Exchange 2010 SP1 Hosting & Control Panel

In an earlier article I explained a bit about the hosting features that are available in Exchange Server 2010 SP1. This hoster edition (I’ll abbreviate this to HEX2010SP1) is primarily targeted towards hosting companies, you need for example an SPLA license agreement to resell this.

Note: if you need really to address this functionality inside an enterprise organization, then you have to stick with Exchange 2007. Or you have to wait for Exchange 2010 SP2 which will likely contain this functionality in a form of Address Book Policies.

HEX2010 does not contain a Management Console, so all functionality needs to be configured using the Exchange Management Shell. So besides installing and configuring the Exchange organization you also have to create all ‘tenants’ (i.e. the companies that are provisioned inside the Exchange organization where you host the mailboxes for) and maybe some additional mailboxes for these tenants as well.

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Figure 1. Creating a tenant in the Management Shell for a company called “Datacenter Masters”

During creation of the tenant an OU is created in Active Directory, Universal Security Groups are created and Exchange 2010 is configured with an Address List and an Offline Address Book. Also a tenant administrator is created during this step.

This administrator can now login to the new tenant and use the Exchange Control Panel to create additional users:

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Figure 2. The tenant administrator can now create multiple user mailboxes inside the tenant

But besides creating the tenant in the Exchange organization there’s also some business logic that needs to be created and configured. You want some kind of billing system of course so customers are charged for the resources they use, maybe you want some (Internet) domain creation features and accompanying DNS creation. A typical hosting company will also offer some OCS or Lync integration, or Sharepoint 2010, or maybe Remote Desktop (either via Windows 2008 R2 or via Citrix), all kinds of additional services that need to be configured as well. This is were a 3rd party control panel kicks in.

EMS Cortex is one of these companies that offer Control Panel functionality for HEX2010SP1. Using a control panel like this it is possible to fully automate provisioning of tenants, billing, reporting and other services.

When you logon to the Control Panel you get an overview page:

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Figure 3. Home page of the Cortex Control Panel

From here you can manage the customers (tenants), users, reporting etc.

To create a new tenant, for example the ‘datacenter-masters.nl’ tenant, just click on the ‘customers’ button and follow the ‘new customer’ wizard. You have to enter the customer details like the Full Name and E-mail address, the domain name and if needed, enter some additional properties like management roles, organizational structure, password management etc.

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Figure 4. Provisioning of a new tenant (i.e. customer/organization)

When the initial customer details are provisioned it’s time to create the tenant administrator. Nothing special here, but when the administrator is provisioned it’s time to provision the individual services that are offered like hosted Exchange (hey, that’s what I’m doing right?) but also hosted OCS/Lync, Blackberry, Sharepoint, DNS… just to name a few….

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Figure 5. Provisioning of the new tenant’s administrator

Once the organization is provisioned it’s time to provision the first users. Of course the tenant’s administrator can create the individual users using the Exchange Control Panel (this is basically a customer decision) but it’s also possible to use the Cortex Control Panel for this:

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Figure 6. Provision new users in the newly created tenant

So far it’s not too different then when provisioning tenants, administrators and users using the Exchange Management Shell. The interesting part is that it’s possible to build this Cortex functionality using a web shop, where customers can provision the initial services using a credit card billing service. This way you can create a 24×7 provisioning service. Furthermore you can create your own business logic using a solution like this.

Also the reporting functionality is available, something that can be achieved building yourself of course but this requires quite a lot of work.

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Figure 7. Default reporting possibilities in the Control Panel

Summary

When implementing the hosted Exchange 2010 SP1 solution you have to implement a management solution. Not only for yourself, but also for your customers. Especially enterprise organizations tend to forget this since they always have an different business model, and a (dedicated) Exchange management department.

EMS Cortex is one of the 3rd party vendors that offer a solution like this. With a 3rd party Control Panel you can implement a management solution, create a ‘self service’ or ‘customer care’ page solution and create your own, business logic based solution.

For more information you can contact me using the ‘contact’ option in this blog’s menu, or contact EMS Cortex directly.

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