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The 5-minute Exchange Server configuration test

Paul Bowden, the "father" of the just-released Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer Tool, explains how the technology works and why you need it to test your environment.

In five minutes or less you can test your Exchange environment for critical errors in your server configurations -- for free and without leaving your workstation.

On Tuesday, Microsoft made

Paul Bowden
Paul Bowden, Exchange program manager
available a Web-based diagnostic tool specifically for Exchange admins -- the Microsoft Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer tool, or ExBPA.

The product is the brainchild of Paul Bowden, program manager for Exchange Server development, who two years ago came up with the idea of developing a tool that could programmatically check Exchange for "correct configuration and system health" and expose any critical and non-default server configurations.

The end result: the tool takes 1,200 data points from each server and generates a report that includes step-by-step instructions on how to solve any problems.

You can download the Exchange Server BPA here. Bowden says it takes about 45 seconds to download and install on your workstation.

This week, Bowden talked about the Exchange Server BPA with

Q: Why is the Exchange BPA a significant technology for Exchange admins?

Bowden: Right now, when an Exchange administrator deploys a new Exchange server within their organization, they read up on the latest information and best practices for deployment. However, there is always the question "Did I get everything right?" Nine times out of ten, people usually do get it right, but small mistakes and oversights can sometimes create havoc. For example, one of our customers had a pair of clusters holding well over 10,000 business users. The cluster design and implementation was perfect. However, they were consolidating from a plethora of other Exchange servers in their organization and didn't want to generate gigabytes of transaction log files during the move mailbox operation so the administrator temporarily enabled circular logging.

The consolidation was a huge success and Exchange was humming along nicely, but he forgot to go back in and disable the circular logging. The net result was a ticking time-bomb. If one of the database drives had failed, recovery options would have been very limited, and data would have been lost for sure. ExBPA detected the problem proactively and prevented the disaster.

The ExBPA development team
Members of the Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer development team include (back row, from left) Jian Yan, tester; Kevin Chase and Jack Bennetto, developers. In front, Erin Bookey, tester, and Jon Avner, development lead.

Q: Why did Microsoft decide to develop the Exchange Server BPA?

Bowden: I spent the last few years running the Exchange Joint Development Program (JDP), helping customers deploy Exchange 2000 and 2003 prior to release. As we discovered new tidbits of information and best practices for deployment, I would note them down and at the end of the development cycle write them up in a white paper. We spend a great deal of time and energy writing quality documentation, but the difficulty is trying to get that information in front of Exchange administrators.

In February I sent a random piece of e-mail to Jon Avner, one of the Exchange store developers, and it was obvious that we had the same thoughts around such a tool. Within days, the project formed, resources allocated, with the design being hammered out over e-mail in the small hours of the morning.

Q: What companies will benefit most from this technology?

Bowden: The ExBPA is a free tool that Exchange administrators can use to achieve greater performance, scalability and uptime in their environment. The tool works against existing deployments and the rules work by analyzing what you have deployed here and now. The tool can be used by Exchange administrators with one server and a few mailboxes, all the way through to large enterprise customers with hundreds of servers and tens of thousands of users.

Every few weeks there will be updates posted on the web. A unique feature of this tool is that it can automatically detect rule updates and download them for you. Our first release is available in English and Japanese.

More information on the Microsoft Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer can be found on Microsoft's Web site.

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