Update: Exchange Server 2010 Release Candidate

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In an earlier article (Exchange Server 2010 – The first public beta version) that I wrote in April of this year I discussed the first public beta of Exchange Server 2010. Microsoft has now released an update of this beta, Exchange Server 2010 Release Candidate which can be found here: .

The Release Candidate is now feature complete, so no more new features will be added. The only thing Microsoft now has to do until the release of Exchange Server 2010 later this year is bug fixing. So what is new and what has changed in this Release Candidate version of Exchange Server 2010?

Changes and new features in Exchange Server 2010

The following are the most visible additions in the Release Candidate, compared to the first public beta:

  • Archiving – Microsoft added archiving capabilities to Exchange Server 2010. When a new mailbox is created there’s the possibility to add an archive to the mailbox (of course you can add the archive later on as well). The archive is a secondary mailbox in the same database where the primary mailbox resides. The secondary mailbox is not visible to other users and therefore do not show up in the Global Address List. The archive is visible in Outlook 2010 and Outlook Web Access 2010, unfortunately Outlook 2007 does not support this feature. On the client side, no extra configuration is needed, when the Autodiscover functionality is configured correctly the archive will show up in your Outlook profile.

    Users can use the archive to store information manually or Exchange administrators can create Messaging Records on the Exchange server to automatically process messages and store them in the archive. There’s a big difference between the mailbox and the archive: the mailbox is available both online and offline, the archive is only available online. This means that the offline copy of the user’s mailbox (the .OST file) contains only the items in the mailbox and not in the archive.

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Figure 1. The online archive is visible in Outlook Web Access 2010=”CAPTION”>

  • Backup – Exchange Server 2010 Release Candidate contains a plug-in for Windows Server Backup (WSB). Exchange Server 2010 does not support streaming backups anymore, only VSS (snapshot) backups are supported. Unlike NTBackup in Windows Server 2003 R2 and earlier there’s nothing visible about WSB supporting Exchange Server. When creating a backup of a volume containing Exchange Server 2010 databases the status indicator reveals that something is done with Exchange Server databases, but that’s all. In  REF _Ref238257218 \h Figure 2, drives F:\, G:\ and H:\ contain Exchange Server 2010 databases (and log files) and these disks are selected for backup. Windows Server Backup is responsible for checking the databases for consistency (VSS itself does nothing about consistency, it just makes the shadow copy) and this is the only thing that’s visible about the Exchange support in Windows Server Backup.
    Windows Server Backup itself is pretty limited when it comes to backing up the Exchange Server environment. It can only create full backups (incremental or differential backups are not supported) and only the Active Copy of an Exchange Server 2010 database can be backed up. Creating a backup of a Passive Copy of a database is not supported. The next version of Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) will fully support Exchange Server 2010 and offer a lot more features than Windows Server Backup.

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Figure  2. Windows Server Backup checking Exchange databases for consistency

  • Sizing – Microsoft is now releasing some information regarding sizing. In my earlier article I already explained that one of the design goals of Exchange Server 2010 was to host a database and the accompanying log files on one (large) SATA disk. The maximum database size that’s recommended in Exchange Server 2010 will be 2 TB (10 times the recommended maximum size of a database in an Exchange Server 2007 server in a Cluster Continuous Replication (CCR) configuration!). It is up to the Exchange administrator to determine if a 2 TB database is useful or not, think about the implications when reseeding the database (creating a new copy) is necessary. In this case the complete database will be copied over the network. Or when a utility like ESEUTIL or ISINTEG needs to work on a 2TB database…. But it is still to early to say anything about the performance of Exchange Server 2010 with such a configuration;
  • PowerShell – The beta of Exchange Server 2010 came with two flavors of the Exchange Management Shell: the local version and the remote version. This turned out to be very challenging and numerous issues occurred. The Release Candidate of Exchange Server 2010 now comes with only one Exchange Management Shell. This Exchange Management Shell still supports managing both the local Exchange server as well the a remote Exchange server.
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 support – The beta of Exchange Server 2010 was only supported on Windows Server 2008. Windows Server 2008 R2, even build 7000, was not supported on Exchange Server 2010 beta. Now Windows Server 2008 R2 is released also Exchange Server 2010 is supported on this platform. All of the prerequisite software needed for installing Exchange Server 2010 (except for the filter pack needed for the Mailbox Server role) is available by default on Windows Server 2008 R2 so this can speed up the installation of Exchange Server 2010. Also the improvements in Windows Server 2008 R2 (like performance) make this a better for running Exchange Server 2010 (but that’s my personal opinion 😉
  • Improvements in the setup – when setting up an Exchange Server 2010 Client Access Server there’s the possibility to enter the external domain name when the Client Access Server is Internet facing. If this option is used all external setting settings on the Client Access Server (for the Offline Address Book, ActiveSync and Exchange Web Services) are automatically configured.

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Figure  3. Enter the external domain name when the Client Access Server is internet facing

If you prefer not to use this option than the mentioned settings can be changed later using the Set-OABVirtualDirectory, Set-WebServicesVirtualDirectory and the Set-ActiveSyncVirtualDirectory cmdlets in the Exchange Management Shell.

And how does it work?

And how does the Release Candidate of Exchange Server 2010 feels in real live? Compared to the public beta this Release Candidate works really great. We’ve tested an interesting configuration with two combined Hub Transport and Client Access Servers, two Edge Transport Servers and two dedicated Mailbox Servers. These Mailbox Servers are configured in a Database Availability Group where two Mailbox Databases have a copy on the other server. There’s also a Public Folder database available for Outlook 2003 clients. Please note that Public Folders cannot be used in combination with the Database Replication feature. When creating multiple copies of Public Folders the Public Folder replication has to be used.

For datacenter resilience all Exchange Server 2010 server roles can be installed in multiple datacenters, even the Mailbox Servers. After installing the Mailbox Server role the Database Availability Group needs to be configured with the subnet of the 2nd datacenter and when done the Mailbox Server can be added to the Database Availability Group. Configure multiple Database Copies using the Exchange Management Console or the Exchange Management Shell and you’re done.

Backup using Windows Server Backup is more challenging. As mentioned earlier only the Active Copy of an Exchange Server database can be configured in a backup, Passive Copies are not supported. When something happens in your Database Availability Group and another server is hosting the Active Copy then you lose the ability to create a backup. Also when you have multiple servers hosting multiple Active Copies you have to configure Windows Server Backup on each Mailbox Server. I’m pretty sure that this will be far more convenient when the next version of Data Protection Manager becomes available. This is not only true for Data Protection Manager but for all 3rd party backup application vendors like Symantec, UltraBac, CA etc.

Conclusion

The latest update of Exchange Server 2010 is the Release Candidate version. This version is feature complete thus no new features will be added. Compared to the first Public Beta the most important additions are the archive and the backup feature. Also the stability and performance have been improved so far, it looks really good.

There are still some challenges, documentation that is not yet up-to-date but personally I think Microsoft is on-track with Exchange Server 2010. So, you better start looking and evaluating Exchange Server 2010. And if you’re still on Exchange Server 2003 you may think about skipping Exchange Server 2007. Personally I think it’s worth it!

About the author

Jaap Wesselius

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Jaap Wesselius is an independent consultant from The Netherlands focusing on (Microsoft) Business Productivity solutions with Microsoft Exchange, Lync and Office 365. Prior to becoming an independent consultant in 2006, Jaap worked for 8 years for Microsoft Services in The Netherlands, specializing in Exchange Server. Jaap has a Bsc in Applied Physics & Computer Science, is an MCSE, MCITP and MCT, and has consistently been awarded the Microsoft MVP Award (Exchange Server, eighth year now) for his contributions to the (Dutch) Exchange community. For his blog posts, you can visit http://www.jaapwesselius.com. If you'd like to get in touch, you can reach Jaap via email at Simple-Talk@jaapwesselius.nl, or follow him on twitter as @jaapwess.

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