Microsoft Tool Now Assists With Hybrid Exchange 2016 Deployments

Microsoft this week added an option to its Exchange Server Deployment Assistant tool to configure hybrid deployments using Exchange Server 2016.

The Deployment Assistant is a browser based tool that poses questions for IT pros and delivers a checklist of configuration steps to take. The tool previously provided guidance for hybrid deployments with Exchange Server 2010 and Exchange Server 2013. Now it supports Exchange Server 2016 hybrid deployments, too.

Microsoft's software development practices are now "cloud first," but organizations still like to control their own servers and so Microsoft has made a big deal of enabling hybrid support for them. A "hybrid" deployment consists of Exchange Servers hosted in an organization's computing environment (known as "customer premises" datacenters) while also tapping the Exchange Online service or other Office 365 service as hosted from Microsoft's datacenters.

The updated Deployment Assistant now provides deployment advice for the following scenarios, according to Microsoft's announcement this week:

  • Hybrid deployments using Exchange Server 2016
  • Upgrades to Exchange Server 2016 from server versions as low as Exchange Server 2010
  • Completely new "greenfield" Exchange Server 2016 deployments

Best Practices
Microsoft makes certain assumptions about the use of its Deployment Assistant tool. An organization's local Exchange Server environment has to have been properly deployed. New server upgrades have to be performed by establishing coexistence with the older servers first, and the proper number of new servers needs to have been deployed. Also, the servers need to have the latest cumulative updates before an organization goes the hybrid route.

"In order for you to have a seamless experience and be supported, you need your whole environment to be up-to-date, not just a specific server or two," Microsoft's Exchange Team explained in a "Hybrid deployment best practices" blog post. It has lots of other helpful advice.

The Deployment Assistant typically gets used twice by organizations, according to the Exchange Team. It's first used to introduce a new Exchange Server product into an existing Exchange computing environment. Next, the tool gets used to describe the steps to create the hybrid network.

Microsoft is promising that Exchange Server 2016 simplifies hybrid deployments somewhat. For instance, "you will no longer have to move your URLs to the newest version of Exchange," Microsoft's blog post explained.

Exchange Server 2016 Hybrid Perks
Microsoft released its Exchange Server 2016 product back in October. While the new product is an Exchange Server 2013 facelift of sorts, it was built based on Microsoft's Exchange Online service. Exchange Server 2016 has improved backend search and e-discovery capabilities, plus improved Outlook client support, among other features.

It has other hybrid support benefits, according to a Microsoft TechNet library article updated in late January. Those benefits include:

  • Secure e-mail routing between the two instances
  • Use of a "shared domain namespace" for messages
  • A shared address book (also known as "a unified global address list")
  • Calendar sharing
  • Mailbox mobility
  • Centralized management via the Exchange Admin Center

These perks are described in this "Exchange Server Hybrid Deployments" TechNet article.

It appears that Azure Active Directory (AD) will be needed to enable federation trust in hybrid configurations, which enables single sign-on access for end users. However, the TechNet article states that "a federation trust with the Azure AD authentication system for your Office 365 tenant is automatically configured when you activate your Office 365 service account." Azure AD does have a free plan, per Microsoft's pricing page, so perhaps it's accounted for.

Microsoft lists the hybrid deployment requirements for Exchange Server at this TechNet page. Using Exchange Server 2007 in hybrid scenarios with Office 365 services is an unsupported approach, according to that article. However, Exchange Server 2010, 2013 and 2016 products are supported for hybrid deployments.

Public Folder Expansion
In other Exchange news, Microsoft noted earlier this month that it has expanded Exchange Public Folder mailbox limits from 100 mailboxes to 1,000 mailboxes. The expansion is already being activated for Exchange Online customers, with completion expected by the middle of this month. The expanded capacity will be available for Exchange Server 2016 users with the arrival Cumulative Update 2, expected in Q2 of this year.

This Public Folder expansion will help larger organizations with latency issues, Microsoft promised. There's also a hybrid angle to it. "This increase will facilitate the migration of very large Public Folders from on-premises Exchange Server to Exchange Online," Microsoft indicated.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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