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Posts Tagged ‘Exchange 2007’

Goodbye Exchange 2007

It’s been a while since I last posted here. Life has been super hectic and finding free time to write something coherent has been harder than I thought it would be. I’ve also seen that my last post was actually my 200th post, which in the grand scheme of things is a pretty nice milestone considering how eratic I’ve been with posting over the years.

Anyway, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. I’m posting a screenshot I made as I was finishing the removal of Exchange 2007 from our network ±4 months ago. Our mail platform has been running successfully on Office 365 since that time, with only the very odd head scratching moment causing some minor grief. Staff have more or less settled down into using the new platform, though they probably still need a lot more time to become fully familiar with the interface. SPAM suppression seems to be working well, though I’m not sure how many staff are actually checking their junk folders for legit mail that is incorrectly marked as junk.

I must say that the un-install process went very smoothly, it just took a long time as per the screenshot below. I chose to do things properly instead of just trashing the VM, which would have been a lot quicker. The removal process removes a lot of stuff from Active Directory, though there is still quite a bit of cruft left behind.

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The slow migration to Office 365

When it comes to corporate mail servers, many would argue that Microsoft Exchange is the king of the hill. It’s a behemoth of a product that powers so many offices around the world providing vital features. If set up correctly, Exchange has been one of those products that in my experience just hums along quietly, doing its job without demanding a lot of attention.

At the end of 2009 when my first colleague and I migrated my school’s network, Exchange 2007 was our mail server of choice. Not only would it provide everything we needed, it would offer many new features to a school that was used to using a very broken Pegasus Mail/Mercury mail server/Novell Netware combination. It also helped that we got Exchange free of charge under the national SA Government agreement with Microsoft, which ended about 6 months after we installed Exchange.

Since that time, this Exchange server has processed millions of emails and survived moving from a decrepit physical machine to a XenServer implementation to finally ending up in Hyper-V. I’ve probably had 10 incidents or less with this server over the last 7 years. External internet connectivity or issues with upstream mail servers not withstanding, our mail server has done its job perfectly.

Like all things in technology however, there comes a time to move on. The web interface of Exchange 2007 has become really dated and leaves you tied to Internet Explorer for the best results. Those were the days before Microsoft became cross browser friendly, where the “lite” version of webmail was seriously crippled. While I would have upgraded us internally to a later version, we couldn’t afford an upgrade. After the government agreement expired, we were stuck. Quotes I received for updates versions made my eyes water and no one could quite work out how to price software for schools. I think every reseller I contacted only knew how to deal with the corporate world.

In the intervening years, Microsoft essentially resolved my dilemma by introducing and refining Office 365 for Education. Originally billed as Live@Edu, the product provided some nice perks – 50GB mailbox, huge (then called) Skydrive storage etc. The problem was that the product lacked unity and cohesiveness at the time. Live@Edu folded into Office 365 and things have only gone up and up since then. For no cost to us, we get access to the latest version of Exchange, albeit Exchange online, 50GB mailbox, superior spam filtering, access to Microsoft Teams and all the other applications available for education users. As long as their is competition with Google’s G-Suite for Education, we all stand to benefit from that rivalry which forces Microsoft to up their game.

Towards the end of 2015, I decided to migrate all my student mailboxes over to the cloud since students had miniscule amounts of mail compared to staff. It got their mailboxes offsite and gave me some valuable experience on how the migration process would work. It took some reading up on how to do it, but the process is something like this:

  • Sync your on site Active Directory to 365 with the new Sync Tool. The new tool is far better than the old version and what was possible in the earlier days.
  • If you want to be able to simply connect to on premises Exchange and migrate the mailbox like that, you need to have a working Outlook Web Access instance running, secured by a SSL certificate. This lets 365 sync the selected users mailbox to the cloud.
  • The process takes a while, especially over slow connections. The faster internet speeds you have, especially upload speed, the better.
  • You are limited to either a cutover or staged migration for Exchange 2007. Cutover is defined as moving everyone at once then changing DNS MX records so that mail flows directly to 365. Staged is slower, where you move some mailboxes at a time and still use the onsite server as the engine for routing mail. There’s slightly more work with staged, but it lets you be methodical and careful.
  • You can upload Outlook PST files as another method of moving mailboxes, but it’s the same issue as an online migration – you need good uploading speed.

This year I started moving staff mailboxes over for the first time. I had only planned to start once our fibre optic internet connection was in, but the unexpected delays in getting our line in has pushed me to start now already, even over our horrible ADSL connection. I’ve now synced about 10 staff mailboxes over and given staff a manual on how to use the new interface. Some are familiar with it already having had access via their universities or other institutes. The real problem is identifying users who can adapt to the new interface and give feedback on the manual. This is easier said than done when you still have some staff who can barely work with the existing system, 7 years after it went online…

Eventually my goal is to have moved all mailboxes over the cloud, with not one email having been misplaced during the journey. Once that is done, I intend to decommission my on site Exchange server, as well as the actual Windows VM it’s running in. It will be good to not have to support Server 2008 as well, one less old OS to worry about.

In short, there’s precious little reason to have an onsite Exchange server anymore if your internet connection is fast enough. Microsoft does a better job of server uptime than what we can do on our own, they have better spam filtering and they provide a package of products that is not only compelling, but free for education as well. The only real reason to have onsite Exchange anymore is because of privacy or regulatory concerns or if you need some sort of feature that Exchange Online can’t provide.

Migrating Exchange 2003 to 2007 mailboxes on the same server

Recently, I had the problem of needing to migrate my old high school’s Exchange 2003 mailboxes over to Exchange 2007. I had promised them that no mail would be lost, so wiping the server and just installing Exchange 2007 wasn’t an option. If the school had more servers, the process would have been pretty straightforward, as the 2007 server would slot into the existing Exchange organization, and I could have moved the mailboxes over. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple.

The school only has 2 servers, and only 1 of them is 64-bit capable. This was the server that had run Exchange 2003. The other server would just run Windows Server 2008 to do Active Directory, DHCP, DNS and so on. The decision was made not to do inplace upgrades, and we also chose to use a new clean internal domain name, thus clearing out all the cruft that had accumulated over the years.

Searching the net told me that Exchange 2007 SP1 could import and export PST files, which would be perfect for migrating the mailboxes over. I duly set up a management workstation with Windows 7 and Office 2007, as well as the Exchange management tools. Previously that week, I had extracted all the mailboxes from Exchange 2003 using the ExMerge tool. I now fired up the Exchange Management Shell, typed in the commands and expected to see results. Not so.

Every time I tried to import a PST file, I would get an error message. Being very generic, searching the net yielded only limited results. I tired all sorts of voodoo to get the import going, to no avail. I was getting desperate and running out of time, when I happened to stumble upon a solution. I had read that some people running Exchange 2010 were having similar problems exporting and importing PST files, and they had Outlook 2010 on those machines. That caused me to think for a moment.

On that hunch, I removed Outlook 2007 from the management workstation and installed Outlook 2003. Tried importing again, only to be told that I needed Service Pack 2 or above. Cue another large download of Office 2003 SP3. Eventually, after that was applied, I tried again. Eureka, all of a sudden mail was being imported successfully.

If my theory is right, then the problem relates to the Exchange-Outlook MAPI relationship. The mailboxes I extracted were on Exchange 2003, and ExMerge is a tool from that time frame. Outlook 2003 was the matching version. It seems that in order to import to Exchange 2007, you need the version of Outlook that matches the Exchange version you had. I haven’t yet tested this, but I assume that if you export from Exchange 2007, you need to have Outlook 2007 on the management workstation, as it the matching Outlook version to Exchange 2007.

The end result of all this toil is that the school now has a much more stable version of Exchange, with a stable Server 2008 base underneath. No longer will the mail store dismount as it hits the 18GB limit of Exchange 2003 Standard, and the mail system now should be able to last a good few years now.

Hopefully, this post can spare someone else developing a splitting headache and grey hairs trying to do the same thing I did.