Scott Nixon, network manager
at Windsor School, a private secondary school in Boston. Nixon says the school's
Exchange 2003 system currently supports 600 mailboxes, 500 of which are OWA-only.
"If you're using Firefox and you go to create a new message, it's just
going to be plain text only. And there's no spell check, which is a big deal
to our users."
Although Firefox has added a spell check feature to the browser itself, Nixon
would've liked to see more capabilities from Microsoft.
Others are more than pleased with 2007's OWA. "I've had nary a complaint,"
Haag says, noting that his school's 16,000 student accounts all access Exchange
via OWA, mostly with IE. "OWA 2007 has a long list of configurable options
for the Web interface. It must be three or four times longer."
Aaron Foint, Windows systems administrator at Worcester Polytechnic Institute
(WPI) in Worcester, Mass., offers a similar assessment. "If you use Firefox
with Exchange, you have to use the Lite version," he says. "You can
do your basics: read e-mail, process messages [and] view calendar items, but
you don't get any of the advanced features." Foint says he just makes sure
his OWA users know they need IE to access advanced features.
Some users are
waiting for SP1 updates prior to any major rollout of Exchange
2007. Here's a look at the major features coming in Exchange
2007 Service Pack 1, which is expected in April:
• Standby Continuous Replication (SCR): Clustered
continuous replication (CCR) replicates data between two servers
within a cluster within the same data center. SCR will replicate
data to a non-clustered server in a remote data center, so
if the primary data center becomes unavailable, the standby
replica in the second data center can take over.
• OWA: SP1 will fill in some feature holes,
such as support for personal distribution lists, S/MIME, rules,
monthly calendar view, deleted items recovery and public folder
access, as well as spell checking for Arabic and Korean. It
will also support viewing Office 2007 files as HTML.
• Exchange Management Console: Some GUI holes
will be filled in, including the ability to do public folder
configuration, POP and IMAP configuration, SendAs permission
configuration and some delegation wizard scenarios.
• Move Mailbox: The SP1 version will enable
Exchange 2007 to export to .PST files.
Power to the PowerShell
The revamped Exchange Management Console and the new Exchange Management Shell
are probably the most noticeable changes for messaging admins. Based on Microsoft
Windows PowerShell technology, the new management shell lets users do most administrative
and management tasks from a command-line interface, rather than forcing everything
through the GUI-based console.
Users love the idea of adding the shell, but question some of its capabilities.
"It seems like in certain aspects, they went backwards," says WPI's
Foint. "The Exchange Management Shell is great, and there's definitely
a lot of stuff you couldn't do before in bulk mode very easily without some
type of scripting or a command shell. At the same time, now there are certain
things you can only do from the command shell, like configure POP or IMAP, and
Montoya agrees: "I like that you can do most commands from either the
command-line shell or the console," he says. "What I don't like is
that they took a bunch of stuff you used to be able to do in the console and
moved it to the shell."
Still, most like the new management console, noting that it's easier and more
intuitive to find things now. Additionally, console operations are mirrored
in the shell, making it obvious what commands are being used to do what. The
GUI no longer keeps everything under the covers. "I thought it was easy
to set up and I liked that as you created accounts and so on, you were actually
seeing the PowerShell script that was doing the action," Windsor's Nixon
One major shortcoming is that users can no longer manage Active Directory accounts
and Exchange accounts from the same management interface. Foint says that's
a major problem for him, and attributes it to the fact that the Exchange Management
Console is a level above the current Microsoft Management Console (MMC).
"Microsoft will probably come out with a new version of the MMC with Longhorn,
so at that point, there will probably be one integrated console where you can
manage both," Foint says.
Another complaint Foint has is that there's no longer an easy way to export
mailboxes to a .PST file. "We used to be able to dump mailboxes to a .PST
file using Xmerge in 2003," he says. Foint says he expects the support
in Service Pack 1.
Safe and Secure
Exchange 2007 has much tighter security than 2003. "If you do the recommended
deployment in Exchange 2007 -- with your perimeter servers -- it's a more secure
and robust model than they've ever had," Montoya says. "They put a
lot more thought into the deployment model." Still, he's reserving judgment
until more organizations roll out 2007.
A downside to the increased security is that it's more complex and difficult
to do certificate management for enabling SSL in Exchange 2007. "In Exchange
2003, whatever common name you wanted to use for people to access OWA or ActiveSync,
you had to create a certificate for that name," explains WPI's Foint. "For
Exchange 2007, you need to create a certificate with multiple common names --
it has to be for the common name you're going to use publicly, it has to be
for the actual server and then also for every possible combination."
All of which makes it harder and more costly to manage. "It's doable but
it's more involved, and if you're getting a certificate from an external certificate
authority, it needs to be registered for all the names, which is more expensive,"
Beyond the changes to OWA, the new features aren't as compelling on the client
side. Foint says his users are looking forward to the new scheduling capabilities
and out-of-office message flexibility, but both features are available only
to users running Outlook 2007, part of the new Office 2007 suite.
"The advanced meeting and scheduling assistant is good," Foint says.
"If you pick a couple of users and a room you want to have a meeting in,
it will auto-suggest times when everyone's available, but you have to be on
Exchange 2007 and Outlook 2007. Not many people are in that situation yet."
The new out-of-office message feature is another plus, but it also requires
Outlook 2007. "You can choose not only if you're in or out of the office,
but during what timeframe, [which] message you want to go out for people inside
your organization and [which] message you want to go out for people who are
outside your organization," he says.
According to Foint, even with the less-than-stellar client-side features, Exchange
2007 is a great tool and worth the upgrade. "There's no must-have feature,"
he says. "It's a lot of little things and I definitely think it's an improvement.
It's easier to manage, and it gives us new options."
Others say they're waiting to see what happens once a majority of organizations
make the move to Exchange 2007. "I really want to see it in a big environment
to see how it goes," Montoya says, noting that he's deployed it only in
a test environment at home. "Right now, so far, so good."