Tag Archives: Unified Communications

TechEd, day 0: my schedule

Actually, I’m a day late– I should have posted this last night, but I was too tired! I had an uneventful flight from DTW-LAX on a crowded but bearable NW A320, then a remarkably expensive yet reasonably safe taxi ride to the Sheraton Los Angeles downtown.

I’m in Los Angeles for TechEd 2009, where I’m presenting and working in the Exchange booth. Today I’ve got a couple of phone meetings with my 3Sharp posse, then a session in the “Anywhere Access” section of the Exchange booth from 1115 to 1445. Following that, I plan to attend a set of MVP deep-dive sessions that the product group is putting on, then I’ll be able to take a short break before having dinner with some folks from the Exchange product team.

Tomorrow things heat up: I have booth duty (this time in the “Protection and Compliance” area) from 0930 to 1230, followed by a session (UNC01-INT) from 1445-1600 in the Interactive Theater “Yellow 1” area on Microsoft’s Exchange Online offering. I plan to do a bunch of demos there, so if you’re interested in how Exchange Online works, stop by!

Wednesday I have booth duty again (0930-1230 in “Deployment and Management”), after which I’m doing a session (UNC304) on OCS 2007 R2 deployment and management. That should be fun, but I’ll be watching the clock (and trying hard to finish on time, something I rarely do) in order to make my flight home.

If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and say hello!

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Installing Exchange 2010 Unified Messaging

Following up on my post from the other day where I linked to Scott’s step-by-step install instructions: my homeboys at Gold Systems have posted a step-by-step install guide covering installing the Exchange UM role in Exchange 2010. The big difference from a regular install is that you need the Windows Server 2008 Desktop Experience feature, because it includes the necessary audio codecs.

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Following up on training investment

I got some great feedback via e-mail from my previous post about the value of Microsoft’s MCM training. Shortly after I posted, Devin wrote a long and detailed post on the actual economics of getting an MCM: what it costs vs what you can potentially earn. In conjunction with his argument, I wanted to point out that the OCS MCM class is now on sale for its next two rotations: R2 (April 27-May 16) has a 50% “public beta” discount, and R3 (June 8-27) has a 30% discount. If only I had time to go!


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Exchange 2010: Availability

Scott Schnoll and his posse delivered a great session on availability technology in Exchange 2010 at INTERACT yesterday. We’ve been using this technology for a while now at 3Sharp, and it really is very, very cool.

So, the really big availability news in Exchange 2010 is the introduction of a new construct, the database availability group (DAG). The DAG is a collection of up to 16 servers, each of which can contain a replica of a mailbox database. For example, I could put MDB1, MDB2, and MDB3 on server1, MDB2 and MDB4 on server2, MDB1 and MDB3 on server 3, and so on.

Mailbox databases are now the target object for failover– instead of having an entire mailbox server failover using Windows clustering, the mailbox database itself fails over to another server within the same DAG. For example, MDB1 can move from server1 to server3, either automatically or manually.

Essentially, this is a mechanism for replicating mailbox databases between servers, something that the Exchange admin community has been asking for for years! Some highlights:

  • Log shipping no longer uses SMB; instead it uses the ESE streaming API for seeding [ed: hat tip Scott Schnoll for the correction], which is considerably more efficient, and raw TCP sockets for replication. In Exchange 2007, there was one SMB session for all databases on a server. In Exchange 2010, there’s one TCP socket per database, so scalability and parallelization are greatly improved.
  • This provides HA for systems that are built on top of DAS; in fact, it’s optimized for DAS. You can use dedicated storage per node; replication means that you can use JBODs without even using RAID.
  • DAGs can span AD sites, subnets, and so on (although all servers in the DAG must be in the same AD domain). You can control and throttle DAG replication at the network level or using the DAG controls for log lag.
  • The setup experience is completely different than SCC. To enable a DAG, you create a DAG and then add database replicas to it. You don’t have to manually create any of the failover mechanisms, install any Windows prerequisites, or any of the stuff you’d have to do with single-copy clusters (SCC).

The advent of the DAG means that some legacy features are disappearing. First, there are no storage groups in Exchange 2010– each database has its own associated set of logs. Second, SCC is dead (e.g. no longer supported). Personally, I won’t miss it.

Interesting question posed by Josh Maher: do you still need backups? We debated this hotly at the MVP Summit. Microsoft’s position is that some organizations may choose to do fewer backups once they deploy DAGs because their databases are already distributed across multiple servers in multiple sites. Of course, this distribution doesn’t protect you against logical errors in the database, which to me weakens the argument that you don’t need backups. Microsoft itself doesn’t do backups internally any longer. They don’t have business requirements to recover long-term archived mail.

Public folders: no changes, except that you can no longer use continuous replication for public folders. You can put a PF database on a server that’s in a DAG, but you can’t put the PF database itself into the DAG. Because Exchange 2007 limited you to having a single PF database per CCR-protected storage group, this isn’t actually a loss.

More to come on this topic– heaven knows there will be a lot of interesting stuff to explore as people start experimenting with DAGs in their lab. As for us, we’re about to expand our Redmond DAG by adding a server in Toledo to give us site resiliency too– should be fun!

UPDATE 15 Apr 1405 PDT: Ewan Dalton has more on the new features here.


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It’s official: Exchange Server 2010

It’s been killing me not to talk about this, but now I can! On April 15, Microsoft will officially release a public beta of Exchange 2010 (formerly code-named “Exchange 14”). There are so many improvements in the product that I can’t decide which ones to talk about first. I’ll be updating this post to link to my own blog posts, as well as to interesting posts from other Exchange folks, so you’ll see it update frequently.

Update [2233 PST 14 Apr]: the Exchange 2010 beta bits are now available for download!

Update [0549 PST 15 Apr]: the docs are up as well, and Scott Schnoll has posted a step-by-step install guide.

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INTERACT 2009, part 1

Last year, INTERACT was a fantastic physical conference held in San Diego (a hard location to beat!) This year, Microsoft’s changed things up. There are separate, and mostly concurrent, events in Reading, UK, Boston, and Redmond, plus an online virtual event. I flew in yesterday and am now in the middle of an Exchange high availability session. There are two parallel tracks: one covering Exchange 14, and one covering OCS 2007 R2 topics. I’m mostly attending the Exchange sessions, but there are some pretty nifty OCS sessions as well.

The weather’s been weird since I got here; yesterday as I was driving to the Microsoft campus, I drove into a good-sized hailstorm. The hailstones were small, but there were enough of them to perceptibly whiten the ground. Fortunately it stopped hailing before I had to get out of the car!

I’m preparing a series of blog posts on various topics that I’ll post over the next few days. Some of these posts have some really exciting stuff in them that hasn’t been publicly disclosed yet, so stay tuned!

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Exchange 2010: OWA

Man, it’s been killing me not to talk about OWA 2010. Take a look at this screenshot:


First: this shot’s taken from Safari 4.0 beta 2 on the Mac. That’s right: OWA fully supports Safari on Mac OS X (not Windows) and Firefox on the Mac and Windows, along with IE 7+ on Windows. (I can’t remember if Linux Firefox is supported or not; I think so but I might be wrong). Safari and Firefox get the full premium OWA experience, with drag-and-drop, spell checking, notifications, and the rest.

Second: check out the presence jellybean in the upper-right corner. OWA is now integrated with OCS. In this case, the screenshot shows my mailbox hosted on Exchange Labs, which features Windows Live Messenger integration. Notice that my Messenger contact list appears in the lower-left side of the navigation bar, and that next to Arlene’s name in the message pane, you can see her presence jellybean. (Take a good look at the context menu on the jellybean, too– looks a lot like the one in Outlook, doesn’t it?)

Microsoft’s video showed conversation view very briefly, but this is one of my all-time favorite Exchange features. Here’s what it looks like in OWA 2010:


So, for the conversation titled “Introduction”, I can see all the messages in the thread, with the first non-deleted message automatically highlighted. The conversation view automatically includes deleted messages, sent items, and messages that I’ve filed in other folders, so I can get a sense of the conversation’s length and spread. The view in the message list (on the left) shows how the thread branches (not much, in this case) and the location of each message; the conversation view itself on the right shows the active message, along with controls to expand other messages. Of course, I can select, move, and delete messages either individually or as an entire conversation.

Now, some of you may be scoffing right now, saying “wait a minute– gmail has had conversation views for a long time.” That’s true. OWA’s view is richer; it displays more visual information and is easier to navigate than gmail’s current implementation. Take a look at these two screenshots to see what I’m talking about. The first shows a conversation originally imported from gmail as it appears in OWA 2010; the second shows it in gmail.

Exchange2010-OWA-5.png Exchange2010-OWA-4.png

Speaking of gmail, OWA 2010 can aggregate and display in your inbox mail from multiple services, too. Check out what one of the Exchange Labs options pages looks like:


There are quite a few things to look at here. First, notice the account information pane, which allows users to set their own address, phone numbers, and so on. As an Exchange admin, I can control whether users may do so or not, but letting them do so has some obvious cost and time savings benefits for the IT staff. Second, apropos of self-service, check out the “Shortcuts” area on the right side of the screen: users can quickly get access to do a number of things directly from within OWA, like setting up Direct Push or creating server-side rules. Finally, notice the “Other Accounts” section; I’ve set up a link with my gmail account so that mail sent to my gmail address shows up in my Exchange Labs inbox. (OWA 2010 also lets you select the address from which mail is sent, much as Entourage does on the Mac, so I can send messages that appear to be from my domain or from gmail).

I could go on with features. For example, the message list isn’t paged any longer– it scrolls from beginning to end, just like Entourage or Outlook, seamlessly loading messages when necessary. There are tons of other little grace notes like this, but you’ll have to wait for RTM to see some of them!


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Now’s the time to invest in training

The media’s been flooded with news about various kinds of job training, including Microsoft’s Elevate America program and various state programs targeted at autoworkers, manufacturing workers, and so on. This makes sense, given that the economic mess we’re currently in means that there’s a lot of turmoil and uncertainty about jobs at all levels. Getting better training almost always makes sense, especially if that training helps increase your market value.

Greg Taylor, who runs the Microsoft Certified Master for Exchange program, just e-mailed me to say that he only has 2 open slots in the next MCM | Exchange course, starting May 4. We’ve had a lively debate about whether the MCM certification is actually valuable, in the sense that it’s worth what it costs. After seeing the back-and-forth between people like Tony Redmond (who owns H-P’s Microsoft consulting business), Gary Cooper, and Devin, the answer is clear: yes.

How is that possible? Simple. First, you get training that’s literally not available anywhere else. A couple of weeks ago, I was there when Tim McMichael was teaching CCR and SCR. In the back of the room were Scott Schnoll and Ross Smith IV. It would be difficult to conceive of a better group to teach the real-world intricacies of how CCR and SCR can be deployed.

More importantly, when H-P (or IBM, or Dell, or other large shops) go in to a customer, the customer already knows them. They’re not facing the problem of trying to convince a customer that a smaller, lesser-known shop can do a great job– and can justify its bill rates. On the other hand, for smaller consultancies, MCM | Exchange is a terrific way to immediately lock the competence flag to 1. As Microsoft continues to evangelize the program, this effect will grow. That’s why I’d jump into this rotation if I could… but I can’t. However, you, dear reader, can. It’s true that the training is about $13,000 (plus your living expenses). However, I believe strongly that for independents and smaller shops, you can sbsolutely recoup this value, and more. Check out the page, and if you’re interested in signing up, ping me directly and I’ll put you in touch with Greg.

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Unified communication news roundup, March 09 edition

I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of information that were too short to make meaningful posts on their own– now I’ve mashed them together to make a semi-meaningful post.

First, OCS/LCS guru Joe Schurman has a new book out: Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications. As soon as I got Dustin Hannifin’s mail announcing it, I ordered it.

Second, I found that Microsoft has an extensive listing of products that have been certified as supported with OCS 2007 R2 under the Unified Communications Open Interoperability Program. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there (including the fact that I’m a revision behind on my 3300 firmware).

Third, OCS and Speech Server MVP Marshall Harrison launched a new site, GotUC.net. It’s a portal dedicated to the OCS development community. It’s still fairly new, so there isn’t much there, but I expect that to change over time– drop by and say hi.

I also need to write a summary of my MVP Summit experiences, but that will have to wait until later.

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On the Microsoft Certified Master program

Brent Ozar posted an interesting piece on the value of the MCM credential. He argues that the value in being an MCM comes primarily to people who already have the ability to act as a force multiplier, making the people around them more effective. That’s one of the reasons that I’m happy that Devin’s earned his MCM; he has great potential to use what he’s learned to provide a field effect that will really help our customers.

I’m going to be teaching the Exchange UM portion of the MCM Exchange class, starting either in March or May. I’ve decided to hold off on going through the whole program until we’ve finished our move to Seattle; it’ll be much easier without the added hassle of being away from home. I’m tempted to skip the Exchange 2007 MCM and wait for the Exchange 14 version (which, of course, is a ways off), and instead go for the MCM OCS certification. Jens’ description is very tantalizing.

BTW, the MCM team has a great blog. If you’re at all interested in the MCM program, you should check it out.

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Outlook 2007 programming chapters online

Long-time Outlook MVP Sue Mosher (who is a really interesting person besides!) wrote Microsoft Outlook 2007 Programming: Jumpstart for Power Users and Administrators
a year or two ago, and Microsoft just put three chapters online from it. If you’re doing Outlook development at all, this will probably be a valuable read. Sue points out that the chapter on working with item bodies has a lot of information that she’s never seen published anywhere else.

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At the MVP Summit

I’m excited to be at this year’s MVP Summit. (In fact, I’m in an Exchange 14-themed session right now). The summit team has their own blog, and lots of other MVPs are blogging about it. I have a huge backlog of blog entries to write, but I won’t be blogging much about the specific sessions because they’re under NDA. Too bad, because there are some E14 features that totally rock my socks off.

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Lotus to license Exchange ActiveSync (updated)

Apparently IBM has decided that the best way to get mobile e-mail out of Notes/Domino is to license their primary competitor’s protocol! Network World ran a story today (“Lotus Notes/iPhone users to get their wish: real-time e-mail access“) claiming that IBM will include Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) support in a future release of Lotus Notes Traveler, IBM’s existing mobility solution. (Ed Brill mentioned it this morning, when I was revising this draft, too.)

This is fascinating for several reasons. First, it further solidifies EAS’ position as the dominant mobile sync protocol for e-mail, calendar, and contact data. When your biggest competitors (like Apple and Nokia in mobile devices and now IBM in collaboration software) come hat in hand to license your stuff, that’s a good sign. The original decision to license EAS to outside parties some years ago looks better and better– especially in light of the EU’s continued and bizarre insistence that Microsoft isn’t documenting and opening its protocols enough.

Second, this move implies some things about the state of the relationship between IBM (or at least the Lotus division) and Apple. IBM certainly has enough skilled developers to build their own equivalent of EAS, and to get it to run comfortably on the iPhone. Apparently, though, they don’t have the market leverage to get Apple to ship that protocol as a peer of EAS, or to allow IBM to evade the SDK restrictions on backgrounding. Of course, Apple only added EAS support in the first place to give them another attack (a submission, if you will, to borrow a little BJJ lingo) against RIM and WM. Apple apparently doesn’t feel the need to have a similar move up their sleeve for those shops running Notes.

Third, follow the money. I couldn’t find any evidence of an IBM-Microsoft cross-license for patents (which makes perfect sense given the companies’ respective stances on Linux). IBM doesn’t break out many separate numbers for sales of individual products, but given what I know about EAS licensing I expect that they’ll have to pay Microsoft a per-unit fee for the server software that implements EAS on the Domino side. That in turn gives Microsoft some interesting data they didn’t have before: how many licenses of Traveler IBM is selling. Oh, and cash money, too.

Fourth, can you imagine the field day Microsoft’s sales and marketing team is going to have with this? This is like one of those “write your own caption” contests.

Fifth, this represents a win for Windows Mobile too. Now they too can work seamlessly with Domino installations with no additional client software.

Meta-thought: IBM must have really wanted to get Notes on the iPhone. Why? It’s hard to imagine that it’s because of the huge overlap between Notes users and iPhone users, because I don’t believe such an overlap exists. Could this be an attempt by IBM to cash in on some of the halo generated by the iPhone? Does the iPhone coattail effect make up for having to license a protocol from the hated Redmondites? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Update: IBM’s actual press release is here. I like the phrase in the intro paragraph: “…intended support for Microsoft Active Sync”. I wonder what “intended” means in this context?

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Cutting off e-mail for former employees

Say you’ve fired someone, or laid them off, or sadly waved goodbye as they left of their own volition. How can you effectively prevent them from accessing your Exchange servers once they’re gone?

Most connections to an Exchange server are persistent, in the sense that once the client’s authenticated the connection will remain open. This allows the client to continue to send and receive mail… the exact opposite of what you want. You might think that disabling the Active Directory account for the user would do the trick, and it will indeed prevent other logons from succeeding. However, for about two hours, existing logons will continue to work. Here’s what to do to instead:

  1. Disable the user’s mailbox. This prevents new logons to the mailbox.
  2. Set the Send Prohibit quota to 0. This prevents the user from sending new mail; the quota change takes effect immediately.
  3. Move the user’s mailbox to another database. This will immediately disconnect all open mailbox connections from any client.

Voilà! Problem solved. (Hat tip: Scott Schnoll)

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PowerShell 101 event 11 December

I’m going to be doing a three-part “PowerShell 101” webcast for Windows IT Pro on 11 December. It’s pretty basic stuff, appropriate for those who are just getting started with PowerShell and the Exchange Management Shell (EMS). However, I will be doing a longer, more in-depth series of webcasts starting in February. For more details, see this link.

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