10 (mostly) free Exchange admin tools

If you’re in charge of an Exchange deployment of almost any size, there’s something in here for you.

Troubleshooting does not have to be expensive, nor does daily administration of your mail servers and messaging environment. There are, in fact, a wealth of resources available for Exchange administrators to monitor health, administer users, migrate mailboxes to the cloud and even take care of old data that is stored insecurely and uncatalogued. But it’s often difficult to know where to look for these software assists.

These tools are all aimed at Exchange 2010 Service Pack 1 and up, including Exchange Online and Office 365, although I have noted where previous versions of Exchange are supported by each of these tools.

Out of the 10 tools shown here, nine are free; all should be part of any Exchange administrator’s toolbox.

The Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer
This is an indispensable companion and really helpful for any Exchange administrator. The ExRCA, as it is called, is a site Microsoft runs that functions as a remote client for Exchange, Outlook, the Autodiscover service and more. It’s like having a free laptop stationed at a remote site that you can control right from your desk.

You can test if remote clients can connect to Exchange, if your certificates are configured correctly, if your autodiscover records are provisioned correctly, if mobile devices can connect over ActiveSync properly and much more. Each test runs quickly and provides detailed feedback about all of the diagnostics that are performed with each submission. Free.

SMTP logging
If you’re having pesky mail flow issues and, in particular, you’re having trouble sending or receiving messages outside of your internal mailboxes, then turn on SMTP logging. This lets Exchange basically print a transcript of everything that it sees over an SMTP connection session, and makes it a ton easier to figure out exactly what an error is. A best practice is to enable SMTP logging only when you are having trouble, as the logs are so detailed that in high-volume mail settings, your disks could fill up quickly. There are three levels available; for troubleshooting purposes, choose the highest, but don’t forget to turn it off after you’ve finished. This tool is free.

Test-ExchangeServerHealth Script, by Paul Cunningham
Microsoft Exchange Server MVP Paul Cunningham has created a clever little PowerShell script that tests Exchange servers and database availability groups for errors and problems, and outputs that information into a nicely formatted HTML report that can be automatically scheduled to be e-mailed to you, perhaps every morning or weekly. It works with Exchange Server 2010 and can be easily customized to check for other issues specific to your own environment. Best of all, it’s free if you become an “insider” on his website, which is also a no-cost proposition. Cunningham’s website is a very useful resource for information about all versions of Exchange and Office 365. Free.

ManageEngine Free Exchange Health Monitor
This tool does many of the same things as Cunningham’s script, but runs as a regular Windows application. It monitors various Exchange mailbox queues and the required Exchange system services, provides details for Outlook Web Access like page response and search time, and looks at your memory performance to see if paging is occurring. It also profiles usage details and you can set custom thresholds for various alerts; the tool will notify you when these thresholds are exceeded. It monitors both Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013 servers. You can download it from the ManageEngine website, where you’ll also find free tools to monitor Azure, SharePoint, Windows and more. Free.

If your deployment involves public folders of any kind, then the ExFolders tool straight from the horse’s mouth at Microsoft should be in your toolbox. ExFolders works with permissions on public folders, including fixing them after other tools mess up those permissions, importing and exporting those permissions for migrations or other system maintenance, accessing other mailboxes and more. ExFolders can look at data on Exchange 2007 even though it runs on Exchange 2010. It is particularly handy for viewing deleted items in your public folder hierarchy as well as verifying that replication on the public folder hierarchy has taken place. Tip: Run it from the Exchange ServerV14BIN subfolder, or the tool will crash on you without any explanation. Free.

Microsoft Exchange Server Jetstress 2010 (32-bit) and Exchange 2013
Jetstress puts a real load on the input and output components of your Exchange systems and is a great way to verify that your systems are ready for production use. You can set the user count and the profile of the user activity that your deployment represents, and then Jetstress will simulate both database (mailbox) and log file loads so that you can be sure you have adequate horsepower, and headroom for growth. You can even run it on production servers during off-peak times to see where you are on the performance spectrum and what upgrades you might need to run. There’s also a 64-bit version for Exchange 2010.

Steve Goodman’s Exchange Environment Report Tool
Another Exchange MVP, Steve Goodman, has created a PowerShell script for health-related reports. This tool gives you information about Exchange servers’ update levels, the number of mailboxes per version level, basic information about Office 365 mailboxes, a breakdown per site of the number of mailboxes and much more. The tool works with Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013 servers and can also pull limited information in the aggregate from any Exchange 2007 servers you may have. If you have a hybrid Office 365-Exchange on-premises environment, this script is a better fit for you than the other free PowerShell script profiled earlier; otherwise, it essentially comes down to which tool creates the report format you find most appealing or useful. Free.

Microsoft Exchange PST Capture 2.0
The bane of many an Exchange administrator’s existence are these pesky PST files, full of corporate email messages, potentially sensitive attachments and valuable legal information, all just lurking around storage areas on desktops, workstations, network shares, SANs and more, and all uncataloged. Microsoft released the free Exchange PST Capture tool, now in Version 2.0, to help discover these PSTs through agents that are installed on systems throughout your network. The agents talk to the PST Capture Central Service, which keeps a central log of all PST files the agents find and then imports those PSTs into Exchange on premises or Exchange Online or Office 365 mailboxes as you see fit. Free.

The Exchange Thumbnail Photo Manager
Score one in the user satisfaction column: Mike Pfeiffer has created a nice forms application, backed by a PowerShell script, that makes it super easy to upload into Active Directory the little thumbnail photos that users love. With this tool, you pick the mailbox, pick the photo and then click Upload. As long as users have the correct roles assigned, you can delegate this task to human resources or departmental administrative assistants and make quick work of keeping your Active Directory photos up to date. Highly recommended. Free.

These days, much of an Exchange administrator’s job can be migrations — from one platform to another or, more likely, migrations of mailbox data from on-premises systems into the cloud. MigrationWiz makes short work of any of these migrations. It works with basically every version of Exchange still in operation, Office 365, Google Apps, Lotus Domino, IMAP, POP and seemingly all things in between. The basic license at $9 does just a single pass of a mailbox, but the $11 premium license does a first pass of the mailbox and then later syncs to catch any mail that trickles in after a migration cutover point. Between $9 and $11 per mailbox, depending on license level.

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October 2014
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