Friday, July 20, 2012

HELO: I am Exchange 2013

Finally! Earlier this week Microsoft Launched the Exchange 2013 Preview. This launch was a bit overshadowed by the launch of the Office 2013, but nevertheless the new release is packed with lots of news. I am going to mention a few here and hopefully can find time to post more detailed information on each feature somewhere in the near future. Microsoft has published documentation for Exchange Server 2013 Preview. The documentation is not going into too much depth, but is a good start. Please note that all this information is a so called Preview and might change when the product goes RTM. We saw that with Exchange 2010 Beta there were quite a few things that did not make it into an RTM: for example ability to create new mailboxes from scratch in ECP. This once even caused me to make a mistake and tell one of my clients that it was possible (I remembered that I was able to create mailboxes in ECP, but forgot it did not make it to the RTM.


So first the architecture! Anybody working with Exchange remembers the days when Exchange had just 2 roles (in the times of Exchange 2000/2003) Front End and Back End. Then we went to Exchange 2007 where the roles got split into CAS, HUB, MBX, UM and Edge. This was a modular approach and was further enhanced in Exchange 2010. You could mix and match: split all roles or combine!. With Exchange 2013 we are going back to 2 Roles. Well at least this is what you will have to choose from during the installation:

CAS Role and Mailbox Role

I am going to save the details for another post but in short: Appearance are deceptive. True you get only two roles to choose during install, but the roles are still there consolidated. CAS role will do proxying and authentications (no rendering of mailbox data), and Mailbox role will host the Mailboxes, do the HUB work and UM part as well. This choice is made for simplicity of scale, hardware utilization, and failure isolation. With this new architecture, the Client Access server and the Mailbox server have become “loosely coupled”. All processing and activity for a specific mailbox occurs on the Mailbox server that houses the active database copy where the mailbox resides. All data rendering and data transformation is performed local to the active database copy, eliminating concerns of version compatibility between the Client Access server and the Mailbox server.

Sounds extremely interesting and I will dedicate a post to the architecture on a later moment.

New functionality:

Here are some of the new features introduced in the Exchange server 2013:

First of all he dubious Public Folders, it’s like a bad marriage = can’t live with them and and can’t live without them. Microsoft has been pushing since the introduction of Exchange 2007 to remove support for Public folders. The threats were also there when Exchange 2010 was introduced, and Microsoft even made an effort to improve the management of public folders. In my personal opinion Public Folders are one of the most buggy and dodgy thing in Exchange since it’s conception. And I seriously do not understand companies who are still heavily dependent on the public folders (guys just use shared mailboxes!!!). But in any case the demand and resistance from the customers and the community forced Microsoft to include Public Folders in this release of Exchange as well. But I believe this time round Microsoft has found a golden middle! Public Folders are still there, but now they are not hosted on  separate databases which replicate using an old “stone age” mechanism of Exchange 2000/2003 between each other, but they are just mailboxes which have a folder hierarchy. I have read some of the parts about the Public Folders and still have to fully understand the architecture (there is a concept of Master Public Folder mailbox, and secondary Public Folder mailbox), but it looks pretty good now. The Public Folder mailbox is hosted on a plain Mailbox Database which can be part of a DAG offering high availability. Hell Microsoft even supports migrations (only from Exchange 2010 SP3) Public Folders to the Public Folders on Exchange 2013. This is mostly a manual process and Microsoft includes steps like “Export folder list” “export folder statistics” to compare after migration, to verify that you got all the content. So this is welcome piece which will help organizations move to the New Style Public Folders (especially knowing that migration of Public Folders to Sharepoint for example is a painful exercise).

EAC or Exchange Administration Center Is the evolved ECP 9Exchange Control Panel). Offers much more flexibility and extra management tools. This is extremely welcome improvement: i.e. Publci folders can be created and managed via EAC. Also mailbox rights/delegation can be managed via the EAS (Send on Behalf, Send As and Full Mailbox Access). I have to still look very closely to what else is there but at a first glance it looks like “Good By” Lumpy Exchange Management Tools.

Site Mailboxes: Site Mailbox is a Mailbox one can create that belongs to a team site. Here is the description of what the Site mailbox is attempting to achieve:

Email and documents are traditionally kept in two unique and separate data repositories. Most teams would normally collaborate using both mediums. The challenge is that both email and documents are accessed using different clients, which usually results in a reduction in user productivity and a degraded user experience.The site mailbox is a new concept in Exchange 2013 Preview that attempts to solve these problems. Site mailboxes improve collaboration and user productivity by allowing access to both documents in a SharePoint site and email messages in an Exchange mailbox, using the same client interface. A site mailbox is functionally comprised of SharePoint site membership (owners and members), shared storage through an Exchange mailbox for email messages and a SharePoint site for documents, and a management interface that addresses provisioning and lifecycle needs.”

I have tryed to configure a site mailbox in my trial Office 365 2013 Preview tenant with no success as of yet. And when I read what needs to be done to make Sharepoint 2013 and Exchange 2013 to play together I get cramps in my stomach, but it is a great Idea.

Integration with Sharepoint and Lync: Here is what the documentation tells us about this:

Exchange 2013 Preview offers greater integration with SharePoint 2013 Preview and Lync 2013 Preview. Benefits of this enhanced integration include:

  • Users collaborate more effectively by using site mailboxes.
  • Lync Server 2013 Preview can archive content in Exchange 2013 Preview and use Exchange 2013 Preview as a contact store.
  • Discovery Managers can perform In-Place eDiscovery and Hold searches across SharePoint 2013 Preview, Exchange 2013 Preview, and Lync 2013 Preview data.
  • Oauth authentication allows partner applications to authenticate as a service or impersonate users where required.”

Sounds Like a plan to me!

The last Feature I wanted to talk about in this post is the Client Experience.

OWA (Outlook Web App) has been completely redesigned to also support touch devices like tablets. I have to say it looks extremely sexy on my iPad and iPhone (although only a lunatic will use OWA on a 3,5 inch screen, no matter how good it is). On both devices the FULL rich OWA version is supported and works really, really fast. On certain browsers/OS combinations offline mode is supported. I am afraid I need a whole post dedicated to client experience, where I hopefully will also post some screenshots.

Well this is it for now and look out for the following posts, although I am not committing to any time lines!