16 Tips to Optimize Exchange 2013 (Part 1)

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Starting with Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft reviewed its development process so that Exchange was built to be both software and a service. And with the cloud in mind, as you can imagine, the requirements from a manageability, performance and security point of view should be very different in order to accommodate the needs of a multi-tenant world that delivers enterprise-grade service, 99.9% availability, to millions of users and organizations.

The current version, Exchange Server 2013, powers Office 365 and incorporates all those self-healing, self-tuning features, such as Managed Availability, that are absolutely critical to handle the tens of millions of mailboxes and a countless number of servers. The Exchange Product Team made a brilliant job, releasing a rock solid version of Exchange Server, as one could expect after the experience gathered from operating the cloud services from the gigantic Microsoft Datacenters.

And since its original release in 2012, Exchange Server 2013 kept on evolving, with the release of the programmed Cumulative Updates, as depicted in Table 1 (by the way, as a tip 0, all the information about Exchange Server versions since Exchange Server 4.0 (!) is available at this TechNet page).

Product name

Release date

Build number

Exchange Server 2013 CU6 August 26, 2014 15.00.995.029
Exchange Server 2013 CU5 May 27, 2014 15.00.0913.022
Exchange Server 2013 SP1 February 25, 2014 15.00.0847.032
Exchange Server 2013 CU3 November 25, 2013 15.00.0775.038
Exchange Server 2013 CU2 July 9, 2013 15.00.0712.024
Exchange Server 2013 CU1 April 2, 2013 15.00.0620.029
Release to Manufacturing (RTM) version of Exchange Server 2013 December 3, 2012 15.00.0516.032

Table 1:
Exchange Server Updates: build numbers and release dates

So, you may be wondering, is there room for improvement in such a well-engineered product? Yes, of course, there is always something to be done that, although unlikely to cause a boost in the overall experience, will probably contribute to the happiness of the millions of Exchange Administrators that operate messaging infrastructures throughout the World. And in the end, this is what really counts, right?

1.    An Article a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

If you do a research about the secrets of successful IT Administrators, you’ll certainly find that education in general and an above the average knowledge of their systems and tools in particular contribute significantly to make them stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Fortunately, the Exchange Team is one of the most proficient inside Microsoft, they usually pave the way regarding quality of the documentation produced and continue leading with the creation of tools, analyzers, wizards or help files that uncover all the technical secrets of Exchange Server and provide a means to keep a healthy messaging environment. And let’s not forget the group of amazing people – IT professionals, MVPs or just curious people – that seed the internet regularly with blog posts, technical articles, tweets and every kind of online information.

And then there’s training, a lot of it available freely, such as the courses provided from the Exchange Virtual Academy, and loads of content from the several Microsoft conferences, available online at TechEd | Events | Channel 9, so there’s really no excuse to not knowing your stuff.

Here’s a handful of links you may find useful:

Figure 1: Exchange Server 2013 SP1 Architecture Poster

2.    The Return of the Best Practices Analyzer

Yes, ExBPA is back! Once declared Missing In Action, it has been replaced by the Office 365 Best Practices Analyzer for Exchange Server 2013 and included in the Exchange Admin Center with the release of Service Pack 1 (Figure 2).

Being this an article about tips to optimize Exchange, we couldn’t possibly miss the tool that scans Exchange servers and identifies items that do not conform to Microsoft best practices.

Figure 2: Exchange Admin Center

The computer that runs Office 365 Best Practices Analyzer for Exchange Server 2013 should meet the following requirements:

To start using the tool, follow these procedures:

  1. If using Windows Server 2012 or above, install .NET Framework 3.5 using the Add Roles and Features Wizard (Figure 3) first, otherwise the installation process will abort with an error (Figure 4 and Figure 5).

Figure 3: Add Roles and Features Wizard

Figure 4: Feature couldn’t be installed

Figure 5: Exchange BPA Setup error

  1. On the Exchange admin center page, on the tools pane, click Check your on-premises Exchange Server with the Office 365 Best Practices Analyzer. Select Run from the pop-up which prompts what to do with setup.exe from bestpracticesanalyzer.microsoft.com (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Exchange Admin Center

  1. Accept all the EULA for the different components to be installed: Microsoft Online Services Sign-in Assistant, .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 (if not previously installed) and Windows Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell (Figure 7). The installation process will start downloading the required files (Figure 8).

Figure 7: EULA

Figure 8: Downloading required files

  1. On the Application Install – Security Warning window, select Install (Figure 9) to start installing Microsoft Office 365 Best Practices Analyzer (Figure 10).

Figure 9: Application Install – Security Warning

Figure 10: Installation progress

  1. Accept the Terms of Use agreement (Figure 11) and click Next to start a new BPA scan (Figure 12).

Figure 11: Terms of Use agreement

Figure 12: Welcome screen

  1. On the New best practices scan window, click start scan (Figure 13). If the environment to be analyzed includes Office 365 (hybrid), insert the required credentials and click OK; if not just click Cancel (Figure 14). The scan will start (Figure 15).

Figure 13: New best practices scan

Figure 14: Office 365 Credentials

Figure 15: Best Practices Scan…

  1. After the tool finishes scanning the environment, a Best practices scan results summary will be presented (Figure 16). The save scan results button will export the results to an .html file that can be later reviewed (Figure 17). The view details button will display a new page with the Detailed scan results (Figure 18).

Figure 16: Best practices scan results summary

Figure 17: Saved BPA report

Figure 18: Detailed scan results

  1. After fixing any problems, you can run Microsoft Office 365 Best Practices Analyzer again from the Start menu of your computer running Exchange Server 2013 (Figure 19).

Figure 19: Windows 2012 Start Menu

3.    Planning and Deployment

A good planning and a thorough deployment are critical to prevent future unpleasant surprises. Every minute invested in planning, designing and sizing the required messaging infrastructure will probably save you hours of troubleshooting potential performance bottlenecks, unplanned downtime or unexpected behavior of the involved components.

Regarding the planning phase, even before the Server Role Calculator for Exchange Server 2013 was available, Jeff Mealiffe gave us a very in-depth technical lesson about the art and science of determining the optimal hardware requirements for Exchange in the blog post Ask the Perf Guy: Sizing Exchange 2013 Deployments. And then, as expected, the tools that would make our life much easier in that process were born:

As for the deployment part, avoid shortcuts and stick to the plan outlined during the planning phase. In my experience I’ve witnessed a couple of disastrous situations, just because someone thought that would be a good idea to lower hardware requirements to save money, or because that extra copy of the database in the DAG seemed pretty useless. Remember, Murphy will make his appearance sooner or later!

The good news here is there are a couple of tools and resources that will help avoiding mistakes:

  • Exchange Server Deployment Assistant – The Exchange Server Deployment Assistant is the IT pro’s source for Exchange deployment technical guidance. Tell us what kind of deployment you’re interested in, answer a few questions about your environment, and then view Exchange deployment instructions created just for you. On-Premises, Hybrid and Cloud Only scenarios are fully supported.
  • Exchange Solution Reviewed Program (ESRP) – Storage – The Exchange Solution Reviewed Program (ESRP) – Storage is a Microsoft Exchange Server program designed to facilitate third-party storage testing and solution publishing for Exchange Server. The program combines a storage testing harness (Jetstress) with solution publishing guidelines. Microsoft Gold Certified or Certified Storage Partners (storage original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who are part of the Microsoft Certified Partner Program) can use the ESRP framework provided to test their storage solutions targeted for Microsoft Exchange deployment. Customers can use the solutions published here to help plan/design their own Exchange storage architectures.

4.    Embrace the Cloud

Recently I was reading a very interesting post from Tony Redmond’s Exchange Unwashed Blog about the cloud and what really got my attention was the words of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Orlando 2014 conference: “Office 365 is the new Exchange and one will cannibalize the other. The key is to ensure that current Exchange customers can transition on their own terms”. In my opinion, these words capture the essence of what can be expected from future Exchange developments.

Since the very first offer of cloud services that Microsoft has a very strong commitment about supporting hybrid scenarios (as opposed to all cloud or nothing), and that’s exactly what’s very well explained in the poster Exchange 2013 Platform Options, and briefly resumed in Table 2.

Exchange Online (Office 365)

Exchange Hybrid

Exchange Server on-premises

  • Operations of servers and server software handled by Microsoft·
  • Rich feature set of Exchange Server 2013 as a cloud-based service·
  • Always up-to-date with the newest features·
  • Exchange Online Protection (EOP) included for anti-spam/anti-malware protection·
  • Built-in high availability with 99.9% SLA·
  • Directory synchronization including passwords between the on-premises Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) and the Microsoft Azure Active   Directory tenant. (Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) is necessary for single sign-on)
  • Some users are homed on-premises and some users are homed online, and users share the same e-mail address space
  • Leverages your existing Exchange Server infrastructure
  • Migrate from Exchange on-premises to Exchange Online over time, on your schedule
  • Integrate with other Microsoft Office 365 applications, including Lync Online and SharePoint Online


  • Greatest degree of control and customization on your configuration
  • No dependency on session affinity being maintained at the load   balancing layer
  • Simple high availability and site resilience using Database Availability Groups
  • Managed Availability that helps you maintain a great user experience
  • Leverage existing hardware and storage infrastructure

Table 2: Comparing Exchange Platform Options

It’s not my intention to turn this article into a marketing campaign for Office 365, but yes, I’m a strong believer of the cloud for email, since it has become more and more a commodity. Microsoft already confirmed that a new on-premises version of its Office Servers will be release next year, but at the same time the market speculates whether this will be the last before Exchange gets cannibalized by Office 365, to use Satya’s words.

I’ve seen a lot of IT people fighting the adoption of the cloud, and although I accept there are a couple of technical issues, such as integration with legacy application, that may still represent a challenge, very often it’s just a sentimental issue or plain old nostalgia of losing their beloved servers.

Explore Exchange Online, built to deliver the enterprise-grade security and reliability that businesses require, and then decide if it fits your organization needs.


This concludes part 1 of this series. There will be a total of 16 tips provided, so stay tuned for the next 12, divided by 3 more parts.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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