Last year, we delivered the Microsoft Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer, or ExBPA for short. Since then we’ve made several upgrades to that tool as well as published monthly updates to the validations the tool does. The feedback loop that has been established between the product development team, our support engineers, and customers has been a great success and given us a virtuous cycle that allows us to continually adapt and improve the product. We hope to establish this same kind of thing for a couple of new tools we have released: the Microsoft Exchange Server Disaster Recovery Analyzer (ExDRA), and the Microsoft Exchange Server Performance Troubleshooting Analyzer (ExPTA). These two tools build on the framework of ExBPA and allow us to define a set of iterative steps to be performed to achieve a particular goal. In the case of ExDRA, that goal is to guide a user through the disaster recovery process, automating as much as possible. For ExPTA, the goal is to move from a symptom of a performance problem to a root cause and resolution.
The two tools are built off the same framework: a configuration driven engine that knows how to execute a series of steps. Those steps are of two kinds: present UI to the user to get information from them, or execute the ExBPA engine to get information from the system. It then applies ExBPA analysis to the results and determines what step to take next. This provides us with a very flexible framework that we can use to do any number of complex tasks. While ExDRA and ExPTA are our initial offerings, more will be released in the future.
This diagnostic framework has a lot in common with ExBPA itself: most of the business logic is driven from an XML configuration file, they are auto-updatable, they link to detailed explanatory articles for any issues found, and they have the same look and feel. Another thing they have in common is that they do not cover every possible case. When ExBPA shipped last year, it performed about 700 validation checks. The latest release has over twice that number, and we are still receiving two or three new suggestions a day, mainly from our support engineers. Exchange is a very complex system and our understanding of how customers are using it changes over time, so this has been entirely expected (and indeed, we have optimized the tool and our support process to make such changes as easy as possible to do). The same thing goes for ExDRA and ExPTA. In this release, both have a limited set of functionality. ExDRA is currently only stepping through the log replay part of disaster recovery. There are many, many other aspects that we are not yet handling, and there is even more we can do for log replay. ExPTA currently can help diagnose a couple of performance symptoms specifically (a single client having poor performance, or multiple clients having poor performance), and the data it gathers can be used to assist with performance troubleshooting in general.
We know these tools don’t cover every case, and we may never get there. However, these are fully ready to use now and will be useful is some percentage of cases where they are applied. Like ExBPA, once we ship and start getting customer feedback we can start adding the most important additional scenarios in our configuration updates and proceed from there. Eventually, we want ExDRA to be the single place an administrator has to go to do disaster recovery, from recovery storage group management through actually getting mailboxes back online and available. We want ExPTA to be able to automatically diagnose any performance problems that may occur. These are both dreams that will take a long time to realize, but we are committed to those goals and willing to invest the resources over time to make them happen. So when you start applying these tools, please keep this in mind.
Also in this web release is the next version of ExBPA (v2.5), and an “official” release of PFDAVAdmin, which is a public folder administration tool that has been informally available to customers for the past couple of years. All of these tools, as well as the rest of the tools that are on the web release, are part of a larger effort to bring more structure to the diagnostic and support tools we deliver for Exchange. We are trying to establish a small set of highly flexible tools that cover a wide range of administrative needs, and to integrate such functionality into the product itself when possible. This effort will be continued in the next release of Exchange, but like some of the individual tools themselves this is a long term investment and it will take some time to get to where we want to be. I have no doubt that we will get there.
Our primary feedback channel for all these tools continues to be the microsoft.public.exchange.tools newsgroup. Please don’t hesitate to send us feedback on these tools, positive or negative. We await your posts.
– The Microsoft Exchange Operational Support Tools Team