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New Exchange Server freebie utilities available now

Microsoft added to its cache of tools for Exchange Server administrators. This time, disaster recovery and performance analysis join the ever popular Best Practice Analyzer.

It's a little early for the holidays but Microsoft's Exchange Server product team is presenting Exchange administrators with some new and improved free tools to keep their messaging servers running smoothly.

Microsoft released a new version of its Exchange Best Practice Analyzer (ExBPA), and two new free utilities including the Exchange Server Disaster Recovery Analyzer (ExDRA) and the Exchange Server Performance Troubleshooting Analyzer (ExPTA). The tools can be found here from Microsoft's site.

The two newer tools build on the framework of the ExBPA and all use multi-step wizards, said Paul Bowden, program manager at Microsoft, and Jon Avner, a group manager at Microsoft.

"Their purpose is to guide administrators through a task," Avner said. "We are trying to provide some automation."

ExBPA v. 2.5 adds some interface enhancements, bug fixes and underlying improvements to the engine. To cite two examples, administrators can select and unselect different servers in the scan option. Also, reports received by administrators can be hyperlinked to the Exchange tech center for more information.

One expert said the ExBPA has become a de facto standard for Exchange Server 2003 shops who want to inspect configurations for errors.

"Two of my larger customers use this tool as part of the [quality assurance] process prior to any deployment of mailboxes on a new server," said Steve Bryant, chief executive at Pro Exchange, a Peachtree,Ga., integrator which specializes in Exchange systems. "While this tool can provide some general recommendations for [disaster recovery] and performance, the ExBPA does not go into extensive detail on either disaster recovery or performance issues."

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Here is where ExDRA steps in. The utility concentrates on instances when a user brings up an Exchange Server and the database won't come on line. That means the user cannot connect with the mailbox and the administrator can't understand what has happened to the server.

This is the type of recovery situation where the administrator tends to panic, Bowden said. "Some administrators may be tempted to move files around to get the database up and running and more often than not when you do that the problem gets worse," he said.

At this time, ExDRA 1.0 can only recover the log replay part of the disaster recovery, Avner said. Over time Microsoft will continue to add new features.

The ExPTA works to analyze server subsystems for performance problems.

"Performance issues can be tricky to pin down," Pro Exchange's Bryant said. "While there are countless articles and documents available to assist the administrator with such issues, an automated process would obviously be much more efficient."

The ExDRA 1.0 and the ExPTA 1.0 both work with Exchange 2000 Server and Exchange Server 2003. The ExBPA works with Exchange 2000 Server, Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange Server 5.5, but in the latter case there must be at least one Exchange 2000 or 2003 Server in the environment.

Microsoft on Thursday also updated the following Exchange tools: Exchange Server Management Pack Configuration Wizard, Exchange Server Exchange Profile Redirector, Exchange Server Jetstress Tool, Exchange Server Public Folder DAV-based Administration Tool, and Exchange Server Management Pack for Microsoft Operations Manager.

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