Exchange 2010 Beta: A First Impression

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Exchange 2010 logo A few days ago the beta of Exchange Server 2010 has been released. As Exchange has always been of special interest of me, I jumped at the opportunity to install it and check it out. So will 2010 be the year we will make better contact with our own mail?

(for those sci-fi geeks out there, this was a reference to a A.C. Clark novel)

First of I used my own home computer with virtualization, but 2GB is just not enough (note: today I bought a 4GB memory kit, hehehe). But my employer gracefully let me use several of our educational computers. These were Dell XPS420, with an Intel Quad Core Q6600 processor and 6GB of RAM. Excellent gaming machines, but also excellent Exchange test servers 🙂

For the setup I installed a Windows Server 2008 Domain Controller and another Windows 2008 server for a member server Exchange Server 2010 installation. Both fully updated as of 21 April 2009. I decided to let the forest and domain functional level at 2003.

The first attempt to install reminded me of the beta install of Exchange 2007. A lot of updates, pre-requirements and such before you could even think of starting setup.exe.  I followed instructions from Microsoft and Sander Berkouwer (dutch). As I have installed a lot of Exchange 2007 servers, I use a batch file to install the roles and features. You Mind you, this is for a Mailbox, Client Access and Hub Transport role server all-in-one.

ServerManagerCmd -i Web-Server
ServerManagerCmd -i Web-ISAPI-Ext
ServerManagerCmd -i Web-Metabase
ServerManagerCmd -i Web-Lgcy-Mgmt-Console
ServerManagerCmd -i Web-Basic-Auth
ServerManagerCmd -i Web-Digest-Auth
ServerManagerCmd -i Web-Windows-Auth
ServerManagerCmd -i Web-Dyn-Compression
ServerManagerCmd -i NET-HTTP-Activation
ServerManagerCmd -I RPC-over-HTTP-proxy
ServerManagerCmd -i RSAT-ADDS

First troubles: the setup could not continue because the already installed Exchange Services wouldn’t start. No real explanation, the eventlog didn’t help my either. But I remembered that I had the same problem with a Exchange 2007SP1 installation on Windows Server 2008. Server 2008 has a preference for IPV6, even disabling the protocol on the NIC doesn’t shake this habit. You would also have to edit the host file. I didn’t edit it, but I did disable IPV6…

After enabling IPV6 and restarting the server, I could continue the setup where it left of. Nice work, Microsoft! Yes, Exchange 2007 also had this robustness, but to see it work on a Beta is very comforting.

Not very long after I had a running Exchange Server 2010 Beta!!!

So, what to check? Well, several months ago I posted about my expectations and wishes regarding then code-named Exchange 14.

Let’s look at them point by point:

What did I know (some of it heard on TechEd)?
  • Public Folders will return and will be supported for 10 years after the release of E14 (see Updated Exchange Public Folder Guidance);
    • Confirmed!
  • The Unified Communications Role will contain 26 spoken languages (I believe it is 15 at the moment) and will voice recognize 25 (this was one!);
    • Didn’t check this out but the beta is only english.
  • The migration path to E14 was very complicated at first, but after consultations was optimized;
    • Didn’t check this out, but I plan to do some migra… sorry transitions. Especially from 2003 to 2010 and a 2007SP1 in-place upgrade 2010, if they are even possible. Mhh, in-place upgrades of Exchange? It's been a long since I’ve done that.
What did I think would be implemented?
  • Almost 100% functionality in non-IE browsers (look at OCS);
    • Confirmed!!! YES! This was one of my highest noted annoyances of Exchange.
  • Merging of storage group and database (I do not even implement more than one DB per storage group);
    • Confirmed!!! No more storage groups!
  • Online Mailbox moves without disabling access for the user at the start of moving items (pleasant for users with very large mailboxes);
    • Not yet tested, but I saw some options that would suggest this ability.
  • Runs only on Windows Server 2008 (perhaps even R2?).
    • Confirmed! I do not think that Exchange 2010 will be 2008R2 exclusive, I even think this would be unwise.
What was I hoping for?
  • Opening of specific folders of others users via OWA, without having full control;
    • Not tested
  • User customizable group calendars in OWA (preferably the same as in Outlook);
    • Not tested
  • Centralized configuration of Document folders in OWA (i.e. homefolder as a favorite);
    • The Document folderbutton isn’t even active in OWA…
  • Edge transporter support for Windows Core server (yeah, not really something the Exchange team can do something about);
    • Not tested/checked.
  • Better Public Folder Management;
    • Not tested, but define better. One could argue that the ultimate PF management would be the delete button…


Interesting items and Concluding

Well, no real surprises actually. This version is more evolution than revolution like Exchange 2000 and Exchange Server 2007 were compared to their predecessors. But there are enough improvements warranting at least a closer examination.

The Database Availability Group is probably the biggest change (and with it the end of Storage Groups etc.). I haven’t read or otherwise know anything about it, but this will probably be another great addition to achieving higher groupware availability.

An interesting addition is “Microsoft Exchange On-Premises” in the Exchange Management Console. So are the terms “Federation Trusts”, “Sharing Relationships” and “Sharing Policies”. Definitely going to check those out.

The upgrades on OWA are the next big thing, threaded conversations, more self administration (user information, but also distribution groups). It’s clear however that it is definitely not finished as some buttons aren’t present yet (Documents, Public Folder to name a few).

I am really really happy that OWA Premium also works on Firefox (and probably more non-IE browsers). That alone will be an important, easy to understand and visible selling point for non-technical buyers.

This was a short glimpse. I’ve mentioned things in passing or didn’t even mention and there are lots of things I will examine more closely. I already made lots of screenshots, hopefully I will find some time this week to make more posts.


These opinions are my own. The software used in this post are in beta stage and can (and probably will) changed in a RTM version.

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