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Exchange Server 2013: Not quite ready for the data center

By Jonathan Hassell
February 7, 2013 06:00 AM ET

The Exchange Management Shell now also offers access to the improvements in PowerShell 3.0 and becomes the preferred administration environment for Exchange 2013 deployments, with many operations only possible from the command line. This is an advantage for organizations with big Exchange deployments, since you can now script and take advantage of PowerShell command-line operations to consistently administer your environment. (For smaller shops and administrators without PowerShell experience, however, it is no advantage at all.)

A powerful tool to reduce the amount of sensitive data that leaks outside of the boundaries of the organization is written directly into the new transport rules. Many organizations experience data compromise through email: Your users, either on purpose or completely inadvertently, email sensitive or otherwise privileged information outside of your company's boundaries. Not only can this cause a significant monetary loss in terms of your potential exposure to litigation, but it can also involve sanctions from regulators, payment industry organizations and other outfits.

There has been a market for third-party tools that plug in to the mail flow of a company and inspect data going out. However, that has always been an additional expense and one that comes with some complexity in terms of deployment, because it is additional code that is riding on top of an already deployed system. Now, as of 2013, data loss protection (DLP) is a feature that is built into the Exchange platform.

This allows you to set up policies that do one or more of the following:

  • Enforce boundaries by preventing or limiting transmissions between groups of users, including between groups internal to a company
  • Apply different treatment to messages sent inside a company from messages sent outside of a company
  • Stop inappropriate content from coming into a company or leaving it
  • Strip out confidential or otherwise sensitive data from transmissions
  • Archive or journal messages that are sent to or received from users or a group of users
  • Catch inbound and outbound messages and route them to a manager or administrator for inspection and approval prior to final delivery
  • Add disclaimers to messages as they enter or leave the mail flow

Limitations of Exchange Server 2013

So far, the story on Exchange Server 2013 seems pretty good. But there are some gotchas that you should be aware of during your evaluation of whether the new release is right for you.

The first issue speaks to the quality of the software overall, and even puts into question what the word "release" means in this context. "Microsoft made a decision to release all of the 2013 versions of its Office desktop applications and servers at the same time, and it released Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Server 2012 at the same time," says Michael B. Smith, an Exchange expert, Microsoft MVP and author of the blog The Essential Exchange. "I think this decision was seriously flawed."

Server software

If you've been in IT for any length of time -- and have witnessed the ability of Microsoft and other software vendors to promise certain dates and then slip them without much trouble -- you could be forgiven for wondering how the software giant was able to achieve shipment of multiple distinct server products, working with individual product groups, using their own codebases, on the same exact day. It is certainly a cause for skepticism regarding just what "release" means.

Smith believes that several products in this wave were released before they were ready. "Exchange 2013 RTM is not ready for prime time," says Smith. "It is obvious that the products were not complete" at RTM back in October 2012.

As proof, Smith says, both Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 had 300MB worth of patches between RTM and general availability; however, Exchange Server 2013 doesn't support interoperability with prior versions of Exchange at either RTM or general availability (GA). It is "easy to conclude that the RTM dates were artificially imposed," says Smith.

Let us unpack these limitations in a little more detail:

Exchange Server 2013 can be deployed only in an environment where there has never before been an Exchange Server deployment. This is because Exchange 2013 doesn't coexist with Exchange 2010. This behavior will be corrected in an upcoming service pack for Exchange 2010. But at the moment, if you deploy 2013, then you must deploy only 2013, and only where there are no coexistence concerns. This pretty much rules out an immediate deployment of Exchange 2013 for the vast majority of businesses.

As of this writing, Microsoft has promised that the service pack allowing for interoperability between Exchange 2013 and earlier versions will be released sometime before the end of March. But this begs the question: Why release a product when you know almost none of your customers can use it without supporting software that will not be ready for several months still?

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