Wow, that headline is a mouthful. What do I think of it, and what can you expect if you decide to use it? Is the name of the service catchy enough? What are the things you need to know before you make the transition? I’ll try to write it all up in this article, so brace yourself for a long one. (I will continue to add items to this page as they come up)
If you want to brush up on my previous MSOL write ups, first I talked about why we chose MSOL Hosted Exchange. Next, I moved on to the migration process, and then followed it up with a post about how the service worked with Outlook 2003/2007 from a user standpoint. Finally, what it is like to administer it.
I have a lot of complaints. I use it every day, and I notice the loss in granularity of control an Exchange Server gave you. Whatever was wrong, if you dug through enough help file and TechNet forums you could find some .ini file or setting that controlled what you wanted. If you need this, then no hosted Exchange solution is right for you.
Complaints aside, I previewed quite a few other services’ offerings, and MSOL’s was the best. It’s really easy, fairly complete, and doesn’t look like a train wreck of nested menus. Instead of a Pro/Con list, I thought I’d mix them all together as I think of them, and shuffle as needed. That’ll let me keep items of the same topic nearby each other. Also, make sure you check at the end of the article for a screen-by-screen walk-through of the Admin panel.
I use the term ‘domain account’ in here while referring to the accounts you will create with MSOL Hosted Exchange. It’s the best term I have. Hosted Exchange has nothing to do with your domain, except for receiving information from Active Directory if you use the AD Sync tool, and eventually being the target of your MX records.
Wherever you see “[MSOL will it for you]” at the bottom of a link, that indicates that the functionality is available to you, but MSOL support has to do the job for you by actually sitting at their exchange servers. Their usual line is that- *ahem*
“In order to fully isolate out clients’ domains that are coexisting with each other on our servers, certain functionality has to be removed from our customer’s control. We will add more functionality as the service matures.”
-Cpl Shoe, paraphrasing MSOL Reps.
You can’t (easily) set up forwarding of an account to an outside domain.
You can have an account automatically forward to any other domain account with the option to retain or delete the email. That’s easy, and it works. You can create a ‘Contact’ with an external email address and forward the domain user’s email to the contact, except for one small detail: It won’t actually happen. [MSOL will it for you]
MSOL Support rocks (mostly)
Their ticketing system works nicely, and you always receive a response within 24 hours, usually less. If they don’t fully understand the problem, or they think it is more urgent than should be handled through email, you’ll get a phone call along with the email response. Their techs are knowledgeable, don’t use scripted solutions, are understandable, and friendly.
My only complaints on this item is that their ticketing system doesn’t allow you to send them anything except text. You cannot attach screenshots of errors, log files, etc. Once a conversation is started they will gladly give their email out for those kinds of tasks, but it adds an extra step. (I post screenshots to our web server and include a link to them in the ticket) Also, tickets that are escalated past the first tier seem to get forgotten about and sometimes require a follow-up call from you.
The Active Directory Synchronization tool doesn’t work with Win2k Servers.
You say “Hey, it’s ancient, what do you want?”. I respond “An easy way to transfer all my users to your service that I wouldn’t need nearly as much if I had newer servers.” I’d love to be able to write about how much time this tool saves me, but I cannot.
User Passwords. This needs fixing.
Currently, (as of this post’s date) a user must change their password every 90 days, and cannot use any of their past 24 passwords. Also, the user can only change their password once every 24 hours maximum. What does this accomplish? My first thought was that it stopped you from using a password up to 6 years old, which is pointless. BUT, I’m an avid Security Now listener. They’re trying to stop people from doing a password trick I had just recently learned about on their show. (Basically, group policy typically only mandates that the system remembers your last three passwords. So you change it four times all at once, and make the fourth password your original) In my opinion, Microsoft is not doing this for our protection, they are doing it for their own.
A second problem is that currently, users will not be notified by email that their passwords are expiring. They only get a warning if they have installed the MSOL Sign In tool. Any users we have that are using OWA on a machine without the tool will get no warning that their password is expiring until they fail to login.
When we first signed up, each license allotted 5GB of storage to your pool of available storage. Then, you could draw from this pool and assign an appropriate amount to each user (256MB-25GB). 5GB was enough, but a little tight for our purposes. We had users with years of mass marketing emails that needed to be stored, and CAD users with archived blocks and scripts from jobs past. It makes no sense to delete email for the sake of storage. Storage is cheap, and the labor that went into each email is worth more than the space it needs to occupy. That’s why we were very excited when MSOL increased the storage allotted per license to 25GB! We went from having just enough storage to having hundreds of GB free for use. A Huge plus! 50 users allots us 1.25TB of storage that can be distributed as needed.
Check out this walk through of the Admin Panel! I hope you find it useful: