ExTRA! ExTRA! (Read all about it)

The Microsoft Exchange Team released a new tool last week to help Exchange Administrators troubleshoot typical problems that may occur. Typically they named it the Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant, pet naming it ExTRA. Version 1.0 was found to be a good starting point for this new free tool.


Microsoft supplies the following description for the tool:

The Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant can help to determine the cause of performance, mail flow and database mounting issues on computers running Microsoft Exchange Server. The tool automates specialized troubleshooting steps for identified symptoms. The Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant programmatically executes a set of troubleshooting steps to identify the root cause of performance, mail flow, and database mounting issues. The tool automatically determines what set of data is required to troubleshoot the identified symptoms and collects configuration data, performance counters, event logs and live tracing information from an Exchange server and other appropriate sources. The tool analyzes each subsystem to determine individual bottlenecks and component failures, then aggregates the information to provide root cause analysis.

In my view this positions the tool as a typical troubleshooting tool for live production machines. I guess it can also be used in conjunction with JetStress in testing environments. William Lefkovics of the MS Exchange Blog suggested it should be part of the Microsoft Exchange Best Practices Analyzer (ExBPA) but I guess he’s missing the point of this new application: Although both tools share the same interface you can’t treat them as one application. The Exchange Best Practices Analyzer is a typical tool to analyse they way you implemented your (new) Microsoft Exchange Server and hands you areas of interest to avoid problems or to raise your level of security. The Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant (ExTRA) is a tool to quickly identify problems after they occurred or when they are occurring. In my opinion ExBPA is pro-active, where ExTRA is reactive; ExBPA is a tool to avoid problems, where ExTRA is a tool to handle problems.

The Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant is basicly the combination of three tools and the Microsoft Website states it clearly:

The Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant contains all the troubleshooting functionality formerly provided by the Exchange Performance Analyzer, the Exchange Disaster Recovery Analyzer, and the Exchange Mail Flow Analyzer.

A tool that might be combined with the Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant (ExTRA) however might be the Microsoft Exchange Winroute tool, as it can be used to analyze mail flow problems, but it’s only one part of this new tool. In my view the end of WinRoute is as near as the end of ExMerge, but the main reason this time is there’s a new tool on the block. The other part of ExTRA is a performance analyzer which shows resemblance with JetStress and using performance counters, but only for database queries. ExTRA’s truly new features are the ability to analyze Active Directory traffic and support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.


The tool can do it’s little choirs on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Windows XP. Your first impression would be that this only allows for Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 to be analyzed, but Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server can be anayzed too. The only thing you’ll have to remember is that you can’t analyze Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server on the Microsoft Windows 2000 Server you installed it on. When you read the little print on the page that lists the system requirements you will find that Microsoft suggests not using the tool directly on the server with Microsoft Exchange on it, so don’t that either when using Microsoft Exchange Server 2003.
Don’t bother installing the downloadable version of the Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant on your Microsoft Exchange server 2007… It’s not supported yet and you’ll receive an error message stating it found the Microsoft Exchange 2007 Administration Tools. Here's a screenshot for those interested.

I guess the Microsoft Exchange team will provide us with a version that is compatible with Microsoft Exchange 2007 when it reaches a more mature stage of development.
When you plan to use it to troubleshoot your Microsoft Exchange 5.5 Servers be sure to connect to the planet earth and at least implement some sort of basic interaction with Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server or Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and of course the Active Directory.

Version 1.0

As is told you earlier this is version 1.0 of this tool. We all know what that means and most of you will probably wait for version 1.1 or something that says 1.0 SP1. This tool is different. The programmers made sure that everything in the tool actually works and it does this job flawlessly, but unfortunately it comes at a prize. Most of the actions required to solve the problem aren’t automated in this version. Rumour has it next version of the tool will automate most actual troubleshooting steps, probably evolving it from Troubleshooting Assistant to Troubleshooting Wizard.

What ExTRA does

After you installed, started it up and clicked through the Welcome screen you’re presented with two distinct groups of activities. The first one being ‘Symptom-driven Troubleshooting’, divided into ‘Performance Troubleshooter’ and ‘Mail Flow Troubleshooter’ and the other choice being ‘Database Recovery Management’. Here's what ExTRA's main screen looks like.

Performance Troubleshooter

When you choose Performance Troubleshooter you get the oppurtunity to choose symptoms that are generally considered to be performance problems. Within version 1.0 of the Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant you can choose from three symptoms:

  • Multiple users are complaining of delays while using Outlook, or are seeing the Outlook cancellable RPC dialog frequently
  • The number of RPC operations per second is higher than expected
  • The number of outstanding RPC requests is high

Mail Flow Troubleshooter

The Mail Flow Troubleshooter is basicly a queue analyzer. It gives you seven choices for possible mayhem you might be experiencing:

  • Users are receiving unexpected non-delivery reports when sending messages
  • Expected messages from senders are delayed or are nog received by some recipients
  • Messages destined to recipients are delayed or are not received by some recipients
  • Messages are backing up in one or mire queues on a server
  • Messages sent by user(s) are pending submission on their mailbox server(s) (for Exchange Server 2007 only)
  • Find a lost message (for Exchange Server 2007 only)
  • Problems with Edge Server synchronization with Active Directory (for Exchange Server 2007 only)

Here we see some options that are only available for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, which is interesting, because the first two options are typical situation Exchange Systems Admins are experiencing nowadays. (with Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003) It’s good to see that this tools helps us with these problems. The third choice of course is related to the new roles introduced with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and is not really applicable to previous versions, because ‘Edge Servers’ (those are typically called ‘Front-End Servers’) are treated equally like the ‘Mailbox Servers’. (or ‘Back-End Servers’ as we know them nowadays

Database Recovery Management

Microsoft Exchange Administrators can basically tell their users that e-mail is an unreliable way of communication and it was bound to happen that some messages were getting lost. It might even get blamed on the new SenderID technology when a user really gets annoying. A badly performing Microsoft Exchange Server might be a reason for replacing it, but a database that won’t mount is simply inexcusable and Dutch research in 2005 showed that most Microsoft Exchange administrator think they’ll get fired if they can’t restore e-mail functionality within three (working) days. With the Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant it’s much easier to troubleshoot the issues related to database mounting problems and people troubleshooting these problems receive useful hints, which otherwise might take them too long to figure out or cost them dearly for calling an IT service provider.


The Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant is a good tool to get help troubleshooting your Microsoft Exchange related problems, but don’t expect it to do any repairing itself: It only gives you hints on how to tackle the problem.

A word of caution is in place as well: Just like the Microsoft Exchange Best Practice Analyzer some hints could be really devastating to your Microsoft Exchange Server or databases.

More reading

Download the Microsoft Exchange Troubleshooting Assistent
System Requirements for Microsoft Exchange Analyzers
William Lefkovics of the MS Exchange Blog on ExTRA
More on Mail Flow Troubleshooting from the Microsoft Exchange Team Blog

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