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What's new with the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard?

The Exchange configuration wizard continues to evolve into a refined utility with enhanced capabilities that administrators should explore when considering a hybrid deployment.

Exchange continues to serve as the on-ramp into Office 365 for many organizations. One big reason is the hybrid capabilities that connect on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online.

If you use Exchange Server, it's not difficult to join it to Exchange Online for a seamless transition into the cloud. Microsoft refined the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard to remove a lot of the technical hurdles to shift one of the more important IT workloads into Exchange Online. If you haven't seen the Exchange hybrid experience recently, you may be surprised about some of the improvements over the last few years.

Exchange hybrid setups have come a long way

I started configuring Exchange hybrid deployments the first week Microsoft made Office 365 publicly available in June 2011 with the newest version of Exchange at the time, Exchange 2010. Setting up an Exchange hybrid deployment was a laborious task. Microsoft provided a 75-page document with the Exchange hybrid configuration steps, which would take about three workdays to complete. Then I could start the troubleshooting process to fix the innumerable typos I made during the setup.

In December 2011, Microsoft released Exchange 2010 Service Pack 2, which included the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard. The wizard reduced that 75-page document to a few screens of information that cut down the work from three days to about 15 minutes. The Exchange hybrid configuration wizard did not solve all the problems of an Exchange hybrid deployment, but it made things a lot easier.

What the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard does

The Exchange hybrid configuration wizard is just a PowerShell script that runs all the necessary configuration tasks. The original hybrid configuration wizard completed seven key tasks:

  1. verified prerequisites for a hybrid deployment;
  2. configured Exchange federation trust;
  3. configured relationships between on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online;
  4. configured email address policies;
  5. configured free/busy calendar sharing;
  6. configured secure mail flow between the on-premises and Exchange Online organizations; and
  7. enabled support for Exchange Online archiving.

How the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard evolved

Since the initial release of the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard, Microsoft expanded its capabilities in multiple ways with several major improvements over the last few years.

Since the initial release of the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard, Microsoft expanded its capabilities in multiple ways with several major improvements over the last few years.

Exchange hybrid configuration wizard decoupled from service pack updates: This may seem like a minor change, but it's a significant development. Having the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard as part of the standard Exchange update cycle meant that any updates to the wizard had to wait until the next service pack update.

Now the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard is an independent component from Exchange Server. When you run the wizard, it checks for a new release and updates itself to the most current configuration. This means you get fixes or additional features without waiting through that quarterly update cycle.

Minimal hybrid configuration: Not every migration has the same requirements. Sometimes a quicker migration with fewer moving parts is needed, and Microsoft offered an update in 2016 for a minimal hybrid configuration feature for those scenarios.

The minimal hybrid configuration helps organizations that cannot use the staged migration option, but want an easy switchover without worrying about configuring extras, such has the free/busy federation in calendar availability.

The minimal hybrid configuration leaves out the following functionality from a full hybrid configuration:

  • cross-premises free/busy calendar availability;
  • Transport Layer Security secured mail flow between on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online;
  • cross-premises eDiscovery;
  • automatic Outlook on the web (OWA) and ActiveSync redirection for migrated users; and
  • automatic retention for archived mailboxes.

If these features aren't important to your organization and speed is of the essence, the minimal hybrid configuration is a good option.

Recent update goes further with setup work

Microsoft designed the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard to migrate mailboxes without interrupting the end user's ability to work. The wizard gives users a full global address book, free/busy calendar availability and some of the mailbox delegation features used with an on-premises Exchange deployment.

A major new addition to the hybrid configuration wizard its ability to transfer some of the on-premises Exchange configurations to the Exchange Online tenant. The Hybrid Organization Configuration Transfer feature pulls configuration settings from your Exchange organization and does a one-time setup of the same settings in your Exchange Online tenant.

Microsoft expanded the abilities of Hybrid Organization Configuration Transfer in November 2018 so it configures the following settings: Active Sync Mailbox Policy, Mobile Device Mailbox Policy, OWA Mailbox Policy, Retention Policy, Retention Policy Tag, Active Sync Device Access Rule, Active Sync Organization Settings, Address List, DLP Policy, Malware Filter Policy, Organization Config and Policy Tip Configuration.

The Exchange hybrid configuration wizard only handles these settings once. If you make changes in your on-premises Exchange organization after you run the Exchange hybrid configuration wizard, those changes will not be replicated in the cloud automatically.

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Is a hybrid Exchange setup more or less appealing to you than a full cloud migration? Why?
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