BPOS active Directory Synchronization does not work on 64bit or domain controllers.

Thinking about BPOS to host the exchange mail for your small office? – I discovered a small gotcha this afternoon but first a couple of thoughts in our recent experiences between Google Apps and Microsoft BPOS.

We’ve had several requests from clients to host their email in the cloud using services like google apps or Microsoft Hosted Exchange. Our first deployments were with google apps due to the lower cost per year, but as we’ve found out the support from Google is severely lacking.  We had a peculiar issue where one users email sent through outlook would get marked as spam all the time, yet if they used the gmail web interface and sent exactly the same content the mail would get sent with no problems.  The service that marks the destination mail as spam is postini – now owned by Google so it should really be a simple matter of turning over the problem to Google to investigate. Unfortunately Google’s response so our request was basically “thanks – if we feel like getting back to you, we might do – in a couple of days”.   As it turned out, the issue was resolved by deleting the google sync profile and recreating it again.

Contrast this to a Microsoft issue which started off as a pre-sales technical call to get a user id setup and ended up with the gtlv owa issue I blogged about earlier. I had several calls from Microsoft within an hour to work on the issue. They worked really hard to ensure my problems were solved and it almost felt like they were harassing me as they kept following up for a status even though I’d told them a couple of times that I was happy for the case to be closed – I even got a call at 5pm on Saturday afternoon from support – something I’ve not experienced (at least from a end user experience!)

So, after singing Microsoft’s praises – the gotcha.  Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange service has a directory sync service that synchronises AD information to the cloud ready for newly created users and distribution lists to appear in the hosted exchange environment. Unfortunately, according to the Directory Synchronization prerequisites the server needs to be running 32bit AND not be a domain controller.   Unfortunately for small companies just starting out from a peer to peer network and getting their first server (but don’t want SBS2008 for some reason), this first server is very likely to be 64bit (crazy not to nowadays) and also a domain controller – possibly/probably even THE domain controller. Installing a 32bit member server is totally out of the question.   It’s not *that* big a deal as all the information can be created online, but it’s twice the amount of data entry along with the possibility of typos but also every AD change of membership and user creation/deletion now needs to be duplicated online.  For large organizations this is not going to be a problem as they’ll likely have extra servers lying around, but for small businesses this is very unlikely. For very large organizations (ie Universities hosting mail through live.edu) it seems that the AD sync program actually requires extra software functionality with the Identity Lifecycle Manager (ILM) package (however I’m not too familiar with these details just yet)

This is the second flaw in Microsoft’s online feature list that extols the virtues of Microsoft vs Google that I’ve found – Active Directory synchronization is not always possible and the other is the benefit of not having to download an application to synchronize data from outlook to the cloud/google – fair enough a client doesn’t have to be downloaded for that application but instead a single signon client needs to be downloaded to prevent the various Microsoft apps asking for the password multiple times. I did think that was the whole point of the “save password” option is for in the outlook and browser applications!

I was also really surprised that the Exchange online is not running Exchange2010 – the Outlook Web App is so much nicer in 2010 compared to 2007 – as I run Outlook 2010 at home and Exchange2010 in the office I’m spoilt (but I still need Office 2010 on the work laptop – thats hopefully coming real soon)

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