Two Thousand and Thirteen

2013/07/30 § Leave a comment

And so it came to pass that it fell upon your humble correspondent to undertake a perilous journey into the grimy reaches of the land known as Exchange 2013 from that known as Exchange Server 2007. (Why omit ‘Server,’ Microsoft?) So far, I’m getting a handle on the beast as it is quite different from the version I’ve been managing for the past few years; add that I’m skipping Exchange Server 2010 and that piles on the weird factor. The Hub Transport server role ist kaput and after the virtual dust clears, only the Mailbox and Client Access Server roles are practically left.

In what would have seemed like a low-down scurrilous move, Microsoft is taking us back to the days of Exchange Server 2003, with its ‘front-end (CAS)/back-end (Mailbox)’ configuration for 2013. I always felt it strange that Outlook client connected to the Mailbox role directly instead of to the … you know … Client Access Server and now balance has been restored to the nomenclature universe. For a 2007-ite like I am, I have no idea what Database Access Groups mean, but I now have to understand them. There are a few other design nuggets I have to dig up and dust  and wash off before I can melt them into usable jewelry. Alas, there aren’t that many bits of documentation in the form of textbooks available. I don’t trust Microsoft documentation but I went ahead and downloaded the help files for 2013 anyway. I haven’t read through them to any depth so I don’t know how good or bad they are. I’m voting bad. Wait, is that bigoted?

There is one—and only one—book available on 2013 by Rand Morimoto et al, Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Unleashed. I’m not a fan of the Unleashed series of books in general so I tend to stay away from them. Looking up Exchange 2013 on Amazon led me to a book that was just published on July 12, 2013 by Sybex and penned by Nathan Winters et al. Yes, so I lied about the number of books available. O’Reilly is making two massive (by length) books available, one each by Tony Redmond and Paul Robicheaux in its early release program. Redmond and Robicheaux are both rather excellent writers so I’ll be getting those books instead. They’re slated for final publication later in the year. I don’t know who Nathan Winters and his co-authors are, but they seem fine English gentlemen. I’ll pass. Smile

Can you tell I have a few trepidations about going it alone into 2013 land without any guidance, as it were. Where’s Gandalf?

One of the issues, since resolved, was that for a while Exchange 2013 couldn’t coexist with 2007 for mailbox migration. A Cumulative Update (CU) was made available so I can install 2013 right alongside my 2007 servers. There are also some nice features in 2013 that I look forward to using—off the starting blocks is the fact that DNS round-robin can be used to spread client connectivity between two Client Access Servers (or more) without a load balancer although one should probably do that anyway. And so away we dash …


Fakehosting Exchange

2013/03/26 § Leave a comment

I’m tired of virtualization. Literally. As in saying and typing virtualization. I am a big, big fan of the technology, mind. I’m just tired of that word.

In the coming months, I will be working on virtualizing (ugh) our Exchange server installation and there’s a need to find out how to “size” (ugh) the virtual infrastructure for smooth 2010 or 2013 operations.

David Davis (echo, echo) has good recommendations that I will be using to help me decide what goes into the VM/ESX host combination, a sample of which follows:

  • When allocating processors, only assign multiple virtual CPUs (vCPUs) if you can determine that your Exchange virtual machines (VMs) can really take advantage of the additional processors; otherwise, you’re wasting resources.Start with the smallest number of vCPUs and work your way up as more processors are needed.
  • Ensure that the total number of vCPUs assigned to all Exchange 2010 VMs is equal to (or less than) the total number of cores on the ESX host machine. If you assign more vCPUs to mission-critical VMs than the physical host has available, you are overcommitting CPUs, and taking a chance that your Exchange VMs won’t have CPU cycles when they’re needed. Instead of a 1:1 mapping of cores to vCPUs, use CPU reservations to protect those CPU resources for Exchange VMs.
  • Overcommitting memory with VMware vSphere is common — and even recommended — but don’t overcommit memory when virtualizing Exchange 2010. If you do, you’ll have to deal with memory ballooning, compression and paging — all of which will diminish performance.
  • Use storage multi-pathing to ensure storage area network (SAN) availability.VMware recommends providing a minimum of four paths from a VMware ESX host to a storage array, which means the host requires at least two host bus adapter (HBA) ports, two Fibre Channel ports and two SAN ports.
  • Allocate separate network adapters and networks for VMotion, VMware fault tolerant (FT) logging traffic and ESX console access management. Use at least two network adapters for Exchange production traffic to leverageVMware network interface card (NIC) teaming capabilities. Generally, at least four network adapters are recommended per ESX host.
  • Use the VMXNET3 virtual network adapter driver instead of the default E1000. In mission-critical VMs like Exchange 2010, the para-virtualized VMXNET3 will result in better performance. Also, ensure that VMware Toolsis installed on each VM as the VMXNET3 virtual NIC driver.
  • Don’t skimp on host server hardware. No amount of virtualization features can fix old or slow hardware.
  • When virtualizing Exchange 2010, make sure you’re up-to-date with the latest service pack.
  • Use vSphere High Availability (HA) to automatically restart your Exchange VMs in the event of a host failure.

Hold your nose, close your eyes and jump in for the rest.


2013/03/25 § Leave a comment

Long time no read. Oh well, it’s not like anyone ever reads the bloody blog anyway. That’s gotta change though, this is a way for me to organize my thinking. Actually, it’s a way for me to think.

Today, I was reading Tony Redmond’s blog. Tony Redmond sounds like a fake name, something in a pulp fiction detective novel or, dare I say, an 80s porn movie. Ahem. Rest assured, that’s his real name. Tony is a good writer in general and quite good at transferring information on Exchange server. His take on stuck messages in the OWA ‘drafts’ folder makes for easy & informative reading. Take a look.

Mail flow in most Mail Transport Agents—I’m thinking specifically of Sendmail or Postfix—is straightforward. Microsoft, not wanting to ever be accused of simplicity, decided that this was the way it would take care of mail flow through Exchange Server 2013:

Transport pipeline overview diagram

If you look closely, it all makes sense. By which I mean that, given the design considerations for something that does the work Exchange Server is supposed to do (a hell of a lot more than just SMTP) then implementing such a blitzkrieg of an algorithm is required.

With great complexity comes added responsibility however, and that is why no Exchange administrator will ever be out of work. Interested in reading more about Exchange 2013’s mail flow? Have at it.


2011/10/03 § Leave a comment

Whenever I read “Outlook repeat logon prompts” in the ticket, I groan inwardly. This is one of the most infuriating problems I’ve dealt with because I’ve never been able to pin down the actual problem. Never.

I don’t know at which end the problem lies: with Outlook, with the Domain Controller, or with the Exchange servers’ various roles. Toss in the fact that it’s almost always related to Outlook Anywhere and you’ve a recipe for frustration.

I’d like something easier, please, like brain surgery.

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