Exchange 2013: First-time installation and basic administration

The Cumulative Update 1 for Exchange 2013 adds on-premise co-existence with legacy Exchange Server versions. Check out the new features

Microsoft released to manufacturing the latest version of their enterprise messaging product Exchange 2013 in October 2012. Deployments of Exchange 2013 have been relatively few to date, since the RTM version did not support co-existence or migration from earlier versions of Exchange, such as Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010.

Exchange 2013 could only be installed in environments where Exchange had never been deployed. This limited the product's potential customers, but was done to keep product cadence moving. In April 2013, Microsoft met a major customer demand by releasing Exchange Server 2013 RTM Cumulative Update 1 (CU1), which adds on-premises coexistence with legacy Exchange Server versions.

Now a reason to look seriously at Exchange 2013

New user-facing features in Exchange 2013, like an Office 365-themed Outlook Web App that runs in offline mode, will drive adoption of Exchange 2013. Exchange 2013 has had limited appeal so far, really just to the small to mid-size organization deploying Exchange for the first time in an on-premise or private cloud scenario, or to the service providers starting up new hosted environments.

Now with Exchange migration support, current Exchange 2007 and 2010 customers looking for co-existence with and migration to Office 365 should start to roadmap their Exchange 2013 migrations. The large enterprise that runs their messaging plant internally will probably stick with Exchange 2010 in the near term, since that is the proven and most broadly supported platform, but all organizations should consider Exchange 2013 for new messaging infrastructure.

All Exchange enterprise customers should consider deploying Exchange 2013 in an isolated lab environment for evaluation and familiarization first. You would not want to deploy Exchange 2013 CU1 for the first time in your production environment without knowing what to expect, because there are some major changes in Exchange server architecture compared to the previous versions.

New features in Exchange 2013

There are a few really big improvements in Exchange 2013 -- standouts are the Outlook Web App feature and Compliance features.

Outlook Web App

OWA gets a major update in looks and functions. The design is nearly identical to that of Microsoft's Office 365 Outlook and, yet runs fully on your premise or private cloud. Figure A shows off advanced mailbox features like inbox rules being modified in the user's OWA mailbox options.

Figure A

Outlook WebApp (OWA) in Exchange 2013 looks just like Office 365 and

There is an unexpected second major new feature to OWA besides the user interface (UI) upgrade to Modern UI style: Outlook Web App Offline Mode. Using HTML5 technology, offline mode is a way to extend Outlook to both roaming users with intermittent connectivity, but also to Windows RT clients like Surface RT. Offline mode is supported by IE10+, Chrome 17+ or Safari 5.

Compliance Management

This is a new focus area for Exchange 2013. These features acknowledge that larger or more demanding Exchange customers keep e-mail infrastructure on-premise (rather than using a cloud messaging service like Office 365) for intellectual property (IP) protection reasons.

Figure B shows the Exchange Control Panel (ECP) being used to configure the retention tags that will be available for users to assign to their historical email messages. Notice that other areas for compliance configuration are In-place eDiscovery and Hold, Auditing, Data Loss Prevention, Retention Policies, and Journal Rules.

Figure B

The Exchange Admin Center is accessed by browsing to the /ECP folder of your OWA site.

Totally new administration UI

The Exchange Management Console (EMC) familiar to a generation of Exchange admins, is replaced by new tools. After installing Exchange 2013 server on a Windows computer, no comprehensive console-based application tool will be found to launch. Rather, to get most everything done, you will use PowerShell or the Exchange Control Panel (ECP).

Figure B is a view of one panel in the ECP, which is where most Exchange administrative functions migrate to in Exchange 2013. In other words, to perform those tasks you would have done in the EMC of previous Exchange versions,  for Exchange 2013, you now do those tasks in either the ECP or with PowerShell. Figure C is another view of the ECP, showing how to enable the offline access mode for Outlook Web App.

Figure C

Enable offline access to OWA using the permissions pane in the ECP.

The move of functions to ECP is welcome because it makes Exchange easier to administer -- there is no longer a ‘heavy' administration console to install in order to manage Exchange.  However, it does mean learning some new UI paradigms.

As for the increased reliance on PowerShell to modify Exchange setup, this fits in with Enterprise IT processes that focus on scripting and command line operations to configure enterprise applications. A tight IT shop will carefully collect and store the PowerShell command lines used to configure their Exchange environment. This furthers the objectives of documenting the organization's configuration, and increases the disaster recovery readiness of the organization.

Exchange 2013: Quick setup, much simpler architecture

The number of Exchange server types and roles has been reduced from five to two. The former distinct server roles of Hub, Edge, and Unified Messaging server are no longer necessary in Exchange 2013 architecture. As seen in Figure D, during Exchange 2013 server setup, you can only choose between the Mailbox role and the Client Access role.

Figure D

Extremely simple role selections for Exchange 2013 servers.

Exchange 2013 post-configuration tips

Microsoft has done a good job of porting ESM features to intuitive and corresponding ECP menu structures. After performing the basic installation of your first Exchange 2013 server, post-configuration steps are similar to those in Exchange 2007 or 2010. As far as creating a Send connector and other settings, this is not difficult for an experienced Exchange 2010 administrator.

By John Joyner

John Joyner, MCSE, CMSP, MVP Cloud and Datacenter Management, is senior architect at ClearPointe, a cloud provider of systems management services. He is co-author of the "System Center Operations Manager: Unleashed" book series from Sams Publishing, ...