Exchange Server 2003 †

ex2003eeHóka-héy! Today is a good day to die(*).

With all the media attention for Windows XP support coming to an end today, one might forget that today also marks the official death of Exchange Server 2003 as the extended support phase ends for one of the products many of us developed a love-hate relationship with over the years. In addition, extended support for Office 2003 also ends today.

Reaching the end of extended support means that as of today, those products are no longer supported and will no longer receive security patches. Therefor, organization running Exchange Server 2003 or using Outlook 2003 might be exposed to security risks.

Of course there is an exception to this rule, depending on how deep your pockets are. Organization neglecting or ignoring the upcoming demise of products for some period can continue to receive support for a hefty price. For example, the UK government paid $9m for an additional year of Windows XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 support, and the Dutch government paid an undisclosed amount for an additional year of Windows XP support for around 40,000 systems. Ironically, the Dutch National Cyber Security Center NCSC, part of the department of justice, warned citizens to stop using Windows XP and upgrade.

For organizations still running Exchange Server 2003, there is nothing to be ashamed of as there are occasional sightings of Exchange 5.5 out there. When you think about upgrading, be advised that there is no direct upgrade path to Exchange Server 2013 and you either need to perform a double hop migration through Exchange Server 2007 or Exchange Server 2010 (recommended) or migrate to Office 365 as an alternative.

*) A battle cry attributed to Crazy Horse

So long RPC/HTTP, Hello MAPI/HTTP

Ex2013 LogoMicrosoft published three sessions from the Redmond Interoperability Protocols Plugfest 2013 on Channel 9 on the protocol MAPI over HTTP or MAPI/HTTP which looks scheduled to arrive with Exchange 2013 Service Pack 1.

This protocol is set to (over time!) replace the RPC/HTTP protocol we all know. RPC/HTTP, or Outlook Anywhere, is used by Outlook to communicate with Exchange Server and is most often seen with clients working remotely. With Exchange Server 2013, support for MAPI was dropped and RPC/HTTP became the only protocol. With Exchange 2013 SP1 it seems we will receive an alternative which is set to replace RPC/HTTTP, MAPI/HTTP.

Of course, the information is preliminary and subject to change as Exchange 2013 SP1 hasn’t been released yet, but it won’t harm to get familiar with the planned changes. It also remains to be seen how quick organizations will adopt this new protocol, which I’m pretty sure we will soon see getting supported by Office 365.

MapiHttp in Exchange 2013 SP1
Joe Warren, Principal SDE at Microsoft delivering a presentation covering the Exchange 2013 MapiHttp protocol implementation in Exchange 2013 SP1. Topics: What is MAPI-HTTP?, Why do MAPI-HTTP?, Goal of MAPI-HTTP, Why not rebuild with EWS?, Existing RPC-HTTP, New MAPI-HTTP, What does a MAPI-HTTP request look like?, What does a MAPI-HTTP response look like?, Session Context, Request Types, Sequencing & Protocol Failures. Click here.

Outlook 2013 Client Protocols
Shri Vidhya Alagesan, SDE at Microsoft presenting on Outlook 2013 Client Protocols from a client’s perspective. Topics: Client side view of Outlook-Exchange MAPI-HTTP protocol using WinHTTP, Error Handling & RPC Vs. MAPI-HTTP with sub-topics of Architecture Overview, Outlook & WinHttp, Cookies, Connection Status Dialog, Timeout, Pause/Resume & Protocol Switching. Click here.

Exchange 2013 Protocols
Andrew Davidoff, Senior Software Developer Engineer in Test at Microsoft presenting on the Exchange 2013 protocol families and important protocol updates for Exchange 2013. Click here.

Apart from these sessions on protocol change announced for Exchange Server 2013 SP1, Microsoft also published some other interesting Exchange-related sessions:

Exchange 2013 Web Services Overview
Harvey Rook, Principal Development Lead, and Naveen Chand, Senior Program Manager Lead, deliver a presentation on Exchange Web Services best practices. Click here.

Exchange RPC and EWS Protocol Test Suites
Jigar Mehta, Software Development Engineer in Test provides an in depth overview of the test suite packages for the Exchange RPC and Exchange Web Services protocols. Click here.

TechNet Subscriptions Changes

In the wake of Microsoft’s announcement to retire TechNet and more recently cancelling the MCM/MCSM/MCA certifications, Microsoft is offering some changes in the TechNet area, in what looks like a move to regain some trust from the community.

After the TechNet retirement announcement, in which Microsoft suggested IT Pros to switch to the far more expensive MSDN subscriptions, use time-bombed eval software or make use of the very limited Virtual Academy and Virtual Labs, the community cried foul which resulted in initiatives like a petition which currently has received over 10,000 signatures (if you haven’t signed yet, please do so).

The changes announced today are published in full here. In short:

  • Non-Volume Licensing program particpating subscribers who were active on September 1st, 2013 who’s subscription expires on or before September 30th, 2014, may extend their subscription for another 90 days for free;
  • 180 day limited previous versions of software will be made available through the Evaluation Center. No details yet on the number of software generations that will be made available.
  • Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCT) will also get a 90 day extension for their TechNet Professional subscription. In addition, a replacement is in the works in which MCT’s get access to non-time-bombed software for instructional/training purposes.

While still short of the original subscription, Microsoft is moving. However, if they can quickly make arrangements for MCTs, why not for IT Professionals and their TechNet subscriptions?

Looking at the way many fellows, myself included, work, that 180 day time-bombed is pretty useless or at least annoying and time consuming (like if I have nothing better to do than to redeploy and reconfigure lab environments).

With MCT nowadays mainly being a registration and fee donation process, I won’t be surprised to see a lot of “paper MCTs” after January, 2015 (September 2014 + 90 days) if the situation stays like this.

What do you think? Are these changes satisfactory?

TechNet Subscriptions Retirement

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Only 3 days ago, the (Microsoft) IT Pro community was surprised and shocked by an e-mail they received from Microsoft regarding retirement of TechNet Subscriptions after its introduction 15 years ago:

Microsoft is retiring the TechNet Subscription service.
As IT trends and business dynamics have evolved, so has Microsoft’s set of offerings for IT professionals who are looking to learn, evaluate and deploy Microsoft technologies and services. In recent years, we have seen a usage shift from paid to free evaluation experiences and resources.  As a result, Microsoft has decided to retire the TechNet Subscriptions service and will discontinue sales on August 31, 2013.

This means that after August 31, you won’t be able to purchase a subscription for downloading software for test and evaluation purposes. When you buy a subscription, you also need to activate it before September 30, 2013. Microsoft will honor current subscriptions, meaning its TechNet Subscriptions end of life date will be August 31, 2014. More information in the TechNet Subscriptions FAQ.

As part of the announcement, Microsoft suggests using time bombed evaluation software from the TechNet Evaluation Center, TechNet Virtual Labs or buying an MSDN subscription amongst other things. Not surprisingly, the majority of the IT Pro world cried foul:

TechNet Evaluation Center
Time bombed evaluation software is no replacement. For example, I have various environments set up in my lab which I use for research, blogging or articles, develop and test scripts, test (customer) scenarios, try to reproduce issues, evaluate 3rd party software, etc. I also use it to deploy environments for demonstration purposes. I don’t consider redeploying and reconfiguring all those environments on a frequent basis an option, apart from the fact that Evaluation Center only offers the recent generation of products.

TechNet Virtual Labs
TechNet Virtual Labs are very limited and aimed at exploring products and exams.

MSDN subscriptions
MSDN subscriptions are way more expensive and are primarily aimed at developers.TechNet Standard entry subscription with all non-developer software (e.g. OS, Exchange, Sharepoint, Lync) costs $199 ($149 renewal) while Professional with Enterprise software and Dynamics costs $349 ($249 renewal). Compared with MSDN‘s entry Subscription which costs $699 ($499 renewal, only getting you Operating Systems and some dev kits .. which IT Pro needs those?) MSDN is inferior. If you’re looking for a matching MSDN replacement which includes server software like Exchange, you’re looking at a $6.119 ($2.569 renewal) Subscription!

Microsoft Virtual Academy
Very limited and not representative of hands-on experience.

As for myself, my subscription expires July 26th, 2013. I’m curious, how does this decision affect you? Let me know in the comments section below.

Meanwhile, if you disagree with Microsoft’s decision, let your voice be heard by signing this petition for an affordable, TechNet comparable MSDN Subscription as an alternative. Microsoft also reversed Xbox One online check and used game policies and will reintroduce the “Start” button in Windows 8.1, so who knows.

Exchange 2013 CU1 Help File

Ex2013 LogoA quick post as the Exchange 2013 Cumulative Update 1 Help file (.CHM) file for offline usage has been released on the Microsoft Download Center.

The offline help files files are convenient if you’re on the road or in a location (yes, that happens sometimes) without internet connection.

You can download the Exchange 2013 Cumulative Update 1 .CHM Help file dated April 4th, 2013 for On-Premise and Hybrid deployments here.

Exchange 2013 CU1 ETA: April 2nd

Ex2013 LogoToday the Exchange Team announced postponing the release of Exchange 2013 Cumulative Update 1 for a few more days. Originally, CU1 was scheduled for Q1 2013, but the date has been set now at April 2nd, 2013.

While it may sound disappointing when you’re waiting for Exchange 2013 RTM CU1, it makes sense to postpone it a bit. As the team indicated,the time is used to add functionality required for coexistence scenarios with Exchange Server 2010 which otherwise had to be put in an update for Exchange 2010 Client Access servers. I expect people to be less happy as Exchange 2010 Service Pack 3 was heralded as the Exchange 2010 product level for coexistence support with Exchange 2013 (running CU1).

Also, looking at time frames involved with testing and accepting updates in production environments, I personally applaud this decision as putting that code in Exchange 2013 at the cost of a few days may in the end be faster than adding that code to Exchange Server 2010, requiring customers to initiate test an acceptance tracks for production updates.

So, until further notice we’ll have to wait just a few more additional days to see what Cumulative Update 1 will bring us.

Jetstress 2013

Ex2013 LogoIn the list of expected products to accompany Exchange 2013, Microsoft today released JetStress 2013, version 15.0.651.0.

Jetstress is your tool of choice to check the performance and stability of your storage design under load. It simulates Exchange I/O behaviour using Exchange 2013 patterns allowing you to verify dimensioning and validate performance expectations from a database perspective.

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To run JetStress 2013 you need:

  • .NET Framework 4.5
  • ESE.DLL, ESEPerf.dll, ESEPerf.ini, ESEPerf.hxx (copy these from an Exchange 2013 installation source)

Note: The installer currently installs a shortcut named “Exchange JetStress 2010″, but it really is JetStress 2013.

You can download the Jetstress 2013 here.

Exchange 2013 Cumulative Updates and You

Ex2013 LogoFew days ago, the Exchange Team published their intentions for Exchange 2013 regarding update schemes (or as Microsoft calls it, servicing). While the article describes the policy with a Q&A section at the bottom, there are still some grey areas. In this blog, I’d like emphasize on some elements and point out those grey areas.

As you probably read before, with Exchange 2013 the Rollup packages will be replaced by Cumulative Updates (CU), a name change probably inspired by Lync’s Cumulative Update packages. But it’s more than just a name change and admins or people involved managing releases should become familiar with the new policy as it will have some features that you don’t want to get surprised by.

One of the major changes in my opinion is that there will be one team working on the product; code bases for on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online (Office 365) will brought up to par. A small change is that Microsoft will first implement – or dogfood – the Cumulative Update in their Office 365 environment after while it will be made available for on-premises or hybrid deployments. While this may improve the quality of the Cumulative Update, not all kinds of deployments will be tested so it’s no warranty. However, looking at the current situation with Office 365, it may put stress on Microsoft procedures as there are already big variations between the various regions regarding Exchange Online implementations as well as Exchange Online and the on-premises version.

Ex2013CULifeCycleIt’s the intention Cumulative Updates will be released on a quarterly basis. Each Cumulative Update will consist of a full installation set, so for example you can install Exchange 2013 Cumulative Update 2 straightaway whereas with Rollups you had to implement the Service Pack level prior to applying the related Rollup. So, this is a big convenience when for example installing greenfield scenarios or adding systems.

However,  unlike Rollups you can’t uninstall a Cumulative Update once it has been installed. This could worry people, looking back at the qualify of some past Rollups which were pulled, rereleased and in some rare cases pulled and rereleased again. But since Microsoft will now implement Cumulative Updates first, bad Cumulative Updates will become Microsoft’s problem first, not yours as it seemed to few people with some of those Rollups.

Security updates will become Cumulative Update bound, meaning they are to be installed on a specific Cumulative Update. However, there can be two supported Cumulative Update “active” at a time, so I assume security updates can be installed on both (unless Microsoft will be making two versions of each security update). The next Cumulative Update will include security updates released since the previous Cumulative Update was released. However, it might be that security updates won’t make it in the a cumulative update because of the freeze period, the period before releasing the Cumulative Update when no more updates will be added, and one needs to wait for the Cumulative Update to be released or install the security update, wait for the Cumulative Update, install the Cumulative update and reinstall the security update, in which case you might prefer waiting for the Cumulative Update. Some might rushing (security) updates won’t harm you, but remember KB2624899 fixing the IE9/MMC issue, the initial EX2010SP2RU5 which caused DAG issues or KB2750149 which broke the WS2012 Fail-over Cluster snap-in and required KB2803748 to fix the issue. Yes, Microsoft will implement Cumulative Updates first but this will also raise the expectations set on Microsoft’s internal Quality Control enormously. They don’t want to end up in a situation releasing a faulty Cumulative Update to public, since it will be impossible to uninstall. Then again, nobody said Cumulative Updates would make the best practice of testing and accepting updates before implementing them in production environments obsolete.

A major change is that Cumulative Updates will be supported for 3 months after the next Cumulative Update is released. Because Cumulative Updates are to be released quarterly, this sets the support-window of a Cumulative Update (or plain, non-Cumulative Update) to 6 months. This may seem long, but I know a lot of companies will have an issue with this window because their test and acceptance periods easily transcends half a year, especially if schema updates are involved (yes, Cumulative Updates can require schema updates). And don’t forget about cases where customers adopted  a building block model where they will need to test that Cumulative Update against their Operating System building block with all the additional components, like Anti-Virus, Backup agents or Management software involved.

Finally, an odd element in this scheme are the Service Packs of which Microsoft said they will be getting released. But where in the past only Service Packs could embed Active Directory schema updates, that’s also something a Cumulative Update might require, making Service Packs effectively an Über Cumulative Update.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Exchange 2013 Help Files Updated

Ex2013 LogoA quick post as the Exchange 2013 Help (.CHM) files on the Microsoft Download Center have been updated. The offline help files files are convenient if you’re on the road or in a location without internet connection.

You can download the updated files dated January 18th, 2013 for On-Premise and Hybrid deployments of Exchange 2013 here.

On another note, there’s a new Office Visio 2013 stencil for Exchange 2013, including on-premise and hybrid deployments. You can download it here.

Exchange 2013 Schema Version

For planning and validation purposes, Exchange 2013 preparation of the forest and domain results in the following:

  • rangeUpper property of CN=ms-Exch-Schema-Version-Pt,cn=schema,cn=configuration,<Forest DN> is set to 15137;
  • objectVersion property of cn=<ExOrg>,cn=Microsoft Exchange,cn=Services,cn=Configuration,<Forest DN> is set to 15449;
  • objectVersion property in the Microsoft Exchange System Objects container of <Domain NC> is set to 13236.

The Exchange Schema Versions page has been updated with this information.