Tag Archives: Exchange

How to manage Exchange hybrid mail flow rules

An Exchange hybrid deployment generally provides a good experience for the administrator, but it can be found lacking in a few areas, such as transport rules.

Transport rules — also called mail flow rules — identify and take actions on all messages as they move through the transport stack on the Exchange servers. Exchange hybrid mail flow rules can be tricky to set up properly to ensure all email is reviewed, no matter if mailboxes are on premises or in Exchange Online in the cloud.

Transport rules solve many compliance-based problems that arise in a corporate message deployment. They add disclaimers or signatures to messages. They funnel messages that meet specific criteria for approval before they leave your control. They trigger encryption or other protections. It’s important to understand how Exchange hybrid mail flow rules operate when your organization runs a mixed environment.

Mail flow rules and Exchange hybrid setups

The power of transport rules stems from their consistency. For an organization with compliance requirements, transport rules are a reliable way to control all messages that meet defined criteria. Once you develop a transport rule for certain messages, there is some comfort in knowing that a transport rule will evaluate every email. At least, that is the case when your organization is only on premises or only in Office 365.

Things change when your organization moves to a hybrid Exchange configuration. While mail flow rules evaluate every message that passes through the transport stack, that does not mean that on-premises transport rules will continue to evaluate messages sent to or from mailboxes housed in Office 365 and vice versa.

No two organizations are alike, which means there is more than one resolution for working with Exchange hybrid mail flow rules.

Depending on your routing configuration, email may go from an Exchange Online mailbox and out of your environment without an evaluation by the on-premises transport rules. It’s also possible that both the mail flow rules on premises and the other set of mail flow rules in Office 365 will assess every email, which may cause more problems than not having any messages evaluated.

To avoid trouble, you need to consider the use of transport rules both for on-premises and for online mailboxes and understand how the message routing configuration within your hybrid environment will affect how Exchange applies those mail flow rules.

Message routing in Exchange hybrid deployments

A move to an Exchange hybrid deployment requires two sets of transport rules. Your organization needs to decide which mail flow rules will be active in which environment and how the message routing configuration you choose affects those transport rules.

All message traffic that passes through an Exchange deployment will be evaluated by the transport rules in that environment, but the catch is that an Exchange hybrid deployment consists of two different environments, at least when they relate to transport rules. A message sent from an on-premises mailbox to another on-premises mailbox generally won’t pass though the transport stack, and, thus, the mail flow rules, in Exchange Online. The opposite is also true: Messages sent from an online mailbox to another online mailbox in the same tenant will not generally pass though the on-premises transport rules. Copying the mail flow rules from your on-premises Exchange organization into your Exchange Online tenant does not solve this problem, but that can lead to some messages being handled by the same transport rule twice.

When you configure an Exchange hybrid deployment, you need to decide where your mail exchange (MX) record points. Some organizations choose to have the MX record point to the existing on-premises Exchange servers and then route message traffic to mailboxes in Exchange Online via a send connector. Other organizations choose to have the MX record point to Office 365 and then flow to the on-premises servers.

There are more decisions to be made about the way email leaves your organization as well. By default, an email sent from an Exchange Online mailbox to an external recipient will exit Office 365 directly to the internet without passing through the on-premises Exchange servers. This means that transport rules, which are intended to evaluate email traffic before it leaves your organization, may never have that opportunity.

Exchange hybrid mail flow rules differ for each organization

No two organizations are alike, which means there is more than one resolution for working with Exchange hybrid mail flow rules.

For organizations that want to copy transport rules from on-premises Exchange Server into Exchange Online, you can use PowerShell. The Export-TransportRuleCollection PowerShell cmdlet works on all currently supported versions of on-premises Exchange Server. This cmdlet creates an XML file that you can load into your Exchange Online tenant with another cmdlet called Import-TransportRuleCollection. This is a good first step to ensure all mail flow rules are the same in both environments, but that’s just part of the work.

Transport rules, like all Exchange Server features, have evolved over time. They may not work the same in all supported versions of on-premises Exchange Server and Exchange Online. Simply exporting and importing your transport rules may cause unexpected behavior.

One way to resolve this is to duplicate transport rules in both environments by adding two more transport rules on each side. The first new transport rule checks the message header and tells the transport stack — both on premises and in the cloud — that the message has already been though the transport rules in the other environment. This rule should include a statement to stop processing any further transport rules. A second new transport rule should add to the header with an indication that the message has already been though the transport rules in one environment. This is a difficult setup to get right and requires a good deal of care to implement properly if you choose to go this route.

I expect that the fairly new hybrid organization transfer feature of the Hybrid Configuration Wizard will eventually handle the export and import of transport rules, but that won’t solve the routing issues or the issues with running duplicate rules.

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Consider these Office 365 alternatives to public folders

As more organizations consider a move from Exchange Server, public folders continue to vex many administrators for a variety of reasons.

Microsoft supports public folders in its latest Exchange Server 2019 as well as Exchange Online, but it is pushing companies to adopt some of its newer options, such as Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams. An organization pursuing alternatives to public folders will find there is no direct replacement for this Exchange feature. There reason for this is due to the nature of the cloud.

Microsoft set its intentions early on under Satya Nadella’s leadership with its “mobile first, cloud first” initiative back in 2014. Microsoft aggressively expanded its cloud suite with new services and features. This fast pace meant that migrations to cloud services, such as Office 365, would offer a different experience based on the timing. Depending on when you moved to Office 365, there might be different features than if you waited several months. This was the case for migrating public folders from on-premises Exchange Server to Exchange Online, which evolved over time and also coincided with the introduction of Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and Office 365 Groups.

The following breakdown of how organizations use public folders can help Exchange administrators with their planning when moving to the new cloud model on Office 365.

Organizations that use public folders for email only

Public folders are a great place to store email that multiple people within an organization need to access. For example, an accounting department can use public folders to let department members use Outlook to access the accounting public folders and corresponding email content.

A shared mailbox has a few advantages over a public folder with the primary one being accessibility through the Outlook mobile app or from Outlook via the web.

Office 365 offers similar functionality to public folders through its shared mailbox feature in Exchange Online. A shared mailbox stores email in folders, which is accessible by multiple users.

A shared mailbox has a few advantages over a public folder with the primary one being accessibility through the Outlook mobile app or from Outlook via the web. This allows users to connect from their smartphones or a standard browser to review email going to the shared mailbox. This differs from public folder access which requires opening the Outlook client.

Organizations that use public folders for email and calendars

For organizations that rely on both email and calendars in their public folders, Microsoft has another cloud alternative that comes with a few extra perks.

Office 365 Groups not only lets users collaborate on email and calendars, but also stores files in a shared OneDrive for Business page, tasks in Planner and notes in OneNote. Office 365 Groups is another option for email and calendars made available on any device. Office 365 Groups owners manage their own permissions and membership to lift some of the burden of security administration from the IT department.

Microsoft provides migration scripts to assist with the move of content from public folders to Office 365 Groups.

Organizations that use public folders for data archiving

Some organizations that prefer to stay with a known quantity and keep the same user experience also have the choice to keep using public folders in Exchange Online.

The reasons for this preference will vary, but the most likely scenario is a company that wants to keep email for archival purposes only. The migration from Exchange on-premises public folders requires administrators to use Microsoft’s scripts at this link.

Organizations that use public folders for project communication and data sharing repository

The Exchange public folders feature is excellent for sharing email, contacts and calendar events. For teams working on projects, the platform shines as a way to centralize information that’s relevant to the specific project or department. But it’s not as expansive as other collaboration tools on Office 365.

Take a closer look at some of the other modern collaboration tools available in Office 365 in addition to Microsoft Teams and Office 365 Groups, such as Kaizala. These offerings extend the organization’s messaging abilities to include real-time chat, presence status and video conferencing.

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What’s new with the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard?

Exchange continues to serve as the on-ramp into Office 365 for many organizations. One big reason is the hybrid capabilities that connect on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online.

If you use Exchange Server, it’s not difficult to join it to Exchange Online for a seamless transition into the cloud. Microsoft refined the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard to remove a lot of the technical hurdles to shift one of the more important IT workloads into Exchange Online. If you haven’t seen the Exchange hybrid experience recently, you may be surprised about some of the improvements over the last few years.

Exchange hybrid setups have come a long way

I started configuring Exchange hybrid deployments the first week Microsoft made Office 365 publicly available in June 2011 with the newest version of Exchange at the time, Exchange 2010. Setting up an Exchange hybrid deployment was a laborious task. Microsoft provided a 75-page document with the Exchange hybrid configuration steps, which would take about three workdays to complete. Then I could start the troubleshooting process to fix the innumerable typos I made during the setup.

In December 2011, Microsoft released Exchange 2010 Service Pack 2, which included the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard. The wizard reduced that 75-page document to a few screens of information that cut down the work from three days to about 15 minutes. The Exchange hybrid configuration wizard did not solve all the problems of an Exchange hybrid deployment, but it made things a lot easier.

What the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard does

The Exchange hybrid configuration wizard is just a PowerShell script that runs all the necessary configuration tasks. The original hybrid configuration wizard completed seven key tasks:

  1. verified prerequisites for a hybrid deployment;
  2. configured Exchange federation trust;
  3. configured relationships between on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online;
  4. configured email address policies;
  5. configured free/busy calendar sharing;
  6. configured secure mail flow between the on-premises and Exchange Online organizations; and
  7. enabled support for Exchange Online archiving.

How the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard evolved

Since the initial release of the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard, Microsoft expanded its capabilities in multiple ways with several major improvements over the last few years.

Since the initial release of the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard, Microsoft expanded its capabilities in multiple ways with several major improvements over the last few years.

Exchange hybrid configuration wizard decoupled from service pack updates: This may seem like a minor change, but it’s a significant development. Having the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard as part of the standard Exchange update cycle meant that any updates to the wizard had to wait until the next service pack update.

Now the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard is an independent component from Exchange Server. When you run the wizard, it checks for a new release and updates itself to the most current configuration. This means you get fixes or additional features without waiting through that quarterly update cycle.

Minimal hybrid configuration: Not every migration has the same requirements. Sometimes a quicker migration with fewer moving parts is needed, and Microsoft offered an update in 2016 for a minimal hybrid configuration feature for those scenarios.

The minimal hybrid configuration helps organizations that cannot use the staged migration option, but want an easy switchover without worrying about configuring extras, such has the free/busy federation in calendar availability.

The minimal hybrid configuration leaves out the following functionality from a full hybrid configuration:

  • cross-premises free/busy calendar availability;
  • Transport Layer Security secured mail flow between on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online;
  • cross-premises eDiscovery;
  • automatic Outlook on the web (OWA) and ActiveSync redirection for migrated users; and
  • automatic retention for archived mailboxes.

If these features aren’t important to your organization and speed is of the essence, the minimal hybrid configuration is a good option.

Recent update goes further with setup work

Microsoft designed the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard to migrate mailboxes without interrupting the end user’s ability to work. The wizard gives users a full global address book, free/busy calendar availability and some of the mailbox delegation features used with an on-premises Exchange deployment.

A major new addition to the hybrid configuration wizard its ability to transfer some of the on-premises Exchange configurations to the Exchange Online tenant. The Hybrid Organization Configuration Transfer feature pulls configuration settings from your Exchange organization and does a one-time setup of the same settings in your Exchange Online tenant.

Microsoft expanded the abilities of Hybrid Organization Configuration Transfer in November 2018 so it configures the following settings: Active Sync Mailbox Policy, Mobile Device Mailbox Policy, OWA Mailbox Policy, Retention Policy, Retention Policy Tag, Active Sync Device Access Rule, Active Sync Organization Settings, Address List, DLP Policy, Malware Filter Policy, Organization Config and Policy Tip Configuration.

The Exchange hybrid configuration wizard only handles these settings once. If you make changes in your on-premises Exchange organization after you run the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard, those changes will not be replicated in the cloud automatically.

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Know your Office 365 backup options — just in case

Exchange administrators who migrate their email to Office 365 reduce their infrastructure responsibilities, but they must not ignore areas related to disaster recovery, security, compliance and email availability.

Different businesses rely on different applications for their day-to-day operations. Healthcare companies use medical records to treat patients or a manufacturing plant needs its ERP system to track production. But generally speaking, most businesses, regardless of their vertical, rely on email to communicate with their co-workers and customers. If the messaging platform goes down for any amount of time, users and the business suffer. A move to Microsoft’s cloud-based collaboration platform introduces new administrative challenges, such as determining whether the organization needs an Office 365 backup product.

IT pros tasked with all things related to Exchange Server administration — managing multiple email services, including system uptime; mailbox recoverability; system performance; maintenance; user setups; and general reactive system issues — will have to adjust when they move to Office 365. Many of the responsibilities related to system performance, maintenance and uptime become the responsibility of Microsoft. Unfortunately, not all of these outsourced activities meet the expectations of Exchange administrators. Some of them will resort to alternative methods to ensure their systems have the right protections to avoid serious disasters.

A move to Microsoft’s cloud-based collaboration platform introduces new administrative challenges, such as determining whether the organization needs an Office 365 backup product.

To keep on-premises Exchange running with high uptime, Exchange admins rely on setting up the environment with adequate redundancies, such as virtualization with high availability, clustering and proper backup if a recovery is required. In a hosted Exchange model with Office 365, email administrators rely heavily on the hosting provider to manage those redundancies and ensure system uptime. However, despite the promised service-level agreements (SLAs) by Microsoft, there are still some gaps that Exchange administrators must plan for to get the same level of system availability and data protection they previously experienced with their legacy on-premises Exchange platform.

Hosted email in Exchange Online, which can be purchased as a stand-alone service or as part of Office 365, has certainly attracted many companies. Microsoft did not provide exact numbers in its most recent quarterly report, but it is estimated to be around 180 million Office 365 commercial seats. Despite the popularity of the platform, one would assume Microsoft would offer an Office 365 backup option at minimum for the email service. Microsoft does, but not in the way Exchange administrators know backup and disaster recovery.

Microsoft does not have backups for Exchange Online

Microsoft provides some level of recoverability with mailboxes stored in Exchange Online. If a user loses email, then the Exchange administrator can restore deleted email by restoring an entire mailbox with PowerShell or through the Outlook recycle bin.

The Undo-SoftDeletedMailbox PowerShell command recovers the deleted mailbox, but there are some limitations. The command is only useful when a significant number of folders have been deleted from a mailbox and the recovery attempt occurs within 30 days. After 30 days, the content is not recoverable.

Due to this limited backup functionality, many administrators look to third-party Office 365 backup vendors such as SkyKick, BitTitan, Datto and Veeam to expand their backup and recovery needs beyond the 30 days that Microsoft offers. At the moment, this is the only way for Exchange administrators to satisfy their organization’s back up and disaster recovery requirements.

Microsoft promises 99.9% uptime with email

No cloud provider is immune to outages and Microsoft is no different. Despite instances of service loss, Microsoft guarantees at least 99.9% uptime for Office 365. This SLA translates into no more than nine hours of downtime per year.

For most IT executives, this guarantee does not absolve them of the need to plan for possible downtime. Administrators should investigate the costs and the technical abilities of an email continuity service from vendors, including Mimecast, Barracuda or TitanHQ, to avoid trouble from unplanned outages.

Email retention policies can go a long way for sensitive content

The ability to define different type of data access and retention policies is just as important as backup and disaster recovery for organizations with compliance requirements.

Groups that need to prevent accidental email deletion will need to work with the Office 365 administrator to set up the appropriate on-hold policies or archiving configuration to protect that content. These are native features in Exchange Online that administrators must build their familiarity to ensure they understand how to meet the different legal requirements of the different groups in their organization.

Define backup retention policies to meet business needs

For most backup offerings for on-premises Exchange, storage is always a concern for administrators. Since it is generally the dictating factor behind the retention period of email backup, Exchange admins have to keep disk space in mind when they determine the best backup scheme for their organization. Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly backup schedules are influenced by the amount of available storage.

Office 365 backup products for email from vendors such as SkyKick, Dropsuite, Acronis and Datto ease the concerns related to storage space. This gives the administrator a way to develop the best protection scheme for their company without the added worry of wondering when to purchase additional storage hardware to accommodate these backups.

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Are you ready for the Exchange 2010 end of life?

Exchange Server 2010 end of life is approaching — do you have your migration plan plotted out yet?

Exchange Server 2010 reached general availability on November 9, 2009, and has been the cornerstone of the collaboration strategy for many organizations over the last decade. Since that time, Microsoft also produced three releases of Exchange Server, with Exchange Server 2019 being the most recent. Exchange Server 2010 continues to serve the needs of many organizations, but they must look to migrate from this platform when support ends on January 14, 2020.

What exactly does end of support mean for existing Exchange Server 2010 deployments? Your Exchange 2010 servers will continue to operate with full functionality after this date; however, Microsoft will no longer provide technical support for the product. In addition, bug fixes, security patches and time zone updates will no longer be provided after the end-of-support date. If you haven’t already started your migration from Exchange Server 2010, now is the time to start by seeing what your options are.

Exchange Online

For many, Exchange Online — part of Microsoft Office 365 — is the natural replacement for Exchange Server 2010. This is my preferred option.

The cloud isn’t for everyone, but in many instances the reasons organizations cite for not considering the cloud are based on perception or outdated information, not reality.

A hybrid migration to Exchange Online is the quickest way to migrate to the latest version of Exchange that is managed by Microsoft. Smaller organizations may not need the complexity of this hybrid setup, so they may want to investigate simpler migration options. Not sure which migration option is best for you? Microsoft has some great guidance to help you decide on the best migration path.

The cloud isn’t for everyone, but in many instances the reasons organizations cite for not considering the cloud are based on perception or outdated information, not reality. I often hear the word “compliance” as a reason for not considering the cloud. If this is your situation, you should first study the compliance offerings on the Microsoft Trust Center. Microsoft Office 365 fulfills many industry standards and regulations, both regionally and globally.

If you decide to remain on premises with your email, you also have options. But the choice might not be as obvious as you think.

Staying with Exchange on premises

Exchange Server 2019 might seem like the clear choice for organizations that want to remain on premises, but there are a few reasons why this may not be the case.

Migrating from Exchange 2010 to Exchange 2016

First, there is no direct upgrade path from Exchange Server 2010 to Exchange Server 2019. For most organizations, this migration path involves a complex multi-hop migration. You first migrate all mailboxes and resources to Exchange Server 2016, then you decommission all remnants of Exchange Server 2010. You then perform another migration from Exchange Server 2016 to Exchange Server 2019 to finalize the process. This procedure involves significant resources, time and planning.

Another consideration with Exchange Server 2019 is licensing. Exchange Server 2019 is only available to volume license customers via the Volume Licensing Service Center. This could be problematic for smaller organizations without this type of agreement.

Organizations that use the unified messaging feature in Exchange Server 2010 have an additional caveat to consider: Microsoft removed the feature from Exchange Server 2019 and recommends Skype for Business Cloud Voicemail instead.

For those looking to remain on premises, Exchange Server 2019 has some great new features, but it is important to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks, and the effort involved with the migration process.

Microsoft only supports Exchange Server 2019 on Windows Server 2019. For the first time, the company supports Server Core deployments and is the recommended deployment option. In addition, Microsoft made it easier to control external access to the Exchange admin center and the Exchange Management Shell with client access rules.

Microsoft made several key improvements in Exchange Server 2019. It rebuilt the search infrastructure to improve indexing of larger files and search performance. The company says the new search architecture will decrease database failover times. The MetaCacheDatabase feature increases the overall performance of the database engine and allows it to work with the latest storage hardware, including larger disks and SSDs.

There are some new features on the client side as well. Email address internationalization allows support for email addresses that contain non-English characters. Some clever calendar improvements include “do not forward” work without the need for an information rights management deployment and the option to cancel/decline meetings that occur while you’re out of office.

What happens if the benefits of upgrading to Exchange Server 2019 don’t outweigh the drawbacks of the migration process? Exchange Server 2016 extended support runs through October 2025, making it a great option for those looking to migrate from Exchange Server 2010 and stay in support. The simpler migration process and support for unified messaging makes Exchange Server 2016 an option worth considering.

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Exchange troubleshooting tools help unclog email issues

While Office 365 and Exchange Online are all the talk in the messaging world, there are still a lot of mailboxes in the data center. Most estimates say there are more Exchange mailboxes running on premises right now than there are in Office 365.

Exchange Server’s importance to your organization means it’s crucial to hone your abilities to diagnose a problem when an outage occurs. Every issue is different, but there are some common problems that can be fixed with some Exchange troubleshooting tools to get the system back up and working in short order.

Troubleshooting an Exchange outage can be difficult. There is added pressure when a problem with the messaging platform occurs because everyone in any organization relies on email. This process can be complicated because there are four different versions of Exchange supported by Microsoft: Exchange 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019. There are significant differences among these products, but there are some tools and tips that should work with all of them.

Verify your deployment

One way to avoid an outage is to get Exchange set up properly. A good Exchange Server deployment is always going to be your best weapon in the fight to keep messaging services online.

A good Exchange Server deployment is always going to be your best weapon in the fight to keep messaging services online.

Here are some tools you can use to verify a correct Exchange deployment:

  • The Exchange Server sizing calculator: Microsoft’s Exchange team published an Excel spreadsheet that helps you properly size your Exchange Server deployment with tailored requirements for RAM, storage, networking and CPU for your Exchange hardware. My experience with troubleshooting messaging platform outages has often shown most problems occur due to improper sizing of Exchange Server.
  • Jetstress: Jetstress measures the IOPS on your Exchange servers and reports on the ability of the hardware to handle the load. The problem with Jetstress is that the testing process for IOPS can, and often will, stress your server to the point of failure. This means that you need to run Jetstress before you install and configure the Exchange bits. Furthermore, testing IOPS is a good reason not to use virtual servers for Exchange. Jetstress will cause your server to fail during the testing process, which will affect the other servers running in your virtual server environment.

Using Remote Connectivity Analyzer

It’s difficult to pin down the cause of an Exchange outage when you can only examine the system from inside your network. With some issues, what you really need is a way to look at Exchange from the outside. Microsoft offers a web-based tool that can see how your Exchange platform responds to requests that come from outside your network.

Remote Connectivity Analyzer — formerly known as Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer, or ExRCA — started as an on-premises Exchange troubleshooting tool but has since been expanded to cover other Microsoft products, such as Skype for Business and Office 365. The first tab on the website is dedicated to Exchange Server troubleshooting tests. Remote Connectivity Analyzer can test ActiveSync Exchange web services, Outlook connectivity and internet mail flow.

Remote Connectivity Analyzer web tool
Microsoft’s Remote Connectivity Analyzer web tool gives administrators a look from outside their network to test ActiveSync Exchange web services, Outlook connectivity and internet mail flow.

The Message Analyzer tab parses the email headers to show detailed information about a specific email’s path. These tests are fairly simple to run and can give you a lot of information about the state of your Exchange servers without needing to give someone access to your network.

How to use Telnet to verify connections

While Remote Connectivity Analyzer is one of the great Exchange troubleshooting tools for testing what the outside world can access on your Exchange environment, sometimes, you need to figure out if you can access the outside world from inside your network. One simple tool to do this is Telnet.

You can install Telnet as an optional feature on all Windows workstation and server OSes. Once Telnet is added, it just takes a simple command with a valid Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) destination to verify you can get out from your network to that destination.

telnet connectivity test
The Telnet utility lets you test SMTP connectivity to an external messaging server. In this case, the mail server does not respond because it is not a working mail server.

Telnet makes it plain if firewall configurations block the transmission of mail out from your network or if the destination network is down.

Working with Windows logs

While not exactly an Exchange troubleshooting tool, Windows logs provide a lot of useful information when attempting to analyze a messaging problem. This might seem like a basic idea for many IT veterans, but some less experienced administrators might have difficulty deciphering what they find in the logs into actionable information.

For Exchange troubleshooting purposes, you should concentrate on the Application log. Filter the log for red events, and then search on the internet for more information about the specific errors you are seeing.

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Check Office 365 usage reports for user adoption insights

Administrators who move from Exchange Server to Exchange Online — or the full Office 365 suite — must learn new tools to manage these cloud services.

Many Exchange administrators spend a good amount of time managing and maintaining the messaging system, but very few monitor the overall usage of email and its components. They may inadvertently ignore low adoption rates and other issues experienced by users. Microsoft helps administrators generate a multitude of Office 365 usage reports to review and share with their teams to find ways to improve usage. These reports give the IT team access to information to address any questions or concerns around their security and end users’ adoption to their managers or business leaders.

For those who might have opted to move to Exchange Online or the Office 365 suite, one of the benefits of having their email stored in Microsoft’s cloud is the other services included with a subscription. A company that switches its email to Office 365 can also benefit from other cloud services, such as OneDrive, Skype for Business, Teams, SharePoint and Forms. One specific perk related to Exchange Online is administrators get visibility with usage reporting that was almost nonexistent in Exchange Server.

Office 365 usage reports bring clarity

When an organization moves its mail to an online host, many managers and leaders will want to know if their teams have adopted the new services and at what capacity. Usage reporting helps an organization determine the value of the switch to the cloud and provides insights such as:

  • what users need help with if they have a low adoption rate compared to other services;
  • the volume of email and interactions by users to see who are the biggest consumers of those workloads;
  • statistics on compliance to confirm users observe company policies; and
  • statistics on app usability across different platforms.

Interactive Microsoft Office 365 usage analytics in Power BI

One specific perk related to Exchange Online is administrators get visibility with usage reporting that was almost nonexistent in Exchange Server.

This report is available via a content pack in Power BI, which is Microsoft’s data visualization and reporting platform. This feature connects directly to the cloud offering’s back end, extracts the pertinent data and generates Office 365 usage reports in the form of interactive dashboards that are separated by workload, including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Yammer and OneDrive.

Administrators do not need to be data experts or have extensive experience with report generation. The content pack simplifies the data collection work by offering several report templates, including a product usage report for a detailed look at the user activity in each service and a communication report, which pinpoints a user’s favorite service to stay in contact with.

Administrators can access the reports from mobile devices or the Power BI portal to share them with business leaders to highlight the overall adoption rate of the different Office 365 workloads.

Email activity reveals user patterns

Another standard report accessible from the Office 365 admin portal is the email activity report.

Exchange email activity report
Administrators can track the trends related to email on Exchange Online.

This page resides under the Reports section and shows the email volume summaries of each Exchange Online licensed user over several periods: seven, 30, 90 or 180 days. These activity reports show the amount of email read, sent and received over a particular period. If a user is receiving a lot of email but is not responding or reading much of it, it can indicate a need for additional training.

This report includes the option to export the results in a comma separated file to import into a spreadsheet for further inspection.

MyAnalytics reporting for individual email behaviors

For users who want an analysis of their work habits related to email and time management, Microsoft offers a feature called MyAnalytics, which reports on their patterns with Exchange Online. MyAnalytics measures time spent checking email throughout the day and how much focus time a user has. MyAnalytics offers suggestions on ways employees can be more efficient and productive with their time on the job to avoid burnout.

MyAnalytics reports are accessible from Office 365 Delve or can be delivered via email weekly.

Security & Compliance Center reports

One area where an Exchange administrator can never rest is security, considering most data breaches occur through a phishing attempt.

Exchange Online admins can see the threats targeting their users through the Security & Compliance Center. The reports identify the different types of attacks and potential data leaks affecting the organization. Some reports include details on the campaigns that target the leaders of the organization, spoof detection, spam detection as well as possible data leakage when sensitive information is sent outside the network. To access the dashboards, go to the Reports > Dashboard section in the Security & Compliance Center.

Administrators with some programming skills and more advanced needs can generate customized reports with the Graph API to pull raw data for more detailed information. For example, administrators can pull out granular statistics from Office 365 about the different ways users are retrieving email from Outlook, such as a Windows browser or the Android app.

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What are the steps for an Exchange certificate renewal?

An expired Exchange certificate can bring your messaging platform to a halt, but it’s easy enough to check and replace the expired certificate.

When mail stops flowing, Outlook access breaks and the Exchange Management Console/Shell gives errors, then it might be time to see if an Exchange certificate renewal is in order.

Exchange adds a certificate by default with your protocols during its installation, including Simple Mail Transfer Protocol and Internet Information Services (IIS). Many companies do not allow access to Outlook on the web, so mail is only accessible internally. This limits the Exchange Server capabilities as Microsoft designed it to be accessible from anywhere on any device.

For companies that choose to limit Exchange’s functionality, the IT staff often opts to use the default certificate, which has a five-year life span. In five years, IT might forget about the Exchange certificate renewal until they receive countdown emails warning that it will expire. If nobody sees these emails and the certificate expires, then problems will start, as Exchange services that require a valid certificate might not work.

To check a certificate’s status, run the following PowerShell command:

Get-ExchangeCertificate | fl

Assign a new certificate for Exchange 2010

If Exchange breaks due to an expired certificate, then you might want to push for a quick fix by issuing a certificate to an internal certificate authority. This won’t work because the certificate authority will not sign the certificate.

If you start to panic as help desk tickets start to flood in, this is when trouble typically happens. You might try to adjust the settings in IIS, but this can break Exchange. However, the fix is simple.

Run the New-ExchangeCertificate command to initiate the Exchange certificate renewal process. This PowerShell cmdlet will create a new self-signed certificate for Exchange 2010. The command prompts you to replace the existing certificate. Click Yes to proceed.

Exchange certificate replacement
Execute the PowerShell New-ExchangeCertificate cmdlet to build a new self-signed certificate for Exchange 2010.

Next, assign the services from the old certificate to the new one and perform an IISReset from an elevated command prompt to get Exchange services running again.

Finally, ensure the bindings in IIS are set to use the new certificate.

Learn the tricks for using Microsoft Teams with Exchange

Using Microsoft Teams means Exchange administrators need to understand how this emerging collaboration service connects to the Exchange Online and Exchange on-premises systems.

At its 2017 Ignite conference, Microsoft unveiled its intelligent communications plan, which mapped out the movement of features from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams, the Office 365 team collaboration service launched in March 2017. Since that September 2017 conference, Microsoft has added meetings and calling features to Teams, while also enhancing the product’s overall functionality.

Organizations that run Exchange need to understand how Microsoft Teams relies on Office 365 Groups, as well as the setup considerations Exchange administrators need to know.

How Microsoft Teams depends on Office 365 Groups

Each team in Microsoft Teams depends on the functionality provided by Office 365 Groups, such as shared mailboxes or SharePoint Online team sites. An organization can permit all users to create a team and Office 365 Group, or it can limit this ability by group membership. 

When creating a new team, it can be linked to an existing Office 365 Group; otherwise, a new group will be created.

Microsoft Teams layout
Microsoft Teams is Microsoft’s foray into the team collaboration space. Using Microsoft Teams with Exchange will require administrators to stay abreast of roadmap plans for proper configuration and utilization of the collaboration offering.

Microsoft adjusted settings recently so new Office 365 Groups created by Microsoft Teams do not appear in Outlook by default. If administrators want new groups to show in Outlook, they can use the Set-UnifiedGroup PowerShell command.

Microsoft Teams’ reliance on Office 365 Groups affects organizations that run an Exchange hybrid configuration. In this scenario, the Azure AD Connect group writeback feature can be enabled to synchronize Office 365 Groups to Exchange on premises as distribution groups. But this setting could lead to the creation of many Office 365 Groups created via Microsoft Teams that will appear in Exchange on premises. Administrators will need to watch this to see if the configuration will need to be adjusted.

Using Microsoft Teams with Exchange Online vs. Exchange on premises

As an Exchange Online customer, subscribers also get access to all the Microsoft Teams features. However, if the organization uses Exchange on premises, then certain functionality, such as the ability to modify user profile pictures and add connectors, is not available.

Microsoft Teams’ reliance on Office 365 Groups affects organizations that run an Exchange hybrid configuration.

Without connectors, users cannot plug third-party systems into Microsoft Teams; certain add-ins, like the Twitter connector that delivers tweets into a Microsoft Teams channel, cannot be used. Additionally, organizations that use Microsoft Teams with Exchange on-premises mailboxes must run on Exchange 2016 cumulative update 3 or higher to create and view meetings in Microsoft Teams.

Message hygiene services and Microsoft Teams

Antispam technology might need to be adjusted due to some Microsoft Teams and Exchange integration issues.

When a new member joins a team, the email.teams.microsoft.com domain sends an email to the new member. Microsoft owns this domain name, which the tenant administrator cannot adjust.

Because the domain is considered an external email domain to the organization’s Exchange Online deployment, the organization’s antispam configuration in Exchange Online Protection may mark the notification email as spam. Consequently, the new member might not receive the email or may not see it if it goes into the junk email folder.

To prevent this situation, Microsoft recommends adding email.teams.microsoft.com to the allowed domains list in Exchange Online Protection.

Complications with security and compliance tools

Administrators need to understand the security and compliance functionality when using Microsoft Teams with Exchange Online or Exchange on premises. Office 365 copies team channel conversations in the Office 365 Groups shared mailbox in Exchange Online so its security and compliance tools, such as eDiscovery, can examine the content. However, Office 365 stores copies of chat conversations in the users’ Exchange Online mailboxes, not the shared mailbox in Office 365 Groups.

Historically, Office 365 security and compliance tools could not access conversation content in an Exchange on-premises mailbox in a hybrid environment. Microsoft made changes to support this scenario, but customers must request this feature via Microsoft support.

Configure Exchange to send email to Microsoft Teams

An organization might want its users to have the ability to send email messages from Exchange Online or Exchange on premises to channels in Microsoft Teams. To send an email message to a channel, users need the channel’s email address and permission from the administrator. A right-click on a channel reveals the Get email address option. All the channels have a unique email address.

Administrators can restrict the domains permitted to send email to a channel in the Teams administrator settings in the new Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business admin center.

Plan your Exchange migration to Office 365 with confidence

Introduction

Choosing an Exchange migration to Office 365 is just the beginning of this process for administrators. Migrating all the content, troubleshooting the issues and then getting the settings just right in a new system can be overwhelming, especially with tricky legacy archives.

Even though it might appear that the Exchange migration to Office 365 is happening everywhere, transitioning to the cloud is not a black and white choice for every organization. On-premises servers still get the job done; however, Exchange Online offers a constant flow of new features and costs less in some cases. Administrators should also consider a hybrid deployment to get the benefits of both platforms.

Once you have determined the right configuration, you will have to choose how to transfer archived emails and public folders and which tools to use. Beyond relocating mailboxes, administrators have to keep content accessible and security a priority during an Exchange migration to Office 365.

This guide simplifies the decision-making process and steers administrators away from common issues. More advanced tutorials share the reasons to keep certain data on premises and the tricks to set up the cloud service for optimal results.

1Before the move

Plan your Exchange migration

Prepare for your move from Exchange Server to the cloud by understanding your deployment options and tools to smooth out any bumps in the road.

2After the move

Working with Exchange Online

After you’ve made the switch to Office 365’s hosted email platform, these tools and practices will have your organization taking advantage of the new platform’s perks without delay.

3Glossary

Definitions related to Exchange Server migration

Understand the terms related to moving Exchange mailboxes.