A Brighter Future For Public Folders?

The Exchange Team posted a blog entry asking for feedback on how we use public folders. Nice to see they are taking an interest again. The past 4 years the mantra was “move away from them”, “do it now while you still have the time”, etc. SharePoint was always put forwards as number one replacement option. For some scenarios this is indeed a good choice but let’s face it, for some public folder uses there is no decent replacement and that hurts us as they haven’t seen any decent improvements in the last 2 Exchange releases. I know public folders have always been a bit problematic and finicky for us administrators. They tend to need a bit of voodoo and patience to trouble shoot and get running smoothly (see  blog post by me for an example of this). But instead of using that of an excuse to get rid of them they could also choose to invest in making them as reliable and robust as mail databases. Giving them the same high availability features might also be a welcome improvement, especially now with DAGs in Exchange 2010.

Especially in the Exchange 2007 era Microsoft was promoting getting rid of them actively. But they are still around because so many people use them and they have not decent alternative for all scenarios. In that respect they do listen to their customers. But we want improvements. Some of the functionality we need is there but we really need more robust, reliable and high available public folders. As as shared mail instrument for both sending and receiving mail in a team public folders beat shared mailboxes and SharePoint any time.  It also shines for maintaining a shared repository of contacts. I’m not a proponent of using public folder for a document repository but I understand that its relative simple usage and data protection via replicas still sounds attractive to some versus the complexity of SharePoint. Sure SharePoint has more to offer but perhaps they don’t need those capabilities and to make matters even less attractive; it’s quite an effort to migrate from public folders to SharePoint.

So that left us public folders users feeling a bit abandoned with a message of get out but no easy path to go anywhere else that serves all our needs. So until today all my customers are still and want to  keep using public folders. They are a worried however that one day they will be left out in the cold. But perhaps there is a better future on the horizon for public folders.  They are asking us to “Help us learn more about how you use public folders today!” in that blog post. The emphasis is on “usage scenarios, folder management habits or thought process around public folder data organization”. So if you need and use public folders in any way and you’d like for them to get more attention and evolve into more robust and functional instruments give Microsoft your feedback. Exchange 2010 has brought us great features & very affordable high availability together with support for virtualization. Now we either need a better alternative to public folders than the ones we got now or (my preference) we need better public folders. Since consumption of public folders occurs mostly in Outlook I would suggest the latter. And while we’re asking, bring back access to folder shares in OWA Winking smile.

Exchange 2010 SP1 Public Folder High Availability Returns with Roll Up 2

Al lot of people were cheering in the inter active session on Exchange 2010 SP1 High Availability with Scott Schnoll and Ross Smith of the Exchange Team. They announced (between goofing around) that the alternate server that provides failover to the clients (so they can select another public folder database to connect to) for public folders and that is sadly missing from Exchange 2010 would return with Exchange 2010 SP 1 Roll Up 2. This feature is needed by Outlook to automatically connect to an alternate public folder and it’s return means that high availability will finally be achievable for public folders in Exchange 2010 SP1. That’s great news and frankly an “oversight” that shouldn’t have happened even in Exchange 2010 RTM. The issue is described in knowledge base article “You cannot open a public folder item when the default public folder database for the mailbox database is unavailable in an Exchange Server 2010 environment” which you can find here  http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2409597.

In previous versions of exchange you made public folders highly available to Outlook clients by having replica’s. The Outlook clients could access an replica on another server if the default public folders as defined in the client settings of the database was not available. Clustering in Exchange 2010 does nothing for public folders. In Exchange 2010 the Outlook clients connect directly to the mailbox server in order to get to a public folder so they do not leverage the CAS or CAS array. Also the DAG does not support public folders and as clustering happens at the database level on DAG members and no longer at the server level we no longer get any high availability for the clients with clustering in Exchange 2010. Sure, if you have multiple replica’s the data is highly available but the access to another replica/database/server for public folder doesn’t happen automatically in Outlook when you’re running Exchange 2010. To make that happen you need an alternate server to be offered to the client for selection But as this feature is missing in Exchange 2010 up until SP1 Roll Up 1 in reality until now you need to keep using Exchange 2003/2007 to have public folder high availability.  Exchange 2010 SP1 Roll Up 2 will change that. I call that good news.

Exchange 2010 Public Folder Worries At Customer: No existing ‘PublicFolderProxyInformation’ matches the following Identity

A customers was recently using the EMC GUI in their Exchange 2010 environment, having a look a the public folder properties when they got this error:

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Microsoft Exchange
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Can’t log on to the Exchange Mailbox server ‘DAGMBX.demolab.com’. No existing ‘PublicFolderProxyInformation’ matches the following Identity: ‘demolabHeadQuartersFincanceDepartmentFiscalUnit’. Make sure that you specified the correct ‘PublicFolderProxyInformation’ Identity and that you have the necessary permissions to view ‘PublicFolderProxyInformation’.. It was running the command ‘Get-MailPublicFolder -Identity ”demolabHeadQuartersFincanceDepartmentFiscalUnit” -Server ‘DAGMBX.demolab.com”.
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OK  
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Hey … when did this start?  They never complained about this before, but did they ever use it.This probably was actually the first time they tried to look/edit the public folder permissions after doing the following over the past month and in this particular order:

  1. Moving to Exchange 2010 SP1
  2. Removing the last Exchange 2007 servers from the organization.

Now I know about a bug that exist and that was recently blogged about by Dan Rowley in Exchange 2010 get-mailpublicfolder name returns No existing ‘PublicFolderProxyInformation’. The point is that there should be a mailbox database mounted on the server that has the System Attendant mailbox associated with it.  However, this is not the case here.  The mailbox servers are member of a DAG and all of them host a copy of the PF. The replication runs fine, users can work with them, the remaining Outlook 2003 users report no issues. But there is more in that blog: “Basically the work around is to mount a mailbox store on the server that is generating the error, or if there is a database already mounted – verify the system attendant is properly configured to point to a valid homemdb.” Now that last point is interesting and indeed that was the issue here. On two members of the DAG the homeMDB attribute was not set. Now what could be the root cause of this? I don’t know, certainly not in this case. All things have been done by the book … Ah well, luckily the fix is not very difficult. We need to put a valid entry in the homemdb. In this case we’ll take the value of the DAG member that had it filled in. This seems to be the most recently created database in the DAG. In Exchange 2010 this is done as described below. Note we have a DAG here, so we can work with any database that has a valid copy on the server(s) in question.

How to check the homeMDB attribute value:

  • Start ADSI Edit and navigate to CN=Configuration,DC=,DC=,DC=/Services/Microsoft Exchange//Administrative Groups/Exchange Administrative Group (FYDIBOHF23SPDLT)//Servers/MBXServerWithIssue
  • Right-click Microsoft System Attendant, and then click Properties to display the  Attributes list and find the homeMDB attribute.
  • If the homeMDB attribute has a value make sure  it points to a valid mailbox database. If the value of the homeMDB attribute is empty (not set) or incorrect you need to fix this.

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How Fix the homeMDB attribute value:

  • In ADSI Edit navigate to Start ADSI Edit and navigate to CN=Configuration,DC=,DC=,DC=/Services/Microsoft Exchange//Administrative Groups/Exchange Administrative Group (FYDIBOHF23SPDLT)/Databases."
  • Right-click a mailbox database that is local (NON DAG) or has a valid copy on the server (DAG) , select Properties and in  the Attributes list, select the distinguishedName, and then click View.
  • Copy the value of the distinguishedName attribute and close the dialogs

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NOTE in this particular case we can copy the value that was filled in the homeMDB attribute on one of the DAG members. You might not have one set in any.

  • Right-click Microsoft System Attendant, and then click Properties to get to the Attributes list, click homeMDB, and then choose Edit
  • In the Value box, paste the value that you copied form the distinguishedName attribute
  • Close the dialog boxes and exit ADSI Edit

When you’ve don this you’ll find following entry in the application event viewer:

Log Name:      Application

Source:        MSExchangeSA

Date:          11/2/2010 3:25:59 PM

Event ID:      9159

Task Category: General

Level:         Warning

Keywords:      Classic

User:          N/A

Computer:      DAGMBX.demolab.com

Description:

Microsoft Exchange System Attendant has detected that the system attendant object in the DS has been modified. System Attendant needs to restart the Microsoft Exchange Free Busy Publishing Service.

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After that, I wait 10 minutes to get AD replicated and make sure to close the EMC and start it again and voila, it’s fixed.

Exchange 2007-2010 Public Folders Issues “The Active Directory user wasn’t found.”

I was working on an Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2010 project when we ran into trouble creating our first public folder database on an Exchange 2010 server. Mind you, this was just creating the database. We did not even set up replication for this database yet. All mailboxes still resided in Exchange 2007 databases pointing to an Exchange 2007 public folder. Very soon after creating the database we got notified users could no longer send mails to mail enabled public folders. The exact error was this:

554 5.6.0 STOREDRV.Deliver.Exception:ObjectNotFoundException; Failed to process message due to a permanent exception with message The Active Directory user wasn’t found.

Also browsing of the public folders in Outlook was slow and the application froze/hung. These issues where fixed very fast by getting rid of the still unused public folder database all together. Now we could commence our search for the root cause. The error seemed related to the issue described in Public Folder Replication Fails Due To Empty Legacy Administrative Group which can be found @ http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2010/05/05/454821.aspx  The blog describes this error during replication:

Log Name: Application

Source: MSExchange Store Driver

Event ID: 1020

Level: Error

Description:

The store driver couldn’t deliver the public folder replication message “Hierarchy (PublicFolder@contoso.com)” because the following error occurred: The Active Directory user wasn’t found.

But apart from replication not working there were other, more severe issues impacting end users who can still all be on Exchange 2007. The hanging of the outlook clients and mail enabled folders no longer being available. Dave Stork blogged about this in http://blogs.dirteam.com/blogs/davestork/archive/2010/03/16/mail-enabled-public-folder-recipient-not-found.aspx

Now the first mentions of the replication issue have been reported back in November 2009 (see http://get-exchange.blogspot.com/2009/11/public-folder-mayhem-exchange-2010.html) but still hasn’t been fixed. For the moment that fix is planned to be included in E2K10 RU5. Currently we’re at RU3, so that might well be august 2010.

The workaround described in above mentioned blog posts works & is effective immediately. Now they described the issue and the fix very well but I’ll add to tips.

Tip 1

“Practical End User Friendly Detection” of this issue can be done using exfolders.exe. You can read more about this tool here: “Exchange, meet ExFolders” (http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2009/12/04/453399.aspx).The error only occurs when you create a public folder on Exchange 2010 and can be very annoying for the users so I’ll share this tip with you. Download the tool here http://msexchangeteam.com/files/12/attachments/entry453398.aspx and install it on an Exchange 2010 server in the bin directory (follow the readme.txt and don’t forget to merge the .reg file or the tool will crash). Running exfolders.exe and connect against any Exchange 2007 public folder. When you get this error …

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ExFolders

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An error occurred while trying to establish a connection to the Exchange server. Exception: The Active Directory user wasn’t found.

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OK  

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… you know you are affected. Deleting the empty Servers containers from ALL legacy Administrative Groups fixes the error. You then can connect successfully to a Exchange 2007 public folder with exfolder.exe. Which is a cool way to test for this issue and if the fix works as you don’t need to create a public folder and possibly hinder you users.

Tip 2

Also note that you need to delete  (using ADSIEDIT) every empty servers container out of every legacy Administrative Group, not just or only the one in the “First Administrative Group”. Don’t worry if you renamed that one to something more descriptive, that doesn’t matter at all. All the servers containers in the legacy Administrative Group should be empty I you have no more E2K3 servers left in your exchange organization. Feel free to leave comments on your experiences.

PF2010Bug