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Exchange Server 2013: Not quite ready for the data center

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

Keeping the services of Exchange running at peak performance can be particularly challenging. For example, Microsoft has discontinued the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer, which was a tool you could run on your deployments that would compare the state of your installation to known-good attributes of successful deployments and highlight the differences. It also provided practical advice and guidance about rectifying the deficiencies.

There is no equivalent for Exchange 2013.

Also gone are the Exchange Mail Flow Troubleshooter, which was great for determining why messages might not be showing up when you knew they were sent; the Exchange Performance Troubleshooter; and the Exchange Routing Log Viewer. No replacements for these tools have been announced.

There is no support for BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to communicate with Exchange Server 2013. The CDO/MAPI download is not yet available for Exchange 2013 and is "likely the primary reason" BES support is not yet available, says Smith. This download, provided by Microsoft, is the interface that BlackBerry services use to access Exchange, view and compose messaging, and access the transport layers to route messages appropriately.

Unless you are using a third-party solution that rides on top of ActiveSync, or you are using ActiveSync itself, you are probably using BlackBerry, which means your mobile phone users will not have messaging until these bits are released.

There is no current guidance on when this download will be available. The new BlackBerry 10 products generally use ActiveSync or BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, the new server product from BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion), both of which will work with Exchange 2013. However, any older BlackBerry device still requires the MAPI download and there are millions of those devices in use around the world. Another point in the "no go" column.

There is little to no documentation and guidance. TechNet documentation for the new release has not yet been completed, and there is no recommendation or support when it comes to sizing servers and stores, or other advice relating to deployment. One supposes this is to come, but it is odd for the documentation to be this incomplete months after RTM and general availability.

There are other limitations as well, but this is the larger picture for where Exchange 2013 stands at this point.

Other people have noted that Exchange 2010 also shipped without some functionality enabled, such as the inability to manage public folder infrastructure prior to its first service pack.

But it is uncommon for so many entire pieces of the product to feel rushed, incomplete, buggy or simply not ready.

If your definition of "prime time" is "able to run on my current infrastructure," then you will be disappointed with this release as it stands. In my opinion, you would be better off concentrating your energies and focus on upgrading to Windows Server 2012 and letting this new Exchange release ripen on the vine more before digging into it in detail.

The last word

There are a lot of new capabilities in Exchange Server 2013, some oriented toward users with the redesigned Outlook Web App and others meant for administrators, such as the addition of a lot of PowerShell support and replacing the console-based management tool with a website. The data loss-prevention feature is a nice addition for IT directors, security pros and business owners as well.

But implementation is complex and, at the end of the day, it is difficult to make a case that all parts of this Exchange release are ready to be deployed -- especially if you have already deployed a previous version of Exchange in your organization, or you are not ready to move to Windows Server 2012.

My advice: Hang back and wait a year, perhaps 18 months, before taking on this upgrade. Exchange Server 2013 will be a good release -- once it matures.

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures LLC, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte, N.C. He's also an editor with Apress Media LLC. Reach him at jhassell@gmail.com.

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