In a previous TechRepublic article, I talked about five Exchange 2010 gotchas and focused on some of the potential nastiness that you might encounter when migrating to Microsoft’s newest email platform. But contrary to what you might think after reading my article, I happen to really like Exchange 2010. In this column, I cover five pleasant surprises in Exchange 2010 and how you can leverage these improvements.

1: I/O footprint goes mini

In my five Exchange 2010 gotchas article, I mentioned that Exchange 2010 trades disk space for better performance, significantly lowering overall I/O needs. This is important because it provides organizations with a plethora of new options when it comes to the storage side of the Exchange equation. No longer is a massively overprice storage infrastructure an absolute requirement for Exchange; now, you can even use cheap SATA disks.

How to leverage:

  • Consider SATA disks. Even though Exchange 2010 brings a lot to the storage table, you still need to make sure your storage design makes sense. That said, see what you can do with massive capacity SATA disks in your Exchange storage infrastructure and make use of Database Availability Groups as a primary data protection mechanism. You’ll require a lot more disk space, but if you’re buying 1 TB or 2 TB disks, is space really going to be an issue? In most cases, remember that a GB is cheaper than an IOP.
  • Virtualize. Due primarily to the smaller I/O footprint, Exchange 2010 is eminently virtualizable. Just about any organization should seriously considering virtualizing Exchange 2010. You won’t be alone.

2: Ditch the third-party signature and disclaimer software

You’ve been able to add automatic disclaimers to messages in Exchange since at least Exchange 2007. However, until recently, Exchange’s built-in disclaimer functionality couldn’t handle the variety of needs that many people have, such as adding images to signatures and disclaimer messages. Exchange 2010 SP1 makes it possible to add images to automated signatures and disclaimers, as well as to pull Active Directory information into the message.

How to leverage:

  • Get legal. If your organization values disclaimer messages, but some basic functionality was holding you back, find out what Exchange 2010 SP1 brings to the table.
  • Save some cash. Are you paying annual maintenance for a third-party solution? Cancel it! Save your budget some bucks and get more value from Exchange.

3: The Client Access Server (CAS) role is king

In Exchange 2007, the CAS role was not fully effective, as most Outlook users connected directly to their mailbox server, completely bypassing the CAS. The CAS role was relegated to supporting such services as Outlook Web Access, IMAP, POP, and ActiveSync connections, but not the most common access method — Outlook.

In Exchange 2010, almost all client data connections — including Outlook — now run through the CAS role. In an Exchange 2007 infrastructure, you might get away with a single CAS server if all of your users use Outlook; now, you can cluster CAS servers or create a CAS array to support the multitude of client connectivity options that are available.

How to leverage:

  • Availability business driver. If you’re working on identifying business drivers for a move to Exchange 2010, this could be one. This new focus on the CAS role is one way that Microsoft has helped Exchange 2010’s availability options. Now, for all intents and purposes, when a mailbox server fails, the CAS only needs to point itself to a different member of a database availability group and all will be well.

Note: Don’t assume that your Exchange 2007 design can be used for Exchange 2010; both the mailbox and the CAS roles will have different requirements, primarily due to this change.

4: Can’t remember the prerequisites? Forget about it!

Unless you install Exchange all the time, you probably have a cheat sheet or a script you run all the time so that you don’t have to remember the various prerequisites that are necessary to install the product. Exchange 2010 SP1 takes 100% of the effort out of the install by adding a checkbox right on the installation screen that reads Automatically Install Windows Server Roles And Features Required For Exchange Server. This is a minor improvement, but it does show that Microsoft is making efforts to ease Exchange deployment, which can be complicated.

How to leverage:

  • Check the box. Yeah, it’s that easy.

5: Mobility

Exchange 2010, particularly when enhanced with SP1, brings a ton of new features to Exchange’s ActiveSync-based mobility arsenal. While ActiveSync isn’t quite up to par with other enterprise-class mobility management techniques (BlackBerry, Good), it can now absolutely be classed as good enough for many organizations. Exchange 2010 includes these ActiveSync features:

How to leverage:

  • Compare and contrast. ActiveSync may not do everything required for your organization, so take a look at what it does and see if it can provide a good enough solution.
  • Implement. If you’re not doing anything around mobile device security, start with a deep perusal of what ActiveSync policies can do to help protect your organization.

Keep up with Scott Lowe’s posts on TechRepublic