Exchange Server 2007: The Six-Month Report

In August of 2007, my team and I finished our installation of Exchange Server 2007.  During the installation, we transitioned our 1,400 or so mailboxes from an Exchange Server 2003 system to Exchange Server 2007.  To be fair, our environment is the epitome of simplicity, with only a single Exchange server--so far.  With our upgrade remained a few hurdles, including:

  • Lack of public folder access in OWA under Exchange Server 2007 RTM: Until we applied Service Pack 1, which has the code necessary to resolve this issue, we kept our Exchange Server 2003 system in place with public folders running on it.  This took care of that problem.  I will admit that, even with Exchange Server 2007 SP1 applied, OWA users are still being redirected to our Exchange 2003 server for public folder access.  With other priorities rearing their ugly heads, we have not had the opportunity to full correct this problem, especially since we have a reasonable work around in place.  The solution is likely nothing more than a simple setting change that we'll get to this summer once students leave.
  • Spam filter: At the time of our upgrade, an Exchange Server 2007 version of our spam filtering software was not available.  We use Open Relay Filter (ORF) in our organization.  In order to work around this problem, we simply continued to route incoming mail through our Exchange Server 2003 system.  The routing group connector in place on the old Exchange Server forwards all mail to the new system with few problems.  Since applying Service Pack 1 on the Exchange Server 2007 system, we have had to restart the 2003 box once every couple of weeks as incoming mail stopped being delivered to the new system.  ORF for Exchange Server 2007 is now in alpha or beta testing and we are deciding whether to keep ORF as our solution or whether we want to migrate to Microsoft's Exchange Hosted Services.  MEHS is included as a part of our campus agreement with Microsoft.  If any of you have experience with this service, I'd love to hear your stories of success... or otherwise!  Assuming that ORF is stable by Spring break, we'll be choosing and implementing one of these solutions in that timeframe.
  • Unified Messaging: We have also taken the plunge and are currently piloting Exchange Server 2007's Unified Messaging feature, which was one of the major drivers behind our Exchange 2007 implementation.  To say that we're extremely pleased with the solution would be an understatement.  We've rolled this out to some members of the IT staff and to just a couple of people outside the IT organization.  We are working on nailing down a couple of minor issues, but the feedback from the IT staff and even the outside people has been overwhelmingly positive, with one executive assistant saying to me after just two days of use "I don't know how I lived without this."  We did have an issue whereby Mac systems using Entourage could not easily listen to voicemail messages.  We worked around this issue by changing the codec used to store voicemail from WMA to WAV.  Getting Unified Messaging in place was an extremely difficult process, but not because of Microsoft or Exchange.  Rather, our telephone vendor simply took quite a long time to finalize necessary licensing and to implement changes that needed to take place in order for UM to be functional.  As a result, we're about two months behind on this project which is worrisome since our existing voicemail solution is no longer supported... by anyone, hence our desire to use Exchange 2007 for UM.  IT assumed responsibility for the telephone system just last summer.  We still have a lot of work to do with regard to moving automated attendants and remaining voicemail boxes from our existing voicemail system to Exchange.  If you're an Exchange shop already and are still using a legacy voicemail system, in my opinion, UM alone is enough of a reason to upgrade, if you were considering doing so anyway.

As you can tell, our upgrade wasn't done all at once and we did have to implement some workarounds, but the end result has been fantastic.  From a much-improved OWA to UM features we didn't have before, Exchange Server 2007 has exceeded my expectations.

What we have left:

  • Jettison the Exchange 2003 system, which means finishing the public folder migration and selecting our permanent spam solution.
  • Finalize the rollout of Unified Messaging.
  • Investigate high-availability options.  We're ordering a SAN in the next few days, which will help this along quite a bit.
  • Starting messing with Office Communications Server 2007 to see if it might be of use.

If you have specific questions or would like me to consider something in general related to Exchange, please indicate such in the comments.  And, if you're looking for an absolutely fantastic reference for Exchange Server 2007, get the Exchange Server 2007 Administrators Companion. I hear that one of the coauthors is a pretty awesome guy :-)