Don't go into battle without these Exchange Server tools

Whether you're new to Exchange or a seasoned Exchange MVP, these tools are non-negotiables for maintaining control.

Much like a plumber doesn't leave for work without the tools he needs, Exchange Server admins also need certain tools to manage and troubleshoot Exchange.

The kinds of Exchange Server tools you use depend on the environment you work in. A consultant is more likely to use different tools from someone with the full-time management responsibilities of a large messaging environment.

It's impossible to talk about all of the tools an Exchange admin can use, but there are some that most admins commonly reach for. Here's a look at what these essential tools do and how to use them.

PowerShell Integrated Script Editor (ISE)

This tool might be a surprise because the PowerShell ISE is installed by default in Windows 7 or 8. However, this is one of the best Exchange Server tools for lightweight PowerShell script-editing.

The Integrated Script Editor has a clear graphical user interface; the color of the code makes it easy to read large chunks of code, and the built-in snippets wizard saves me time when scripting. The scripting snippet (CTRL+J) allows you to easily select a pre-defined function for editing (Figure 1).

Editing in Integrated Script EditorFigure 1

This may not be the best tool for the heavy lifting, though. For more intensive jobs, I like to use other applications such as PowerShell Studio by Sapien Technologies.

Must-have reporting scripts

There are plenty of great scripts out there to help you discover information on your Exchange environment. These scripts are valuable for first-time customers for which you want to quickly collect data on the environment.

These are the reports I carry with me at all times:

Log Parser Studio for connections

Log Parser Studio is one of my go-to Exchange Server tools when I need to troubleshoot connection issues in Exchange. By loading a set of logs into the tool, I can use one of the pre-defined reports to quickly find the information I need. It's also easy to build your own queries so you can filter information (Figure 2).

Log Parser Studio filterFigure 2

Exchange backup and restore tools

There are a number of Exchange Server tools out there to meet backup and restore requirements. Sometimes you can't leverage a customer's backup environment. You may even be faced with badly behaving databases that still contain data you absolutely need.

Using software such as Kroll Ontrack's PowerControls or StorageCraft ShadowProtect GRE can help you mount a database consisting of .edb files and logs inside the tool and explore the contents. In a virtual environment, Veeam's free backup tool can also be quite handy. Most of these tools even allow you to export the data back into a mailbox or a .PST file.

Although you'd typically do a restore through Exchange, there are times where this isn't an option because the message platform is broken. The first step, of course, is to try to fix Exchange. These kinds of tools should be something of a last resort. You'd typically want to avoid using these tools if possible since Microsoft may not always support them. But if they're the only way to get important messages back, they can be helpful.

MFCMAPI for insight into mailbox properties

The Microsoft Foundation Classes MAPI (MFCMAPI) is one of the most essential Exchange Server tools for admins. This low-level editor gives you direct access to a user's mailbox Messaging Application Program Interface (MAPI) properties. It also allows you to easily connect to other mailboxes within the environment.

I've used this tool to troubleshoot a mailbox's Inbox rules or to check whether retention tags were successfully applied. There's a small learning curve involved, but that's due to how MAPI works. The tool itself is relatively self-explanatory and has great documentation.

Network-level knowledge is possible with Wireshark or Netmon

Using Wireshark or Microsoft's alternative Netmon isn't something you'll do every day. But there are occasions when you might want to check what's going on at the network level to better understand an issue you're facing, such as when you're troubleshooting firewall or load-balancing issues (Figure 3). In my blog, I go into detail about how Wireshark helped me troubleshoot a specific issue.

Troubleshooting with WireSharkFigure 3

Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer tests Exchange connectivity

As the name suggests, Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer allows you to test connectivity to your Exchange environment. This Web-based tool offers tests for Web services, Autodiscover and even Active Directory Federation Services in a hybrid Exchange deployment (Figure 4).

Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer testsFigure 4

This is an invaluable tool when you need to test connectivity after publishing your Exchange environment to the Internet. It allows you to quickly determine if everything in between your Exchange server and the Internet, including firewalls and load balancers, are correctly configured.

The Connectivity Analyzer has recently also been upgraded to support tests for Lync, but I recommend that you avoid signing off on a deployment as long as the Remote Connectivity Analyzer shows problems.

Server Role Requirements Calculator, Network Bandwidth Calculator for new migrations

One of the tasks I regularly perform as an Exchange consultant is creating designs for new deployments or migrations. Part of that work requires me to determine the hardware requirements for the new servers. Although Microsoft has plenty of information on how to calculate disk space, IOPS, memory and CPU for a given deployment, the Server Role Requirements Calculator and Network Bandwidth Calculator take it a step further.

It will take some time to fully understand how much input you have to provide to these Exchange Server tools, but the return on investment of the time spent getting to know these tools is immense. The calculations will be much more precise, and Microsoft regularly updates the Mailbox Role Requirements Calculator to reflect changes in the software. In fact, Microsoft recently published some guidance on how to provide input regarding log file usage for both tools.

Jetstress for storage configuration

You cannot and should not go into production with an environment that isn't validated. Just as using the Remote Connectivity Analyzer can validate connectivity to your environment, Jetstress can help you validate your storage configuration.

Storage is a big deal for Exchange. The Exchange Server Product Group has put a lot of effort into optimizing for low-cost storage over the years, but that doesn't mean you can use just about any storage. You still need to make sure that -- whatever the situation -- you meet the requirements that came out of your Server Role Requirements Calculator results.

By running Jetstress, you effectively simulate the load on your storage like an Exchange Server would do in production. The tool monitors how storage behaves, and it performs and measures against the parameters you defined. If all goes well, you'll get a "PASS." If you get a "FAIL" result, you have to go back and check where things went wrong. You don't want to put an Exchange server into production before you get that "PASS."

About the author

 

Michael is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Master and Exchange Server MVP from Belgium and works for ENow, a company that provides systems management software for Microsoft technologies. He specializes in Exchange, Office 365, Active Directory and a bit of Lync. He is an active contributor in the Exchange community by writing articles for several tech websites and his own blog and by participating in the UC Architects podcast. He frequently speaks at international conferences, including TechEd, IT/DEV Connections and the Microsoft Exchange Conference.

This was first published in March 2014

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