Category Archives: exchange

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Exchange 2007: ESEUTIL beats the wizard

Today I was asked to help find missing email in Small Business Server 2008, in other words Exchange 2007. Somehow, thousands of emails had disappeared from a user’s mailbox. They were there a couple of days earlier, so we restored a backup. The procedure is nicely explained by John Bay. You restore the Exchange database to a temporary directory, leaving Exchange up and running. Then you mount the restored backup into a “recovery storage group”, from where you can merge items from the recovered mailbox into the live one.

All went well, until the point where you mount the restored backup. The database would not mount. The event viewer said it was in an inconsistent state. Bay anticipates this, and suggests using the Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant to repair the database. The repair chugged away and completed; but the database still would not mount. I tried again, same result.

I gave up on the Assistant and reverted to the traditional command-line tools. I used the sequence:

ESEUTIL /P

ESEUTIL /D

ISINTEG

running against the recovered database. The first does a repair; the second defragments; and the third runs integrity checks and applies fixes.

Now, you would have thought that the Troubleshooting Assistant would use these very same tools underneath its pretty GUI, but that cannot be the case. Apart from anything else, ESEUTIL /P took much longer than the Assistant. In particular, it appeared to hang while doing something mysterious called Deleting Unicode fixup table.

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It carried on saying this for around 7 hours. There was evidence that the process was still alive though, so I left it be.

It worked. I ran the other two commands, mounted the database, and merged the mailbox to recover about 4,000 emails.

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The question remains: where did the emails go? All I know is that the problem coincided with a newly installed Windows and Outlook, which I’m guessing is significant.

The mystery of the slow Exchange 2007: when hard-coded values come back to haunt you

Following a migration from Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 to SBS 2008 users were complaining that Exchange was slower than before in some scenarios. How could this be? The new machine had 64-bit goodness and far more RAM than before.

I checked out the machine’s performance and noticed something odd. Store.exe, the Exchange database, usually grabs vast amounts of RAM, but in this case it was using surprisingly little, around 640MB. Could this be related to the performance issue?

I speculated that Exchange memory usage was limited in some way, so looked up where such a limit is set. I found this article. Ran ADSI Edit and there it was, a 640MB limit (or thereabouts), set in msExchESEParamCacheSizeMax.

I removed the limit, restarted Exchange 2007, and it immediately said “thank you very much” and grabbed 8GB instead.

Why did this setting exist? No doubt because back in the days of SBS 2003 and a much less powerful 32-bit machine, someone set it in order to prevent store.exe from crippling the box. It is another example of why Small Business Server is harder to manage than full server setups when Exchange invariably has a dedicated server (or several).

SBS 2008 cannot be installed as an in-place upgrade; but the official migration process does preserve Active Directory; and since that is where this value lives, and since it is not specific to any version of Exchange, it was dutifully transferred.

Why wasn’t the setting discovered and changed before? Well, you will observe that it is somewhat hidden. The main chances of finding it would be either if you were deeply schooled in the ways of Exchange, or if one of the Best Practices Analyzer (BPA) tools picked it up, or if the users screamed that Exchange was slow (which is what happened) and you figured out what was wrong.

The SBS BPA did not notice it. The Exchange BPA did, kind-of. It was not shown as a critical problem, but listed for information under “Non-Default Settings”, ironically with a tick beside it, as “Maximum ESE cache size changed”. Summoning help on this setting leads to this article which refers to Exchange 2000.

An admin failure, yes, but arguably also a defect in Exchange and SBS. Typical Microsoft: critical setting, hard-coded when it would make more sense to use a percentage value, not checked by setup and persistent across major upgrades of Exchange, deeply buried in Active Directory.

Mentioned here just in case it saves someone time when trying to figure out why their shiny 64-bit Exchange 2007 is running worse than 32-bit Exchange 2003 ever did.

A year of blogging: another crazy year in tech

At this time of year I allow myself a little introspection. Why do I write this blog? In part because I enjoy it; in part because it lets me write what I want to write, rather than what someone will commission; in part because I need to be visible on the Internet as an individual, not just as an author writing for various publications; in part because I highly value the feedback I get here.

Running a blog has its frustrations. Adding content here has to take a back seat to paying work at times. I also realise that the site is desperately in need of redesign; I’ve played around with some tweaks in an offline version but I’m cautious about making changes because the current format just about works and I don’t want to make it worse. I am a writer and developer, but not a designer.

One company actually offered to redesign the blog for me, but I held back for fear that a sense of obligation would prevent me from writing objectively. That said, I have considered doing something like Adobe’s Serge Jespers and offering a prize for a redesign; if you would like to supply such a prize, in return for a little publicity, let me know. One of my goals is to make use of WordPress widgets to add more interactivity and a degree of future-proofing. I hope 2010 will be the year of a new-look ITWriitng.com.

So what are you reading? Looking at the stats for the year proves something I was already aware of: that the most-read posts are not news stories but how-to articles that solve common problems. The readers are not subscribers, but individuals searching for a solution to their problem. For the record, the top five in order:

Annoying Word 2007 problem- can’t select text – when Office breaks

Cannot open the Outlook window – what sort of error message is that? – when Office breaks again

Visual Studio 6 on Vista – VB 6 just won’t die

Why Outlook 2007 is slow- Microsoft’s official answer – when Office frustrates

Outlook 2007 is slow, RSS broken – when Office still frustrates

The most popular news posts on ITWriting.com:

London Stock Exchange migrating from .NET to Oracle/UNIX platform -  case study becomes PR disaster

Parallel Programming: five reasons for caution. Reflections from Intel’s Parallel Studio briefing – a contrarian view

Apple Snow Leopard and Exchange- the real story – hyped new feature disappoints

Software development trends in emerging markets – are they what you expect?

QCon London 2009 – the best developer conference in the UK

and a few others that I’d like to highlight:

The end of Sun’s bold open source experiment – Sun is taken over by Oracle, though the deal has been subject to long delays thanks to EU scrutiny

Is Silverlight the problem with ITV Player- Microsoft, you have a problem – prophetic insofar as ITV later switched to Adobe Flash; it’s not as good as BBC iPlayer but it is better than before

Google Chrome OS – astonishing – a real first reaction written during the press briefing; my views have not changed much though many commentators don’t get its significance for some reason

Farewell to Personal Computer World- 30 years of personal computing – worth reading the comments if you have any affection for this gone-but-not-forgotten publication

Is high-resolution audio (like SACD) audibly better than than CD – still a question that fascinates me

When the unthinkable happens: Microsoft/Danger loses customer data – as a company Microsoft is not entirely dysfunctional but for some parts there is no better word

Adobe’s chameleon Flash shows its enterprise colours – some interesting comments on this Flash for the Enterprise story

Silverlight 4 ticks all the boxes, questions remain – in 2010 we should get some idea of Silverlight’s significance, now that Microsoft has fixed the most pressing technical issues

and finally HAPPY NEW YEAR

Los Angeles chooses Google over Exchange for email – who will follow?

When the city council of Los Angeles needed to replace its Novell email system, it looked at two main options. One was Microsoft Exchange, the other Google Apps; and Google won the deal.

There is one, fascinating, caveat. According to David Sarno at LA Times:

The contract was approved pending an amendment that would require Google to compensate the city in the event that the Google system was breached and city data exposed or stolen. No such clause existed in the contract.

Compensation sounds like something more substantial than the fee refund offered by a typical SLA (Service Level Agreement) – and this is about security, not interruption of service.

I would be intrigued to know whether Microsoft pitched a traditional on-premise solution (most likely); or whether it sought to do like-for-like with Google with a hosted Exchange offering.

It’s been a good month or so for Google Apps. I’ve heard of deals with Rentokil Initial (up to 35,000 users worldwide) and Jaguar Land Rover (15,000 worldwide). Deals like this put Google on the map for many more organisations.

Could 2010 be the year of the cloud?

Microsoft will document the Outlook file format; users would rather it just worked better

Microsoft’s Paul Lorimer, Group Manager for Microsoft Office Interoperability, has announced that the .pst file format will be published:

In order to facilitate interoperability and enable customers and vendors to access the data in .pst files on a variety of platforms, we will be releasing documentation for the .pst file format. This will allow developers to read, create, and interoperate with the data in .pst files in server and client scenarios using the programming language and platform of their choice.

The initials .pst stand, I believe, for “Personal store”. This is the format used by standalone Outlook, for users without Exchange. You can also have Exchange deliver email to a .pst, though more normally Exchange mail is stored in an .ost (“Offline store”) which replicates the mailbox on the server. The .pst format is still used for archiving in this scenario. I’m not sure how different .pst and .ost are internally, or whether Microsoft intends to document both.

Any move towards open formats is welcome, though I’m not sure how important this one is; further, Outlook is frail enough as it is, so I’m nervous about third-party software modifying a .pst and perhaps getting it slightly wrong and causing problems. Programmatic access to Outlook data has long been available, via the ancient MAPI or via Outlook’s COM API.

In just slightly related news, my help post on the error message Cannot open the Outlook window is the most viewed post on this site this month and the fourth most viewed last month; it has 129 comments.

I suspect most users would prefer a faster and more robust Outlook over and above a published file format; unlike Office document formats, a .pst is not generally shared with others.

Why Outlook rules copy a message when you asked for it to be moved

Ever wished computers had a “do what I mean” button?

Here’s a case in point. I use Outlook/Exchange rules to sort email into subfolders. I set up a new rule, and was annoyed to find that while messages were correctly being moved into the selected folder, they were not being deleted from the source folder. In other words, I’d asked for move but I was getting copy.

Bug in Outlook/Exchange rules? I don’t entirely trust them; but on this occasion it was my fault. The problem: these messages also matched another rule, which moved them to a different subfolder – the one, in fact, that I was treating as the “source folder”. When confronted with two rules that both move a message, Exchange makes a copy. Whether that is the right behaviour is arguable, but it is not a bug.

Here’s the solution. In the Actions for the rule, also check the option to “Stop processing more rules”.

Problem solved.

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Apple Snow Leopard and Exchange: the real story

Apple’s Snow Leopard (OS 10.6) came out last week, and one of its most hyped features is native support for Microsoft Exchange. Here’s what Apple says:

With Snow Leopard, the Mac is the only computer with built-in support for the latest version of Microsoft Exchange Server. So you can use your Mac — with all the features and applications you love — at home and at work and have all your messages, meetings, and contacts in one place.

What this means is that eager Mac users will be upgrading to Snow Leopard and expecting to be able to connect to Exchange at work with Apple-style “it just works” ease of configuration.

The truth is more complex; and I’m disappointed with both Apple’s publicity and the number of reviews that have simply reported its claims without investigation. That said, it is a tricky subject, and I have some sympathy with Apple, which is doing more or less the right thing at a technical level.

Configuring Snow Leopard Mail to use Exchange

The first thing to understand is that there are myriad ways of connecting to Exchange, including:

  • MAPI, which is Microsoft’s proprietary API
  • IMAP, which is a standard protocol for server-based email
  • ActiveSync, which is a Microsoft protocol used for mobile devices
  • RPC over HTTPS, effectively MAPI over SSL, enabling Outlook to connect from outside the network without VPN
  • Outlook Web Access, a web UI for Outlook
  • WebDAV, now deprecated
  • Exchange Web Services, which communicate using SOAP XML messages

Which of these protocols are actually enabled, and whether they are published beyond the internal network, is a matter for Exchange admins to configure.

The usual generic method to connect to Exchange from a miscellaneous client is IMAP, and this is exactly what Apple supported in Mail before Snow Leopard, and still supports. IMAP works pretty well in my experience, but it is only for email and does not expose any Exchange-specific features.

Snow Leopard adds support for Exchange Web Services (EWS), giving a much richer level of access to Exchange. First snag: EWS is only supported in Exchange 2007, which is why Apple says in its small print:

requires Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 Update Rollup 4

Second snag: even EWS does not all the features of MAPI, and some features (notably public folder support) were only added in Exchange 2007 SP2, which has just been released. This probably explains why Mail does not (as far as I can tell) support public folders.

The key thing to understand is that Snow Leopard is not using the same protocol as Outlook and therefore does not have access to the same set of features.

What works and what doesn’t

Let’s assume that you have Snow Leopard and Exchange 2007 SP1. What works and what doesn’t? Based on my experience so far:

  • You will be able to connect on an internal network or VPN, provided that EWS is enabled, which it usually is. You may need to install a digital certificate to avoid warning messages.
  • Mail, Calendar (iCal), tasks and notes in your Exchange mailbox all appear nicely.
  • When outside the network, you will only be able to connect over the Internet if EWS is published externally, which it often is not. You cannot use RPC over HTTPS.
  • There is no access to public folders (note that these are deprecated, but still widely used).
  • It is not possible to send from an email address other than the default.
  • You cannot use Exchange delegation features, such as accessing other mailboxes.
  • Mail will download the entire mailbox; you cannot set it only to download recent items. There is no “online mode” as there is with Outlook.
  • When offline, you can access existing items, but new messages have to be saved as drafts. This is unlike Outlook, which gives you full access to send mail, delete etc, and synchronises on re-connect.

Snow Leopard vs Entourage

You might imagine that Microsoft’s own Entourage product would do a better job than Apple Mail at connecting to Exchange. This is not necessarily the case. The problem is that Entourage 2008 doesn’t use MAPI either. In its first incarnation it uses WebDAV. This proved so problematic that Microsoft quietly released a new Web Services Edition that uses EWS, like Snow Leopard. Even this is a temporary expedient, as the Mac Business Unit has announced Outlook for the Mac. The implication is that it will be closer to feature-parity with Outlook on Windows, though it’s not clear to me whether this means MAPI, or EWS, or who knows what?

My view is that unless you need some specific feature of Entourage, or find that Entourage mysteriously works where Snow Leopard does not, you are likely better off without it. This presumes Exchange 2007, of course. The fundamental reason is that Mail and iCal are nicely integrated with the operating system, whereas Entourage is not so good in this respect; there have also been quality issues with Entourage.

It would be good to see a detailed technical note from Apple and/or Microsoft on Snow Leopard’s Exchange support, how to configure Exchange for it, and any implications for security etc. In the meantime, there is an interesting discussion on Apple’s forums which highlights the issues.

For all its (many) faults, Outlook on Windows remains a better Exchange client than either Snow Leopard or Entourage.

Google Apps add-on breaks Outlook features in email wars

Google has released an add-on to Outlook that apparently breaks Outlook search. Google Apps Sync synchronizes Outlook email, calendar and contacts with Google Apps. Google recommends it as a transition tool for people migrating from Exchange, or for people who prefer the Outlook UI. A premium version of Google Apps is required.

Unfortunately it breaks some Outlook functionality. In particular, Outlook search no longer works correctly. There are also potential issues with the Hotmail connector and, according to Google, the Acrobat PDF Maker toolbar and the Outlook Change Notifier.

Although uninstalling Google Apps Sync should restore the features, this wasn’t working in early versions of Google Apps Sync. So the somewhat counter-intuitive advice is to upgrade Google Apps Sync to the latest version and then to uninstall; or tinker with the registry yourself according to Microsoft’s guidance.

Let’s reflect a bit on what is happening here. Google is encouraging its users to install an add-on that damages the functionality of a rival product. Understandably annoying for Microsoft; but it is explained in the documentation if you read it carefully. I doubt it is deliberate sabotage; on the other hand, it highlights the fragility of desktop versus cloud applications. Google’s technical advice on the subject is pretty much a shrug: if you don’t like it, uninstall it.

Another perspective on this is that if you are happy with Outlook with or without Exchange, be wary of third-party add-ons, especially from companies that want to migrate you to another product. If you are making the transition to Google Mail and just need to export your data, of course, breaking Outlook a little will not worry you.

The broader reflection is that many third-party add-ons for Windows, though claiming to make things better for you, actually make things worse.

Exchange 2007 backup to be fixed at last

Microsoft’s Exchange team is including a VSS plug-in in Exchange 2007 SP2, which means you will be able to backup Exchange on Server 2008 without purchasing a third-party product. Details of how this works are here.

Note that this feature, which was first promised in June 2008, will likely be appearing just before Exchange 2010. SP2 is promised in the third quarter this year, and Exchange 2010 in the second half; interpreting this ship-date jargon I guess means Exchange 2010 around the end of the year. In other words, it has taken almost a complete generation of the product to ship the fix.

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What’s new in Exchange 2010 and Hyper-V R2

Mark Wilson’s blog has the best summary I’ve seen on what’s coming in Exchange 2010 and what’s new in Hyper-V R2.

The big thing in Hyper-V R2 is live migration. The big thing in Exchange 2010 is, well:

For me, it seems that Exchange 2010 is not a major upgrade – just as 2003 was an incremental change built on 2000, 2010 builds on 2007 but, nevertheless, the improvements are significant.

says Wilson. Microsoft’s product releases (irrespective of whether the main version number is incremented) can often be categorized as either a major release, or fine-tuning, and it seems that Exchange 2010 is in the latter category. Not a bad thing, given that there was a lot for admins to learn in Exchange 2007. Still, there is a lot in Exchange 2010 if you are excited about compliance, auditing and rights management, as well as some interesting new storage options:

In what will be a massive shift for many organisations, Microsoft is encouraging Exchange 2010 customers to store mailbox data on inexpensive local disks and to replicate databases between servers rather than using SAN-based replication.

There’s also no sign yet of Exchange moving to SQL Server rather than its own Blue JET Extensible Storage Engine. Confused about Red JET, Blue JET and Exchange? Roger Jennings wrote an extensive discussion of the matter.

And what of the VSS plug-in that enables Exchange-aware backup without purchasing a 3rd party solution? Promised in June 2008, still not delivered. I will be interested to see if it arrives with Exchange 2010, expected towards the end of this year. It’s no longer an issue for me personally; I’m using the old NTBackup copied from 64-bit Windows Server 2003 and it seems to work fine for this purpose. The reason Microsoft does not care about this is that most users are either enterprises, which are meant to use Data Protection Manager, or small businesses with Small Business Server, that has its own backup solution. That does not excuse broken promises.