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Included in this month’s Exchange Web release (direct link) is a new analysis tool called the Microsoft Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer Tool.  ExBPA is a revolutionary new analysis tool that checks an Exchange deployment, looks for known problems, and generates a report on what it has found.  It’s pretty straightforward stuff, but there are a lot of things to look at.  It accesses data from Active Directory, the registry, the IIS metabase, perfmon, WMI, and flat files.  It also does some simple protocol testing.  In all, it gathers over 1200 settings and checks them against over 1000 rules.  And we’ve really just scratched the surface.

There are a number of pretty cool features about this utility.  The tool is driven off of a configuration file that tells it exactly what settings to look for and what rules to use to analyze them.  The first thing the tool does when you run it is look for the latest version of the configuration from the Web and downloads it if so directed.  At least initially, we are expecting to update the configuration file on the Web every couple of weeks.  The best part about this tool is the way it provides us with a framework for building system expertise from many different people and sources and automating them for everyone’s benefit.  Another cool thing is the way it runs.  Using Active Directory, it will discover your deployment and then in turn access each server in the topology (you can scope it to just access a subset of servers, but by default it will do an entire organization).  It runs entirely agent-less, so all you need is to install it on a client machine, give it credentials, and off you go.  It generates two kinds of reports.  One is a roll up of all the issues it discovered.  For each critical issue found, it provides a link to a Web article that goes into detail about what the message means and what should be done about it.  Over three hundred Web articles have been written for V1.  The other report is in the form of a tree view that not only shows the issues found but all the data that was gathered as part of the analysis.  It essentially provides a point-in-time snapshot of an Exchange configuration.  Once gathered, such a snapshot could then be accessed entirely independently of the original deployment. 

The tool will not have an adverse affect on system performance (except on the machine it is running on – it uses a lot of CPU and memory when it is analyzing an entire organization), so it can be run at any time.  It will take some time to run, particularly when doing a large organization.  In Microsoft’s own Exchange network, which contains about 100 servers, it typically takes between 2 and 3 hours to run.  We’ve estimated it would take our sys admins weeks to conduct this kind of analysis manually.  It can do a single server in anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes or so, depending on the speed of the network link between ExBPA and the server it’s looking at.  It generates about a meg worth of data per server. 

The tool can be used in a number of ways.  It can used to do a proactive health check of an entire deployment, potentially finding problems that have been waiting in the wings but have not yet manifested themselves in a serious way.  It can be used to assist troubleshooting of a particular issue.  It will become a standard part of a support call, so our support engineers can quickly obtain information on a problem server or deployment and not have to go back and forth with the customer trying to glean this piece of data or that as the analysis progresses (this tool will replace other less powerful tools currently being used, such as exchdump).  In many cases it will possibly eliminate the need for a support call at all by automatically identifying the problem itself.  ExBPA can also be used as an archival tool, just keeping around old snapshots so you can track changes over time (although we do not automatically do any run-to-run analysis right now – maybe in V2).

This utility has been run in several dozen customer deployments by Microsoft support engineers during its beta release, and we have already incorporated a lot of the usability and functionality feedback we received from them.  We expect to get a lot more feedback from you!  A new newsgroup, microsoft.public.exchange.tools, has been set up to take this feedback and help out with any issues that may come up when running it.  I invite everyone to try this out and see how it works.  One word of caution: the tool tends to generate a lot of output, so don’t panic when you see the report!  Most of the issues, even the critical ones, have likely been around for some time in your deployment and if they haven’t hurt you yet you probably have at least a little time to take care of them before they cause real problems.  So just take the issues one at a time and consult the articles as needed.  If you get really stuck on something, try the newsgroup.

We will continue to be investing in this tool moving forward.  In V2, which is scheduled with the next Web release sometime in 2005, we plan to have an integrated solution with MOM as well as a host of new features and some localization for other languages.  There are also plans to make this a fully integrated part of the Exchange administration experience down the road.  Also, expect to see best practices analyzers for other Microsoft server products in the future.  SQL already has one and BPAs will be part of the Windows Server System Common Engineering Criteria (WSS) that all our server products will be complying with over the next few years.  O ur senior VP, Paul Flessner, is particularly excited about these kinds of tools in general and was quite enthusiastic about ExBPA when we he saw it.

We’ve had a lot of fun developing this tool, and we hope you will find it useful.

- Jon Avner

28 Comments
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So glad we created another newsgroup. I was just saying the other day how 66 newsgroups for Exchange wasn't nearly enough.
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All the links in the result of analyzing an Exchange System are not available!
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Links work now!
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This has been fixed. It was a problem with how the links were mapped on the web site. No new download is required - it should just work.

Side note: it appears we may have some trouble working correct with some 3rd part browsers. We are still investigating this.
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I just tested ExBPA on my lab domain and got a critical error saying that I was suffering of Open Relay... No way it could be! So I opened the explanation and guess what? Like hundreds of labs, my domain was configured as FABRIKAM.COM the same domain ExBPA uses to test for open relay ExBPA-(OpenRelayTest@Fabrikam.com)! What are the chances? Huge, I guess :)
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This looks like an awesome tool !

I´ll give it a try.

Thanks.

PS. If you need to translate in spanish, let me know ;-)

Benji
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Thank you for this excellent tool! It will save us Exchange consultants many hours of work, and help us doing a really good job for our customers. I have been waiting for this tool since Paul Bowden showed it in April.
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As Jon mentioned, we've had a lot of fun developing this tool. We really hope it helps everyone with their Exchange deployments. Feedback is very much encouraged! (we're now planning for v2).

Paul Bowden
Program Manager, ExBPA.
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The Exchange Best Practices Analyzer Tool was released yesterday (would have blogged it then, but hey, it was also my daughter's second birthday!). I'd tell you more, but the Exchange Product Group has already written a great blog entry about...
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Nice to tool.
Any plan to integrate to SUS like MBSA ?
Raveendran@gmail.com
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will it work in a mixed mode environment (5.5/2000/2003)?
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you know, I really should RTFM. says right there in the overview it will support 5.5 on up in a mixed mode, just not a native 5.5 environment.
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Raveendran, can you elaborate on exactly what you think the integration with SUS should look like? We haven't really considered this.
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Testing the tool out right now as we speak (err... write).

I do have one issue (could be related to the Proxy). When I ran an analysis and proceed to view detailed info for an error/warning/info, the tool seems to hang for roughly 5 minutes. I believe it's trying to fetch the necessary info from the web, but reverts to using the help file since the Proxy gets in the way. It's just a bit annoying having to wait 5 minutes...
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Hi Shinigami ...yes, you may see the 5-minute wait syndrome under certain proxy configurations. Auto-proxy tends to cause the most problems here. I've heard some folks are getting a better experience by using a specific proxy server setting. If you take a look at the "General" section in the Known Issues List at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/exchange/2003/exbpakil.mspx there are some tips for resolving this issue.
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Great Tool!!!

I also get the application hang issue when I try to access some of the web-linked Technet content.

Don't know if it's having a problem calling up IE, but it typically occurs after I have been able to look up an issue successfully.
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Would SBS 2003 Admins gain any benefits from running this tool?

Bill V
SBS Rules!
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This tool can be run on SBS and should provide the same kind of information it does for an Exchange deployment. We are currently talking with the SBS folks about ways to make it even more functional for their needs, but as of now it should be fine. I'm not sure how many issues it will find, but if nothing else it will give you a snapshot of a lot of configuration properties that you can reference at a later time if needed.
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You may notice a few additional rules firing if you run against SBS ...in particular, warnings about the MTA being disabled and certain non-default parameters (SMTP configuration, SystemPages). These are being fixed up in our next rules update, scheduled to be posted tomorrow.
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Can this tool be used in environment (lab) with no web connections?
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Yes. It may be a little slow when it first starts up because it's trying to check the web for the latest config, but you can disable that by going to the Update screen (the bottom link on the left pane takes you there) and unchecking the always check for updates box.

When you click on the more info article links, that may slow as well because it looks on the web, but it will then fall back to local help and get the articles from there. If it hits three failures in a row, it will stop trying for ten tries, then try again (we really want to access the web articles because then we can get statistics on how much each article is accessed).

This information is all in the FAQ, by the way.
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Thanks, I got it. It just took long time to get next page. I thought it was hung since my mixed mode Exchange servers are all in Virtual PC environment.
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Hi folks,


We just released an update to the rules. If you have Internet connectivity from your workstation, then the tool should auto-detect the update and prompt you to download. If you're working in a closed environment, or the tool doesn't manage to detect the update,

then you can download and apply the "Web Update Pack" from

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=4f2f1339-cbcd-4d26-9174-f30c10d7ec4c. Simply extract the files to your installation folder (usually, C:Program FilesExBPA). Within a short period of time we'll also have a link to the Web Update

Pack from our main

http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/exbpa">http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/exbpa page.



If you want to double-check if the update is applied, then click the "About..." link in the left-hand navigator when the tool is open. You'll see two version numbers ...the first is 1.0.7408.1 ...this is the version of the main binaries. The second version

number is what we call the "ConfigVersion". You'll see one of the following:


1.5.4.0 = You're running the rules as shipped in the original MSI package

1.5.5.1 = You're running the rules update that we posted a few days ago

1.5.6.1 = You're running the very latest rules available


These latest rules include some refinements that we made in response to the postings on the newsgroup and the blogs that we're monitoring.



Please keep the feedback coming! Through your help we can further refine the rules and documentation so that you see only the issues which are relevant for you.



--

Paul Bowden

Program Manager

Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer

http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/exbpa">http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/exbpa



This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.

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Awesome.
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How would I get access to the latest JDP.
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From Win2K news, any comments?

Exchange Best Practice Tool Flunks On SBS 2000 Server

Tony Gore from the UK sent me this. "Good link. However, I used this on SBS 2000 server and it came up with the fact that the IFS drive was enabled and that it should be turned off and a post SP3 rollup. Following these two, Exchange no longer worked.

Re-enabling the IFS drive got exchange to work, but the Symantec protection for Exchange would not work; fixing this to manual startup at least got it running (there is a documented problem in Win2k with services locking). Two things from this:

A lot of the MS advice, KB etc. applies to W2K server, Exchange server etc. However, this is not the first time that the SBS 2000 has been found to be different. I don't think that Microsoft ever test most of the fixes on the SBS 2000 product - they assume that if it works on Windows 2000 server or Exchange 2000 server (or ISA 2000 server etc) separately, then it will work for SBS 2000 server. My experience is that something like one patch/fix/recommendation in 20 does not.
There is no easy way of providing feedback to Microsoft in these cases - in the UK, you have to call them up and give them your credit card number before they will talk to you; there is an online email, but it just seems to go into a black hole. I don't know why they cannot have a simple link on each KB article "report problems with this article".
OK, Redmond, again... anybody listening?
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I have responded to this on their web site's feedback alias. The IFS issue they point out was not specific to SBS but was a documentation problem that affected all Exchange servers. The problem was brought to our attention quite quickly and we published an updated article the same day. We regret the mistake.

We did test the utility against SBS prior to ship, but we definitely could have engaged that team more and done a better job with it for their scenarios. We are now working with them more closely and have already made a number of rule modifications that should improve that experience (these should be published this week). There are similar issues with regular single server deployments of Exchange and these will be similarly fixed.

Regarding feedback, we have several channels available, including the newsgroup, a feedback alias (exbpafb@microsoft.REMOVETHIS.com - which could be better advertised), and even posting to this blog. I believe anyone who has tried these has found that we are being pretty responsive to questions posted, so yes, we are listening. In fact, we are eager to get this kind of feedback so we can continue to improve the tool.

Thanks.
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Will give this a try. Interested what reports turn up. Currently having an issue that even the MS tech's are sure about.