Exchange 2010 Hoster Edition

I already blogged about the Exchange 2010 Hoster Edition… it is generally speaking not a good idea to try this in an enterprise environment… The Exchange 2010 Hoster Edition: http://sysadmin-talk.org/2010/09/address-list-segregation-or-hoster-edition-exchange-2010-sp1/

But currently I’m working for a hosting company, and I have to prepare a migration from Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (HMC4.5) to Exchange 2010 Hoster Edition. So, I have plenty of time to play with it… (And Greg, I have the SPLA licenses, don’t worry 😉

The hoster edition of Exchange 2010 SP1 is targeted towards hosting companies. They host multiple companies, also known as organizations in one Exchange 2010 SP1 environment.

Installing the hoster edition is pretty simple. Use the unattended mode of the setup application and use the /hosting switch. To install a combined CAS/HUB server you would use something like:

Setup.com /mode:install /roles:ca,ht /hosting

Please note that all Exchange Servers in the Exchange organization need to be installed with the /hosting switch.

So, after installing 2 combined CAS/HUB servers, 3 mailbox servers and a dedicated provisioning server (with only the management tools, also using the /hosting switch) it’s time to logon to the server.

On the Exchange Servers only the Exchange Management Shell is available, there’s no Exchange Management Console. You can try to Add the snap-in in an MMC console, but it will fail:

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So, everything has to be managed from the Management Shell, configuring the Client Access Servers, creating a CAS Array, implementing security (think about certificated), creating send connectors, configuring receive connectors, creating a DAG… literally everything has to be configured from the command line. Believe me, this will take you days, and you’ll write documentation like you never did before! Oh, and before I forget, you have to configure autodiscover, with autodiscoverredirect using the Exchange Management Shell, you’ll love it 🙂

As a hoster you normally host several companies, or organizations, and within Active Directory and Exchange these are referred to as “tenants”. Active Directory and Exchange 2010 (in a hosting mode) are multi-tenant. This means that the tenants are completely independent of each other. They are also invisible for each other. Each tenant has its own GAL for example. Is this a replacement for the Address List Segregation? Yes and no. Yes, there’s a complete separation of GAL’s in a hosting environment, but there’s also way too much complexity for the average Exchange Administrator, let alone the license issues (Exchange 2010 hoster edition is bound the the Service Provider License Agreement, SPLA).

Before creating users you have to create the tenant, or organization in Exchange. You can use the New-Organization cmdlet for this:

New-Organization -DomainName “Datacenter-Masters.nl” -Name “Datacenter Masters” -Location Netherlands -OfferId 2 -ProgramId HostingSample -AdministratorPassword $(ConvertTo-SecureString “Pa$$w0rd” -AsPlainText -Force)

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This will create an Organization Unit in Active Directory and will create the necessary Security Groups and an Administrator account in the new Organization.

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I didn’t do anything yet with the Service Plans and Mailbox Plans since there are hosting company specific. It determines the services the company can offer. In this example I used the default plans that are installed on the Exchange Servers.

You can create a new user in this Organization using the Exchange Management Shell:

New-Mailbox -Name “Jaap” -DisplayName “Jaap Wesselius [Masters]” -Password $(ConvertTo-SecureString “P@ssw0rd” -AsPlainText -Force) -UserPrincipalName “jaap@datacenter-masters.nl” -Organization “Datacenter Masters”

But more interesting, when you logon with the administrator account to the Exchange Control Panel there’s also the option to create new user accounts and mailboxes in the new organization:

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This is a real cool feature that everybody wants to have in an enterprise environment as well, but unfortunately this is not available. Maybe in a future version of Exchange, but not in this version. But when you have participated in early beta’s of Exchange Server 2010 this might be familiar. It was available in early beta builds, but somewhere along the line it was removed from the product.

Using the ECP each tenant administrator can manage his own mailboxes. This makes sense of course since they do not have access to the Exchange Management Shell, so they have to have some way of creating and managing mailboxes.

The best solution however is to implement a 3rd party dashboard. Well known vendors (in the ISP area) are for example EMS Cortex, Ensim, Machsol, Parallels etc. Using a dashboard of one of these vendors gives you the possibility to manage the complete environment, but gives the tenant admins also the possibility to manage their own tenants. And, you can create a reseller model, which is pretty hard to configure in a native Exchange 2010 hosting environment.

Summary

Using the /hosting switch in the unattended setup, Exchange now has the possibility to install a Hoster Edition of Exchange Server 2010 SP1. If you are a hoster, and are currently offering HMC 4.5 this might be an interesting solution. If you are new to Exchange hosting, reselling BPOS (soon to be Office 365) might be a better alternative.

Is the Hoster Edition a valid replacement for Address List Segregation in Exchange Server 2010? Absolutely not! It adds a lot of complexity, there are hardly no management tools, quite a lot of features are not available or not supported, and it’s only available under the SPLA licensing.

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