Five tips for reducing Exchange Server support costs

A few simple steps can make a big difference in what you spend to support your Exchange Server organization. Brien Posey shares several practical suggestions.

The current economic climate continues to drive organizations to look for ways to reduce IT costs. Here are five things you can do to cut costs on Exchange Server support.

1: Take advantage of Role Based Access Control

One of the best ways to reduce Exchange Server support costs (while reducing your own workload in the process) is to take advantage of Exchange 2010's Role Based Access Control (RBAC) feature. RBAC allows you to delegate degrees of administrative permissions to non-Exchange administrators so that they can perform specific tasks.

For example, there is a management role group named Help Desk, to which you can assign help desk staff. Members of this role group can perform basic administrative tasks, such as modifying user information (address, phone number, etc.). It is worth noting that in Exchange Server 2010, end users can be allowed to modify their own information through Outlook Web App. As strange as it may sound, members of the Help Desk group are allowed to modify only information that users are allowed to modify themselves. Therefore, if you prevent users from modifying their own information, you will block the Help Desk from doing so as well.

The Help Desk Group is only one of the RBAC groups. You can use RBAC to provide truly granular Exchange Server permissions. For instance, you could potentially lighten the administrative burden by designating another staff member to act as a recipient manager (which would allow that person to create and maintain user mailboxes).

2: Proactively monitor the server's health

Another major step you can take to reduce Exchange Server support costs is to be proactive in your server maintenance. A number of tools are on the market for monitoring Exchange Server's health, and I highly recommend investing in such a tool. Although you'll have to spend some money up front, the tool will likely reduce your costs in the long run. Exchange Server monitoring tools are designed to spot small problems so that you can correct them before they turn into big problems. This not only helps reduce down time, but it also reduces costs by doing the troubleshooting for you.

3: Use dedicated Exchange servers

Whenever possible, you should run Exchange on dedicated servers (physical or virtual) rather than attempting to host additional roles, services, or applications on an Exchange server. Using dedicated servers eliminates the possibility of an unrelated service or application interfering with Exchange.

Using dedicated servers also helps improve security because a dedicated server has a smaller attack surface than a server that's performing multiple duties. Furthermore, if anything does go wrong with the Exchange server, the problem is often easier to troubleshoot if Exchange is the only thing running on the server.

4: Build redundancy into your Exchange Server organization

Few things drive up support costs the way an unanticipated failure does. Several types of costs are incurred when a server fails. First, there is the cost of paying the IT staff to fix the problem. There may also be costs associated with replacement parts or support calls to Microsoft. Although such costs can be significant, they are minor in comparison to the costs that occur because of how the failure affects the end users.

If users are affected by a failure, they can't properly do their job. At best, this means they're being paid to wait around for the server to come back up. At worst, an Exchange Server failure translates directly to lost revenue because customers are unable to communicate with employees.

While you may not always be able to completely prevent failures from occurring, you can prevent users from being affected by those failures by building redundancy into your Exchange Server organization. Microsoft supports failover clustering only for mailbox servers, but you can achieve redundancy for other Exchange Server roles through load balancing.

5: Periodically run the Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer

Finally, I recommend that you periodically run the Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer (ExBPA). In case you're not familiar with the ExBPA, it's a free tool that analyzes your Exchange Server organization to make sure your configuration adheres to Microsoft's recommended best practices. The Best Practices Analyzer started life as a downloadable tool, but it's now included in the Exchange Management Console Toolbox section in Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010.

I recommend periodically running the tool because Microsoft is known to change its recommendations from time to time. As Microsoft's recommended best practices evolve, those changes are reflected in the ExBPA. As a general rule, I suggest running the ExBPA once a month or any time you make a configuration change.


Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

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