Building Hosted Exchange 2010 – Part I

There’s quite a lot of demand in the market to build a hosting environment (multi tenant) based on Exchange 2010. In the past there was hosted Exchange (in Exchange 2003) and Address List Segregation (Exchange 2007) and the /Hosting option in Exchange Server 2010. The latter is no longer recommended by Microsoft and Microsoft now recommends to use an Enterprise deployment of Exchange Server 2010 SP2, combined with Address Book Policies (ABP) and a 3rd party Control Panel providing the ‘glue’ to get the various parts together.

Microsoft released a number of articles and whitepapers on the future of Exchange hosting and some guidance documents regarding building a hosting environment and migrating from an old platform to a new (Exchange 2010 SP2) platform:

Exchange Server 2010 SP2 and Support for Hosting Exchange

Future of /Hosting Mode

Multi-Tenancy and Hosting Guidance for Exchange Server 2010 SP2

Exchange Server 2010 Hosting and Multi-Tenancy Solutions and Guidance

Exchange 2010 SP2 Multi-Tenant Scale Guidance

Released: Migrating From Exchange Server 2010 in Hosting Mode to Exchange Server 2010 SP2 whitepaper

Released: Migrating Exchange from HMC 4.5 to Exchange Server 2010 SP2 whitepaper

Guidance document

The guidance document is an interesting document. It explains the various areas you have to take care of, like:

  • Security of Active Directory and Exchange;
  • Build a solid provisioning system in Active Directory and Exchange;
  • A self-service portal for end-users and resellers (the latter are a challenge in itself!);
  • System wide settings and policies;
  • Design, architecture and scalability;
  • Autodiscover, Outlook Anywhere and Offline Address Books (OAB);

The guidance document only points out the various areas one has to take care of when building a hosted, multi-tenant Exchange environment. There is no guidance on the actual building of the environment, nor is there any script available on how to do this. But if you follow the guidelines pointed out in this document you are running a fully supported Exchange environment.

The guidance document is only a rough outline of issues you have to be aware of when building a hosted Exchange environment. Things you have to do and things you shouldn’t do. For example, you should not change ACL’s for Address List Segregation like in Exchange 2007, or use the msExchQueryBaseDN option in OWA. And for most people, there are scripts in there, and there’s no guidance on the actual Hosted Exchange build process.

Why does Microsoft not deliver any scripts or building guidance? It’s all about the hosting ecosystem. Hosting partners (both 3rd party vendors and hosting System Integrators) know how to build their stuff and have years of experience in this area.

Of course you have to pay for these vendors and SI’s because they have to make some money as well. But if you have to build the complete solution yourself you’ll need a couple of serious .NET developers and an infrastructure engineer who can tie all the stuff together. For a fair comparison between your own solution and a 3rd party solution you have to take this into account as well. And don’t forget updates: the vendors will update their solution when a new service pack is released by Microsoft, and they work closely with Microsoft on new developments as well (think about Exchange vNext for example, or hosted Lync).

I have been working with these vendors and SI’s for different hosting customers as well as hosting customers that built the solution themselves. Both have their own unique challenges, but I always recommend working with a 3rd party vendor or a good SI. It will truly make your life easier.

As of today (March 2012) the following 3rd party vendors are recommended by Microsoft in a hosting environment:

In my next blog I will outline the stuff that needs to be done in a homebrew environment, followed by a blog post when using a 3rd party vendor.

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