Easing your test, deployment and management headaches
J Peter Bruzzese
The Exchange ecosystem offers a variety of tools for aiding IT admins with testing, deployment, and management of their environments. Some of the best of these are available for free.
If you’re an IT admin looking to ensure a smooth, well-managed Exchange deployment, the following 12 free Exchange admin tools are well worth adding to your toolbox.
1. Microsoft Exchange Server Deployment Assistant
Developed by the Microsoft Exchange Team to help with the deployment of Exchange 2010 and 2013, Microsoft Exchange Server Deployment Assistant is quite simple. Select your Exchange version (2010 or 2013) and deployment type (on-premises, hybrid, or cloud only), answer a few questions about your deployment (e.g., use of Unified Messaging features, public folders, etc.), and the tool provides a custom step-by-step checklist to ensure nothing is forgotten when deploying Exchange in your environment. Each step is helpfully detailed, and sections that answer “How do I know this worked?” ensure your configuration is spot on.
2. Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer
Developed by the Microsoft Exchange Team, Remote Connectivity Analyzer is a bevy of tools rolled into one. On the Exchange side, you can perform ActiveSync connectivity tests, Exchange Web Services connectivity tests, Outlook connectivity tests (both Outlook Anywhere and Autodiscover), and Internet email tests (POP, IMAP, inbound/outbound SMTP). There are Lync/OCS tests, Office 365 tests, client tests, and a new Message Analyzer to analyze message headers. You can access the tool online or use Exchange Toolbox, which links you to the Remote Connectivity Analyzer site. Select a test type from the Exchange section, provide your credentials, and run the test. Results provide detailed information on where problems reside in your environment and how to resolve them.
3. Steve Goodman’s Exchange Environments Report
Steve Goodman’s Exchange Environments Report is a PowerShell script that generates an automatic overview of your Exchange environment. It works with versions of Exchange ranging from 2003 to 2013. It reports the total number of servers per Exchange version (including the service pack), the total mailboxes per version, the Exchange roles deployed in the environment, a site-by-site breakdown of mailboxes, as well as a breakdown of each Database Availability Group. This is a great tool to assist with plotting storage growth over time and can help with planning for future growth. (Click to enlarge.)
4. RBAC Manager R2
RBAC Manager R2 is a great tool posted on CodePlex that really helps with RBAC (role-based access control) administration. For anyone who has truly drilled down into role groups and roles and looked at (and managed) the underlying PowerShell code that goes with each one, you know how difficult it can be to go through the Exchange Management Shell. RBAC Manager offers a GUI-based approach that makes the process much easier. Through the tool, you can add or remove cmdlets, alter cmdlet parameters, and more.
5. Exchange 2010/2013 Server Role Requirements Calculator
Authored by Ross Smith IV and David Mosier (with contributions from Jeff Mealiffe, Matt Gossage, Neil Johnson, and Jon Gollogly), Exchange 2010/2013 Server Role Requirements Calculator is the de facto tool for sizing recommendations for your Exchange server roles (both client access and mailbox). Note: The 2010 version of the tool is focused on mailbox calculations. The 2013 calculator is an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs to assist with mapping out backup requirements, role requirements, storage design, and more. Enter your system values into the Input tab and let the calculator go to work. It may take you a while to accurately provide the input, but the calculator’s output across the various sheets is gold.
6. Exchange Bulk User Creation Tool v 2.0 by Andy Grogan
MVP Andy Grogan has been releasing various versions of his Exchange Bulk User Creation Tool for years. This is a great tool for both production and lab environments because it facilitates bulk mailbox creation without using the Exchange Management Shell, which is a feature missing from the Exchange Admin Center in Exchange 2013. EBUCT locates Active Directory Users without mailboxes, and you can select the ones you want to create mailboxes for and select the database in which you want those mailboxes to reside. Click Enable and you’re set. You can also use the Search Accounts field to locate specific accounts from within AD to enable.
7. Jetstress 2013 and Jetstress Field Guide
Jetstress simulates disk I/O load on your Exchange server to help you verify performance (or surface any weaknesses in performance). If you have designed your Exchange storage solution to withstand the load of a specific number of users with specific profiles, Jetstress will simulate this load and report back. Note: Perform tests in a non-production environment prior to putting your system into play. It is also recommended you look through the Jetstress Field Guide, a white paper that explains the process and requirements for validating an Exchange storage solution prior to deploying to production
8. Quest Free Network Tools
Quest (now owned by Dell) offers a variety of tools to help Exchange administrators. One suite of tools is the Quest Free Network Tools, which includes 16 feature sets and copious troubleshooting assistance. Tools include Cisco Configurator, DNS Audit, Encrypted Credential Store, Enhanced Pint, Graphical Pint, MAC Scan, Network Discovery/Network Inventory, Ping Scan, Port Scan, SNMP Scan, Switch Port Mapper, Syslog Server, TFTP Server, Trace Route, Traffic Jam, Wake on LAN, WHOIS, and WMI Scan.
9. Quest ActiveRoles Management Shell for Active Directory
Quest’s ActiveRoles Management Shell for Active Directory is a set of free, predefined commands for PowerShell that help Exchange administrators work with Active Directory. Commands provided through the ActiveRoles Management Shell help automate common, repetitive bulk AD tasks. You can create, remove, or update AD objects easily through use of the tools. You can use the ActiveRoles Management Shell to create your scripts and then take it to the next level with ActiveRoles Server, which can be installed on a try-before-buy basis. To use ActiveRoles cmdlets, run Add-Pssnapin quest.activeserverroles.admanagement; to view all the commands you now have, use Get-Command *-QAD*
10. Log Parser Studio 2.0 from the Exchange Team
To benefit from Log Parser Studio you need the free tool Log Parser 2.2. This is a tool that, according to the description, provides universal query access to text-based data, such as log files, XML files, and CSV files. It also provides access to key data sources like the Event Log, the file system, and Active Directory of Windows systems. Log Parser Studio provides a graphical interface for Log Parser. In addition, Log Parser Studio has pre-built queries and features that can quickly help make sense of all that data. There are more than 170 queries in the library including new ones for Exchange 2013.
11. Exchange PST Capture Tool
Exchange PST Capture helps resolve a very big pain point for compliance and discovery: those dreaded and elusive PSTs. This tool allows you to search computers throughout your organization for PST files and then import the files into mailboxes. PST Capture is good for both on-premises and hosted Exchange. On the downside, there are agents you will need to install on the systems in your organization so that these can communicate back to the central service. However, you can also manually specify the names of PSTs to avoid the installation of agents, but this will work only if you know the names and locations of the PSTs you’re looking for and assume that there aren’t any rogue PSTs in your environment.
12. The Office Configuration Analyzer Tool
The Office Configuration Analyzer Tool is a replacement for the Outlook Configuration Analyzer. It was designed to be the next-gen tool for Office diagnostics. Choose an Office application you want to scan (i.e., Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Word) and indicate whether you want to run a Full Scan or an Offline Scan, which is used when the application won’t stay open long enough to scan, indicating bigger issues. You are provided with an easy-to-read report that will indicate if there are any problems and how you might resolve those issues, or where to look to find additional assistance.