Exchange 2007

Upgrade fun: SBS 2003 to EBS 2008

Last weekend I received a call for help from a mate who was having trouble with his first Essential Business Server 2008 (EBS 2008) installation. He was upgrading and existing Small Business Server 2003 site to Essential Business Server. The EBS 2008 environment is virtualized and installed with SBS 2003 still in place.

Their are many good reasons to consider EBS 2008 when choosing and upgrade path from SBS 2003. EBS 2008 scales to 300 users, includes System Centre Essentials, Forefront TMG and many other goodies. EBS 2008 can be virtualized onto a single server, keeping the hardware requirements to a minimum.

Good Stuff
In an upgrade scenario, EBS 2008 is installed side-by-side with SBS 2003. You have 21 days to complete the upgrade before the SBS 2003 server will stop talking to the network (I haven’t actually seen what happens, but my advice is make sure you don’t have to either). Both the SBS and EBS Exchange servers can exist together during the 21 day window.

The best thing about the in-place upgrade option is that you don’t need to touch workstations or user accounts and Exchange mailboxes can be migrated to the EBS 2008 server slowly over a few days. This really takes the pressure off and is a big timesaver.

A few issues
The installation had a few issues which we’re resolved with some excellent advise from a nice guy at Microsoft (I’ll call him Mark). Twitter really comes into its own here, I was in New Zealand and Mark was in Texas, USA. Posting cries for help with the hashtag #EBS08 resulted in excellent advice very quick. Thanks guys!

The first issue was an error installing .NET 3.5 on the Management Server. The fix for this problem can be found here – EBS .NET 3.5 installation issue

The second issue was an error installing Silverlight on the Management Server. The fix was to unplug the NIC and reboot the Management Server to continue the installation. Thanks again Mark.

The real panic set in when we started installing the Messaging Server. The first issue was with Exchange 2007. The installation failed with an error saying that the “System Attendant Mailbox was inaccessible”. Checking the Application Event Log showed that Exchange was trying to install the Information Stores to E: drive. Oops, this was actually a ISO image mounted as a drive…Restarting the installation and changing drive letters resolved the issue.

At this point we got stuck with this error “Failed to create Edge Subscription”. After a lot of investigation we decided to call it a day and keep the users mailboxes on SBS 2003. Thank goodness for the 21 days. A couple of tweets for help to #EBS08 and I found I wasn’t alone. Relief! Then Mark responded again, this time with a link about time. EBS Timezone issue.

I didn’t think the error was exactly what we were getting so emailed Mark C:\Program Files\Windows Essential Business Server\Logs\mmssetup.log and went to bed. The next morning, he replied pointing out the Time Sync error in the log that I had missed. At that point we noticed the time between the SBS 2003 server and EBS server was out of sync by 5 minutes. Synchronizing the clocks and restarting the Messaging Server install from scratch resolved the issue. Happiness!

Here is the error message from MMSSETUP.LOG clearly indicating that time was the issue

[2872],”2009/12/05 23:12:29.890″,”MMSNet_Exchange”,”Information”,”Command: New-EdgeSubscription -FileName:C:\Program Files\Windows Essential Business Server\Data\MmsEdgeSubscription0.903150528158597.xml -Site:Default-First-Site-Name -Force”

[2872],”2009/12/05 23:12:30.078″,”MMSNet_Exchange”,”Error”,”ImportSubscriptionOnMessaging failed Microsoft.EssentialBusinessServer.Common.PowerShell.MmsCommandException: The clock setting for the Edge Transport server to be subscribed and the computer on which you are running this task are not synchronized. Make sure the clocks on all Exchange servers in your organization and your Edge Transport servers are synchronized. —> System.InvalidOperationException: The clock setting for the Edge Transport server to be subscribed and the computer on which you are running this task are not synchronized. Make sure the clocks on all Exchange servers in your organization and your Edge Transport servers are synchronized.

— End of inner exception stack trace —

Although the installation had a few issues, we were never stuck without options. The end users weren’t aware of the issues and user impact was almost zero.

If you are considering doing an EBS installation, join twitter and search for #EBS08. You’ll find a great group of people who love to share experiences and give advice when it is needed.

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Forefront Security for Exchange

Forefront Security for Exchange (FSE) is the Microsoft solution to protecting your Exchange environment from viruses and malware. Small Business Server 2008 includes a 180 free trail version (installation is optional), while Essential Business Server 2008 includes a 1 year subscription. Forefront for Exchange can also be purchased as a standalone product.

It is common to find multiple anti-virus solutions in a network environment with desktop scanners provided by one vendor and server based scanners by another. This means that viruses must get past two vendor products to infect a network. The downside of this strategy is cost and administration overhead. FSE supports up to 5 scanners from different vendors in a single management console and one license cost. In addition enhanced anti-spam capabilities are included building on the existing functionality included in Exchange 2007.

The installation process is straight forward and asks a series of questions to determine which options you want to enable, choice of scanners and anti-spam signature downloads. FSE can install on either Exchange Edge or Transport roles allowing scanning of email coming in and out of your system or being routed between servers internally.

One of the first things that struck me about FSE is that the interface is not the standard Microsoft MMC style interface. Lack of Active Directory integration is also an obvious omission e.g. AD groups. Centralised administration of multiple servers appears to be missing in this release.

FSE does have a comprehensive set of rules and configuration options. It would be easy to spend a lot of time fine tuning scanning rules after the initial installation e.g. defining safe attachments etc. I recommend taking time to review the configuration options rather than installing and forgetting about it.

My overall impression of FSE is that it is a step in the right direction from Microsoft but that it does require more work to improve the integration with other Microsoft technologies. Multiple scanners and anti-spam features provide excellent protection with simplified management of updates. It does appear to be a good anti-virus solution for protecting Exchange and I look forward to seeing the next release.

Forefront Security for Exchange overview

Reinstalling FSE on EBS 2008

Exchange 2007 SP2

Details of Exchange 2007 service pack 2 were revealed today. The service pack itself is due to be released in the third quarter of this year.

The main improvements we can expect include:

  • The ability to backup Exchange 2007 with Windows Backup.
  • Organisational settings can be managed with PowerShell.
  • Public folder quotas.
  • A number of features to ease migration to Exchange 2010.
  • Fixes and security updates post Service Pack 1.

Service Pack 2 will be required to allow Exchange to work with Exchange 2010 in mixed environments.

Full details here: You Had Me At EHLO

Essential Business Server 2008 overview

In November 2008 Microsoft released a new server software bundle aimed at businesses with up to 300 users. I recently deployed my first Essential Business Server 2008 (EBS 2008) and was instantly impressed. EBS 2008 mixes proven technologies like Windows 2008 Server and Exchange 2007 with new technologies Forefront and management tools like System Centre Essentials. The combination of products works well together and has the potential to save a lot of time both during the initial install and over the lifetime of the system.

What is EBS 2008?

EBS 2008 deploys onto 3 servers. It is supported on both Physical and Virtual environments. The Premium edition adds a forth Windows 2008 standard server (with 1 free Virtual License included) and SQL 2008 Standard Edition.

Following the installation you get environment with these roles / features:

  • 2 Domain Controllers (Management and Messaging servers)
  • System Centre Essentials 2007
  • Exchange 2007
  • Forefront for Exchange
  • Forefront TMG (next generation ISA)
  • Remote Web Workplace
  • Terminal Services Gateway
  • Windows 2008 standard edition (premium edition)
  • SQL 2008 (premium edition)
  • WSS 3.0 (free download)

The 3 standard servers require 64bit hardware. The premium server can be either 32bit or 64bit.

Installation

A preparation tool is provided to examine an existing environment or help you design a new one. Once this is complete it is simply a matter of putting the first DVD into your server (make sure the hardware meets the system requirements) and following the prompts until the 3 servers that make up the EBS 2008 environment are installed. The standardised installation removes many common configuration issues and helps build a core network that will perform well and work with very little tweaking.

Some of the more difficult parts of a typical network installation where positively simple with EBS 2008. Exchange 2007 installed perfectly with only a few simple questions, Forefront TMG (the replacement for ISA 2006) also installed perfectly and Remote Web Workplace’s TS Gateway options just worked.

Management

Once EBS 2008 is installed, System Centre Essentials agents can be deployed to other Windows based servers and PC’s in the domain giving enterprise style management of your network from a single point. Common tasks like installing Windows updates, ensuring antivirus software is install and up to date, deploying software and producing an inventory of hardware and software can be done with minimal effort.

The EBS Management Console supports third party plug-ins and provides a nice management dash board SysAdmins will love.

Managing licenses is simplified too. Microsoft sell two different EBS Client Access Licenses (CAL). The standard CAL includes Windows 2008 CAL and Exchange 2007 CAL. The premium CAL adds a SQL CAL. It is simple to assign either standard or premium licenses to specific users and report on usage. The CAL pricing also provides a good saving over purchasing individual user CAL’s.

Gripes

I don’t have many gripes about EBS 2008 but it does have some room for improvement. Forefront for Exchange seems a little bit ‘clunky’. Additional Forefront client licenses are required and while pricing is was difficult to get information from Microsoft about this (in New Zealand at least).  Microsoft don’t include a backup solution other than Windows Backup which doesn’t support Exchange or SQL.

I also found that many vendors either don’t know what EBS 2008 is or don’t have upgrade options for software from Small Business Server.

Conclusion

EBS 2008 is a excellent solution for those who have either out grown Small Business Server or are moving from Windows 2000 or 2003 server and have less than 300 users. The time savings for management alone make this bundle well worth considering.