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Free Exchange 2013 deployment assessment tools

Microsoft offers a number of free tools that can help Exchange admins ensure Exchange setups run as smoothly as possible.

Exchange Server 2013 has emerged as a stable and reliable workhorse for the enterprise. But even with six cumulative updates since its release in late 2012, administrators can still improve performance, stability and security. And there are a lot of free tools to help, specifically with performance and meeting best practices.

Underlying server hardware choices and configuration holdovers from previous Exchange Server deployments often limit performance. One free tool to help with performance is the Exchange 2013 Server Role Requirements Calculator.

Many Exchange deployments include multiple roles; the calculator considers the computing needs of the Client Access Server (CAS) role, transport role and other roles. It then suggests CPU and memory sizing, which considers every Exchange role on the system. If the system is dedicated to a single role (perhaps due to load balancing or certificate management), the calculator offers suggestions for CAS processors, memory and the minimum number of Client Access Servers for the enterprise.

The calculator includes transport sizing, which considers message queue expiration and hold times in its database size recommendations; it also suggests storage locations for the database. Architectural improvements in Exchange 2013 allow multiple databases on a JBOD storage volume along with a number of changes to high-availability features. The Role Requirements Calculator could potentially reveal tweaks and optimizations that could boost your Exchange 2013 deployment.

The second tool to consider is Microsoft's Office 365 Best Practices Analyzer (BPA) for Exchange 2013. Once the tool is installed and launched, the BPA will scan the Exchange 2013 deployment for adherence to about 200 individual configuration items. These items include server health settings, swap-file sizing and port configurations. Also, I can spot Exchange nodes that are accidentally mixed with other server functions (such as domain controllers). Administrators can delve into the finished report and review the most critical issues detected.

Since this is a "best practices" tool rather than a troubleshooting tool, remember that any errors or warnings are not necessarily problems. The tool should simply be viewed as suggestions tabled for further consideration and possible (not required) remediation. It's a helpful tool to gather a comprehensive perspective on your current Exchange setup. Although it's positioned as an Office 365 offering, the BPA is certainly suited to on-premises Exchange Server 2013 deployments; you'll need an Office 365 or Azure Active Directory user ID to download the tool. Some on-premise administrators are vehemently opposed to this download requirement and avoid the BPA for that reason.

Next Steps

This is part one in a series of how admins can improve their Exchange Server setups in 2015. Stay tuned for part two, which looks at ways to optimize Outlook.

This was last published in January 2015

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What tools do you use to assess or improve your Exchange setup?
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The free Server Role Requirements Calculator has proven to be an invaluable tool for assessing my company's Exchange setup. Along with the Requirements Calculator, another tool we find extremely useful for improving our Exchange setup is Microsoft's "Best Practices Analyzer (BPA). BPA allows us to see where in the Exchange setup slow downs occur or managing swap-file sizing and assists with port configurations. These two tools are essentials for our Exchange setup.
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