Permessa Email Control! Express Review

Product: Permessa’s E-Mail Control Express

Product Homepage: www.permessa.com

Evaluation Version: click here

Introduction

Exchange Server has long enjoyed a reputation for being one of Microsoft’s most complex products. Although most of the complexity is probably necessary, it can be troublesome for those who are charged with the day to day management and maintenance of an Exchange Server environment. With that in mind, I decided to try out a product called Permessa Email Control! Express. The Permessa Web site claims that Permessa ECX can help administrators to solve Exchange management problems in minutes.

Installation

The installation process went relatively smoothly. I have to admit that I did not initially take the time to review the system requirements, and I initially installed Permessa ECX onto a computer that was running a 64-bit version of Windows 7 RC1. The Setup program informed me that this was an unsupported version of Windows, but I attempted the installation any way. In the end, the installation process failed to complete, and I ended up having to use a different operating system.

For the second go around, I installed Permessa ECX on a computer that was running a 32-bit version of Windows Vista. This time, the installation process completed flawlessly. I was impressed by how easy the installation process was. The installation used a standard Setup wizard. The wizard asked a few routine questions and about five minutes later Permessa ECX was up and running.

Ease of Use

I have been working in IT for many years, and during that time I have reviewed more products than I care to think about. One of the trends that I have noticed during that time is that enterprise networking products tend to be much more complicated to use than what is really necessary. Permessa ECX seems to be the big exception to the rule though. Take a look at Figure A. This is the initial screen that is displayed when you first launch Permessa ECX. It just does not get any simpler than that.


Figure A: This is the screen that you will see when you initially launch Permessa ECX

The Initial Configuration

The initial configuration process was fairly simple, but it was not completely intuitive. I had to consult the documentation during the configuration process. Incidentally, the documentation is my one complaint with Permessa ECX. The documentation is complete, but it could be better organized.

If you look back at Figure A, you will notice an icon that is shaped like a gear. This is the configuration icon. To perform a basic configuration, you must simply click this icon and then tell the software to perform an automatic detection. The software automatically detects your domain controllers, but it is up to you to verify the configuration of your Exchange servers, and to make any necessary changes.

If you look at Figure B, you can see what the main configuration screen looks like. Permessa ECX automatically populated the various configuration fields, but I did have to change the E-mail address to match the one that I was using.


Figure B: This is the main configuration screen

Incidentally, when you perform the configuration, you should be logged in using a dedicated, mail enabled account. You also need to create a default Outlook profile for the account, and you need to make sure that message tracking is enabled on your Exchange Servers before you perform the initial configuration. Otherwise the configuration process will fail.

Analyzing E-Mail Logs

After I got Permessa ECX installed, the first thing that I decided to do was to try out analyzing E-Mail logs. This feature works pretty well, but one of the things that I ran into was that since I had only just enabled message tracking in Exchange right before I installed Permessa ECX, I had a limited amount of logging data to work with. Of course this is not Permessa’s fault.

I have to say that I was fairly impressed by the types of information that Permessa ECX is able to extract from the Exchange logs. If you look at Figure C, you can see a number of vital statistics related to mail flow. This type of information is essential to anyone who is trying to justify additional hardware purchases, or perform any type of architectural planning for their Exchange Server environments.


Figure C: This is the Summary Statistics screen

As you look at the figure above, you should keep in mind that as useful as this information is, this is just the summary screen. The console tree on the left side of the screen contains containers that you can expand to access more specialized information. For example, you can see information related to user activity, or the quality of service.

One thing that I really like about the information that is provided in this section is that Permessa gives you the option of viewing the data graphically. I have always found that for me statistical information is a lot easier to digest when it is presented in a graphical format.

If you look at Figure D, you can see what one of these charts look like. Again, I do not have that much logging data to analyze, and the chart reflects that, but you can at least get an idea of the types of information that you can access.


Figure D: There are a number of different reports that you can run

The chart above is designed to show you the server load. It shows you the number of messages that passed through the server within a given length of time, and the cumulative size of those messages. In the figure above, the message volume is not displayed because the cumulative size of all of the messages that passed through my Exchange server during the time slot that I used were less than one megabyte.

Message Tracking

Permessa ECX’s second major function is message tracking. Exchange Server has its own built in message tracking feature, but using it tends to be a bit cumbersome to use. In a way this has always been something of a pet peeve for me, because when users call wanting to know where their messages are, they usually want an answer now, and Exchange does not really give you that instant gratification that the users expect.

Permessa ECX’s message tracking capabilities are probably its best feature. There are several different ways that you can track messages, and the screen capture in Figure E is just one example. As you can see in the figure though, the software makes it really quick and easy to track messages.


Figure E: Permessa ECX allows you to track messages with ease

Health Checks

As we all know, messaging has become one of the most mission critical application for just about every organization. As such, it is important for administrators to take steps to prevent down time on their Exchange Servers. There are a lot of things that administrators can do to improve the reliability of their Exchange Servers, such as implementing clustering solutions or using redundant hardware. When it really comes down to it, how do you know if your Exchange Servers are really healthy or not?

Microsoft gives us numerous Exchange specific and general Windows performance monitor counters that can be used to gauge a server’s overall health. The problem is that not many of us have time to do performance monitoring on any sort of regular basis. Besides that though, effective performance monitoring requires a high degree of technical knowledge. You have to know specifically which of the counters to use, and what the threshold value is for each counter that indicates the difference between a healthy server and a potential problem. More importantly, if a counter falls outside of the optimal range, you have to know what factors contribute to the condition so that you can address the problem.

Unless you have an in depth technical knowledge of performance monitoring and have a lot of free time on your hands, you pretty much have to rely on monitoring applications to interpret the raw performance data for you.

Being that I do so much work with Exchange Server, I have worked with a number of different products that are designed to report Exchange Server’s health. To be perfectly honest though, I have never been impressed with any of these products. I do not want to name names, but some of the products are too complicated and have too steep of a learning curve. After all, I am not interested in performing a deep forensic analysis of my production Exchange box. I just want to know whether or not the server is healthy, and if not then I want to know what I need to do to fix the problem.

That actually leads me to my second gripe with Exchange monitoring utilities. Again, I do not want to mention any names, but some of the products that I have used are way too sensitive. They constantly bother you with alerts for conditions that do not actually reflect any sort of problem.

I have to admit that I was really expecting to see more of the same when I saw that Permessa ECX performed health checks. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Permessa has seemingly struck a good balance with the amount of information that they provide.

If you look at Figure F, you can see that the software makes it simple to set up a health check. I also like that the health checks are only run periodically rather than constantly, so that you are not putting too much of an additional load on the servers that are being monitored.


Figure F: Permessa ECX checks the health of your servers on a periodic basis.

Another thing that I really like is that the health check even draws a topology diagram of your Exchange organization and shows you where any problems are. Keep in mind that I was only monitoring one Exchange Server, and it was healthy, but you can see an example of such a diagram below in Figure G.


Figure G: The software diagrams your Exchange Server topology as a part of the health check.

Conclusion

On a scale from one to five, with five being the highest, I would give Permessa ECX a solid 4.5. The only reason why I did not give it a five is because the product’s documentation could be better. Permessa ECX is simple to set up if you know what you are doing, but I did have to consult the documentation during the initial configuration process. The information that I needed was in the product documentation, but I really had to look for it because it was scattered in various places. Even so, the installation and configuration process took me less than an hour to complete.

MSExchange.org Rating 4.5/5


For more information about Permessa’s E-Mail Control Express, click here.

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