Microsoft Exchange and Blackberry Server Specialists

SEMblog

Microsoft Exchange Server and
Blackberry Enterprise Server news, views and fixes.

Share an Exchange 2007 Server (UK Only)

Would your company like to use Exchange 2007, but are finding the costs too high, you don't have the internal skill set or just want to outsource it?
However have you found that hosted Exchange is too limiting for your company needs or you want a more personal approach to the management of your server?

If so, then we may have the answer.

I have recently been talking to a few clients who would like Exchange 2007, but for various reasons cannot justify their own server. They have also expressed a desire for it to be managed by someone they can get to know, rather than a request going in to a helpdesk queue and being completed by an unknown person. 

Therefore what we have talked about is a number of companies getting together to share an Exchange server and the management costs. This server would have a limited number of users, and would be managed by myself. My company would acquire the hardware, arrange hosting at a data centre, setup the server and then manage it.

However to make it worthwhile on costs, time and other investment, we need a few more mailboxes. Ideally we are looking for around 200 mailboxes, we currently have expressions of interest for around 75 mailboxes.

The monthly cost that is currently being looked at is £15 per mailbox per month, with a £100 per client per month management fee and maybe a setup fee. Numbers are not exact as it depends on how many mailboxes we get. If we get 400 or more, then multiple servers could be used, which will bring down the expense as the cost of the domain controllers and additional network hardware will be shared between more users.
We would also need to have a 12 month commitment to the service so that financing etc of the software and hardware can be arranged with some idea of the income flow.

At this time it is planned that each mailbox would have 2gb of space, plus there would be public folder space as well.

If you are interested, then please let me know through the company email address of contact @ amset.co.uk with the number of mailboxes you may be looking to host and whether you would be interested in Blackberry support, and the number of devices. We must ask that you do not contact us if you are outside of the UK, unless you have a UK billing address and the majority of the users will be located in the UK.

Please note this isn't going to happen overnight, once the legal stuff has been dealt with, the hardware needs to be acquired and setup, so it could be early April or later (at the time of writing) before we are ready to go.

Support for the migration from your existing solution should be included - although it depends on what you are currently using.

I appreciate that much of the detail is not exact, at the moment we need to find out how many others could be interested before proceeding any further.
I have written a brief FAQ below which should answer some common questions, although if you do have any queries, please contact me on the above address and I will attempt to answer them and also update this page.

AT THE TIME OF WRITING THIS IS NOT A SOLUTION YOU CAN BUY FROM US TODAY.

PLEASE NOTE THAT FOR LEGAL AND INSURANCE REASONS THIS SERVICE WOULD ONLY BE AVAILABLE TO UK BASED COMPANIES.

FAQ

Q: Isn't this Hosted Exchange?
A: It is a form of hosted Exchange, and we will be using the Microsoft Hosting licensing system to license the software. However the idea is to offer a service that is more flexible than those offered by Hosted Exchange providers because there is no control panel. Furthermore you know who is managing the server, that they built it and are aware of how it is working. I see it as taking the best bits of Hosted Exchange and having your own server, and putting them together.

Q: What don't we get that we would get with Hosted Exchange/Our Own Server.
A: You don't actually loose a great deal.
From a hosted Exchange point of view, you will not get a control panel or access to any kind of administration interface. Anything you want done from an admin point of view will need to be asked for and I will make the change for you - just as it would if you had your own server - you would ask your network admin or support company.

Things missing from having your own server will include your choice of antivirus and antispam, as we will need to use a solution for all users as it protects the server. You also don't have access to the admin console yourself.

Q: Will we see the other clients in the GAL etc?
A: No. Address list segregation will be used to make it appear to be your own server. While this isn't a traditional hosted Exchange environment, I will be using the techniques from Microsoft on setting up a hosted Environment to provide a secure deployment for all users.

Q: Will it be secure?
A: Yes, this will be a deployment done to best practises. Commercial trusted SSL certificates will be used, behind firewalls with the relevant ports open. It will be just as good as a deployment in your own office.

Q: Will we have access to all features? OWA, Windows Mobile support?
A: Yes. Everything Exchange offers will be there, except for Unified Messaging - see below.

Q: Blackberry?
A: Maybe. There are other issues with Blackberry, such as support for Exchange 2007 SP1 and paying for the licenses of both the server and the CALs. If you are likely to be a user of Blackberry, then please indicate that along with how many devices.

Q: What about Unified Messaging?
A: To begin with there will be no Unified Messaging support.
However I am already looking at how UM could be used with remote server for another client. This could be possible if you already have VOIP technology in use or by hosting the media gateway at your own site. That may mean having a different type of Internet connection in to your own office, and maybe increased bandwidth costs for everyone involved.
There are also security concerns to be addressed, so use of UM may be possible long term, but not at the start.

Q: Contract, SLA etc.
A: Can't answer questions on those bits yet, as that needs to be worked out if we went ahead with this project. There will be some kind of contract and SLA, however those details would need to be resolved once the project starts. That would also include support details, how to make requests, track requests etc. The operational details are a long way away.

Q: What about if you are not available?
A: Finding someone who back up me, in case I am not available to look after the server for whatever reason. Whoever I choose to use will be of high quality - I have very high standards and you will know who it is.

Q: Backups?
A: There will be some kind of backup solution, exactly what I do not know at this time. Certainly Exchange options will be used where possible, and then some additional backup will be used to protect the data in the event of server failure.

Q: It is more expensive than x service provider.
A: That maybe so. However this is highly customised solution with support from a named individual. This is not a "pile it high sell it cheap" solution based on price. This is a quality solution. I would compare it to buying a car, such as a 1978 used Mini to a brand new Mini. Same name, both cars, but very different in what you would expect.

Q: So what do we get that we wouldn't if we had our own server?
A: The first thing is less worry. Someone else worries about the server, the data, whether it is working correctly, bandwidth and use.
Next, you have peace of mind that it is managed by an experienced Exchange consultant, which is not something you may well expect to have if you had your own server. No need to worry about someone who doesn't know what they are doing playing around the with the server.
The server will be located in a data centre, so it will be protected and available to you where ever you are. If you have a high number of users out of the office, it may well be a better performing solution than hosting your own server.
There could also be opportunities to enhance the solution buy purchasing additional software products on a per server basis. While the cost may not be economical for 20 users, for 200 it becomes something viable.

Improve Exchange 2007 MC Performance - Use Windows XP

If you have used Exchange 2007 for anything more than 2 minutes, you will quickly notice that the performance of the Exchange Management Console (EMC) is very poor - no matter how much memory or processing power you have on your server.

While moving content on the blog, I was reminded of a post where I linked to an announcement about the Exchange 2003 management tools being made available for 32 bit OS. (http://blog.sembee.co.uk/archive/2007/01/25/39.aspx). This reminded me that I had a virtual machine with the management tools installed. Having just updated my main Exchange 2007 server to SP1, I decided to update that virtual machine as well with the 32 bit service pack. Imagine my surprise when I started the tools to find that they started much quicker than on my server. Checking other Exchange 2007 servers (include a quad processor with 8gb of RAM) I found that it still loaded quicker on this low spec virtual machine.

The Exchange Management Shell also seems to load quicker on a Windows XP machine. However that does mean you have to specify the Exchange server that you are using when you run any PowerShell commands for Exchange. If you are on a single server site then the quickest way I have found to do this is to start the commands with "get-<server role> |" then the rest of the command as normal. For example "get-mailboxserver | get-mailboxstatistics"
Replace mailboxserver with the role that you are working on. 

To install the tools on to a Windows XP machine, download the 32 bit version of Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1.

You will also need to install the base IIS components (not SMTP though) and some additional downloads including MMC 3.0, PowerShell 1.0 and net framework 2.0 if you haven't already installed it.

After installing the net framework, run Microsoft Update to ensure that you have the required updates. If you don't, then the Exchange 2007 setup will prompt you to install the update before you can install the management tools.

When it comes to the actual installation, carry out a custom install and choose the Management Tools only.

If your Exchange server has plenty of resources, and you have the licenses to do so, then rather than installing the Management Tools on to your own workstation, you could use a Windows XP virtual machine which is stored on the Exchange server. This is particularly useful if you are using the best practises for permissions have separate Administration and User accounts. If you usually access your Exchange server using RDP, then enable remote desktop on the virtual machine Windows XP installation and then connect to it directly. As it is stored on the server, it will always be available to you.

Links to Downloads Required

Exchange 2007 SP1: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=44C66AD6-F185-4A1D-A9AB-473C1188954C&displaylang=en
MMC 3.0: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=907265
PowerShell 1.0: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=926139
.net Framework 2.0: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=0856eacb-4362-4b0d-8edd-aab15c5e04f5&displaylang=en

Exchange 2007 Updates Underway on amset.info

I have started the long process of reviewing every page in the Exchange and Outlook sections of my technical site amset.info for Exchange 2007 compatibility. While for some articles this is quite easy, as the principles remain the same, others require a completely new article - such as the Mobile Access setup guide (original: http://www.amset.info/exchange/mobile-setup.asp)
and the spam cleanup guide (http://www.amset.info/exchange/spam-cleanup.asp)

The articles that have been reviewed and updated are here http://www.amset.info/exchange/exchange-2007.asp and I will keep that list up to date until all articles are updated. It will then contain a list of Exchange 2007 specific articles.

The compatibility table on every page is being updated as I review the articles. If I haven't touched the page then the table says "Maybe" for Exchange 2007 compatibility.

Waiting for my Exchange 2007 Migration Guide? - Sorry, you will have to keep waiting.

If you are waiting for an Exchange 2007 of my migration guide (Exchange 2003 version here: http://www.amset.info/exchange/migration.asp) then you will have to wait a big longer. I have done a few migrations now, but keep changing my mind on the best way to do it. At the moment the "guide" consists of notes in Microsoft One Note, which increases in size with every subsequent migration.

However, if you are migrating off Exchange 2003/2000 to Exchange 2007, then the current guide will help a great deal. The principles still apply, you still need to replicate public and system folders and the order of work are still valid. The Exchange 2007 version, when I get round to writing my notes will almost certainly be based on that just with additional notes for Exchange 2007. I was also waiting for Exchange 2007 as Service Pack 1 introduced GUI for public folder management which makes the migration process much easier and now wish to do a few migrations using that version to hammer down the best way to do it.

Google and a New Site - Who Needs SEO?

Last year I was playing around with Google Custom Search, to try and improve the search functionality on amset.info.

While I was experimenting, I built custom search engines for the knowledgebase's of Microsoft, Symantec, McAfee, Palm, Apple, Adobe and a few others.

Rather than waste the work I had done, I put them in to some rough web code I use for basic web sites, registered a domain name and put it on its own virtual server on the same server that hosts amset.info and this site.
The link initially appeared in one place only, on this site. You will find it in the side bar. I have subsequently added it to my profile on Experts Exchange. It will most likely appear linked to from amset.info when I eventually get round to a design refresh for that site.

It will now appear in a third place, here: http://www.kbsearch.info/

If you look at the site you will see that it isn't the prettiest of code. It was built on some standard asp that I use if I need to throw together something very quickly. I use most of the asp as place holders for a real design to be done at a later date.
I did some basic meta tags, put in the Google Adsense code and left it at that.

Came as a bit of a surprise then to look at the logs for the web site a few weeks later to find that not only has Google indexed it, but it was for a time also at the top of the results (at least on Google UK) for a certain keyword - Symantec KB. It now seems to vary between 1 and 3.

If you believe some of the hype around the Search Engine Optimisation community (SEO) what has happened should not have happened. I should have had lots of links to the site, monitored my keyword density, done the research, crafted my meta tags, used the keywords in the title etc. I also shouldn't have the site name in the title.

I did none of the above. I have probably got lucky with what I did use, but it was just luck. I am not aware of any inbound links (except from here) and the pages are not optimised in any way.

I am not saying that SEO is a waste of time and money, just that it in this scenario it was not required to get the site in to the search engines in a good position.