It’s amazing to believe that Microsoft Ignite was over a month ago. With 1,610 sessions Microsoft gave us a massive amount of announcements and demonstrations of new product features. This included Exchange 2019.
If not already, I highly recommend checking out 15 Ignite sessions every Exchange admin should see. Each session in this article includes extensive notes on what each session contained. In addition, those notes contain timers so you can jump to the section that interests you the most. Hopefully, it will also serve as a reference if you need to search for a certain announcement or feature weeks (or even months) down the road.
Here is what Ignite taught us about Exchange 2019.
Changes to Exchange development
The tagline for Exchange 2016 was that it was “forged in the cloud”. This was a result of Exchange Online and Exchange on-prem sharing a common code base. The greatest benefit of this common code was that it ran in the cloud for a number of months before shipping on-prem as a cumulative update. By the time the code was released on-prem, it had been more than validated as stable and able to run at scale.
Going forward Microsoft has separated Exchange on-prem into its own code branch. This means that Exchange online is no longer driving cumulative updates for on-prem. What will drive updates are security patches and feature requests from customers. So, be sure to make your voice heard on UserVoice, at conferences, and in the various TAP programs.
While Microsoft currently plans to keep cumulative updates quarterly, they have opened up the conversation on whether updates should occur less frequently. Common feedback is that the current release cadence of quarterly cumulative updates is too aggressive for some customers. The product group also believes this could result in more stable releases.
No more Unified Messaging
Unified Messaging was the ability to deliver voicemails to your inbox. These voicemails could be played directly from the email message body with playback controls. Voicemail also included a transcription service which would translate the speech in the voicemail to text, and include that text in the message body.
With the accessibility of Exchange from a multitude of devices including the web, this meant you could access your voicemail from anywhere you had an internet or telephone connection. You could also continue to access voicemail from your desk phone.
Other features of Exchange unified messaging included auto-attendants, call answering rules, missed call notifications & Outlook Voice Access.
With Exchange 2019, these features will be removed from the product.
This does not come as much of a shock. We really have not seen much development in Exchange unified messaging since the 2010 days. With most third-party PBX systems, such as Cisco or Avaya, shipping their own unified messaging we rarely saw unified messaging outside of Skype for Business deployments.
For on-premises Skype for Business customers, Microsoft’s recommendation is to leverage Cloud Voicemail. Cloud Voicemail can be used with both mailboxes on-prem and in the cloud, but only if you are using Skype for Business 2019. While Skype for Business 2015 can leverage Cloud Voicemail, it can only do so for Exchange Online mailboxes.
For migration scenarios, Microsoft recommends upgrading to Skype for Business 2019 prior to upgrading to Exchange 2019. If you were to do this in reverse (and migrate to Exchange 2019 before deploying Cloud Voicemail) all users will lose voicemail. Migrating a UM-enabled mailbox to Exchange 2019 will switch that mailbox to UM-disabled.
You can also stagger your migration. For example, Skype for Business 2019 can continue to use unified messaging on Exchange 2013 and 2016. With Exchange 2016 not going end of life until 2026, you have a supported solution for the next 8 years. Same goes if you are using a third-party PBX system.
If you do not want to leverage Cloud Voicemail with Skype, or, your PBX system does not have its own unified messaging option, you can look at third-party solutions such as those provided by AVST or XMedius.
The removal of the Unified Messaging code (and the UM Language Packs) means the ISO for Exchange 2019 is 20% smaller than its Exchange 2016 counterpart. This also results in a smaller attack surface for Exchange, fewer files on the disk, and a faster install.
For more information on Skype for Business 2019 check out the Ignite session Everything you need to know about Skype for Business Server.
That’s enough about what is going away. Let’s discuss some of the cool new things coming to Exchange 2019. The first topic is improved search.
One of the big announcements at Ignite 2017 was the addition of Bing technology in Exchange Online. Codenamed “BigFunnel” search was completely redesigned in Exchange Online to provide faster and more consistent search results.
That same technology is shipping in Exchange 2019. BigFunnel replaces the current need for dedicated search indexes by storing search data in the mailbox database. Search data is generated during transport and stored in each user’s mailbox.
This means we will no longer have potentially massive search index files that
With the search indexes now ingested into the mailbox database itself, all search data will be replicated through the normal log shipping method of the database.
Microsoft states that this new search architecture uses less CPU and RAM.
Microsoft has further stated that Outlook 2019 (when used in conjunction with Exchange 2019) will first attempt to pull results directly from the server. This is in contrast to prior versions of Outlook, which may return different results based on whether the client is configured in cached mode or not. This means that the search results across all devices, including Outlook on the Web, should be identical.
MetaCache Database (MCDB)
The MetaCache Database (“MCDB”) was another feature announced back at Ignite 2017. This feature has been rolled out to Exchange Online for some time and will be making its on-prem debut in Exchange 2019.
The MCDB caches key data from mailbox databases that include search data, mailbox folder structures, and other very small items. The MCDB is stored on a solid state disk which offers lower latency and greater IOPS than traditional spindle disks. This architecture allows for 50% faster logins and 50% faster search.
The benefit of the MCDB is that it is giving you a tiered storage approach. Items that benefit from low latency such as search and mailbox folder structure are cached on SSDs. Other data such as message bodies and attachments are served directly from the mailbox database on the spindle disks. This tiered approach gives you the benefit of added performance without breaking the bank.
Should the MCDB or the hosting SSD fail, all mailbox requests will be served directly from the mailbox database. To recover the MCDB simply replace the SSD and generate a new MCDB. The simplicity of the MCDB means that neither it or the SSD has to be highly available. What this does mean is that you must size your Exchange environment based on the achievable IOPS of the spindle disks, not the SSDs.
Configuration wise Microsoft requires 1 SSD for every 3 spindles. With up to 4 databases per spindle, this allows for 12 database copies (active or passive) to be cached per SSD. The requirement for an identical drive layout for each database availability group member also extends to the SSDs. So, if you have 9 HDs and 3 SSDs in one server, that configuration must be mirrored in each other DAG member.
One of the challenges when implementing an MCDB is that the SSDs have the potential to tie up drive bays that could be used for additional mailbox storage. One solution is to leverage M.2 SSDs for the MCDB, which do not utilize a drive bay.
Another challenge is the added complexity of implementing an MCDB in environments that are virtualized or have their storage delivered via a SAN.
The more costly alternative (and one where MCDB would make little sense) would be to deploy Exchange to 100% flash storage.
For more information on MCDB and BigFunnel check out the Ignite session Email search in a flash! Accelerating Exchange 2019 with SSDs. For study notes and timers on that session click here.
Dynamic Database Cache
In previous versions of Exchange, the amount of RAM allocated to active and passive copies was fixed. The problem with this approach was that the total RAM allocated to all database copies might be less than the total RAM available to Jet, resulting in unused RAM.
Exchange 2019 introduces a feature called the Dynamic Database Cache. This features dynamically allocates RAM based on the number of database copies. This ensures that all RAM available to Jet is allocated to a database.
Under this new model Microsoft has seen a 3-7% reduction in I/O.
Combing Dynamic Database Cache with MCDB, Microsoft has seen a reduction of client/server latency by up to 50%. Microsoft also states that these two enhancements allow for 20% more users per Exchange server.
User Experience Improvements
Exchange 2019 introduces the Do Not Forward option. This option allows a meeting organizer to select whether a meeting recipient can forward the meeting to another recipient.
In the screenshot below you will see the forward option has been greyed out in OWA. In addition, a warning is displayed stating that the meeting organizer has disabled forwarding.
The default end date for recurring meetings has also been changed. Previously, recurring meetings had a default end date of no expiration. Over time, and especially when customizations were made to individual instances, these meetings could become corrupt.
The new default end date varies based on the frequency of your recurring meeting. For example, a daily meeting will typically have a default end date of 90 days. Whereas a monthly meeting will receive an end date of 1 year.
Setting an end date should eliminate the most common item to become corrupt in a mailbox, which in turn should result in less corrupt items when moving or migrating a mailbox.
Exchange 2019 also added support for a new cmdlet. Remove-CalendarEvents allows an administrator to remove meetings from an organizer’s mailbox. This is useful in situations where the organizer may have left the company or is on an extended leave of absence.
Exchange 2019 also adds three new Out Of Office (OOF) options including:
- Automatically decline meeting invites received during the OOF
- Clear existing meetings during the OOF
- Mark the user’s calendar as blocked during the OOF
Exchange 2019 adds support for Email Address Internationalization (“EAI”). This allows Exchange users to send and receive an email to and from recipients with alphabets in the following character sets:
While this permits the transmission of email to the following character sets, this does not add support for those characters in accepted domains, email address policies, or, proxy addresses.
Support for Server Core
Exchange 2019 will support installation on Windows Server Core. This offers a number of benefits including:
- Improved performance
- Smaller attack surface
- Smaller disk footprint
- Less things to patch / update
Microsoft recommends installing Exchange on Server Core. For a great resource on this installation process, check out the article Deploy Exchange Server 2019 on Windows Server Core.
For more information on managing Windows Server Core check the series What is the Server Core installation option in Windows Server?
Note: It is still possible to install Exchange on a server with a full GUI.
TLS 1.2 enforced
Exchange 2019 will only support TLS 1.2. This means that TLS 1.0 and 1.1 are no longer supported. This also means that your older Exchange servers need to be configured to support TLS 1.2 when it comes to coexistence. For more information on getting your existing environment ready for TLS 1.2, check out the article Exchange Server TLS guidance.
Exchange 2019 will also prioritize the cipher order to prefer elliptic curve key exchange & forward key secrecy. In addition, on install Exchange will disable a number of legacy algorithms, including RC2, RC4, DES, 3DES, MD5 & SHA.
The sum of these changes means that Exchange is the most secure it has ever been right of out the box.
Exchange 2019 system requirements
The minimum coexistence for Exchange 2019 will be Exchange 2013. Customers still on Exchange 2010 will need to perform a double-hop migration. Migrating to either Exchange 2013 or 2016 first, eliminating Exchange 2010 completely, and then migrating to Exchange 2019. Likewise, the minimum version of Outlook will be 2013. Outlook 2010 clients will need to be upgraded.
This should come as no surprise as Microsoft has always maintained an N-2 model when it comes to coexistence. For example, Exchange 2016 dropped support for 2007, and Exchange 2013 dropped support for 2003.
In addition, Exchange 2019 will require a minimum operating system of Windows Server 2019. This requirement is due to security enhancements made in Exchange 2019 that are dependant on Windows Server 2019 code. Windows Server 2019 also comes preinstalled with .NET Framework 4.7.2. This means the requirement for Exchange 2019 will be .NET 4.7.2.
Minimum RAM requirements for the Mailbox role have increased to 128 GB (64 GB for the Edge role). The maximum supported RAM has also increased to 256 GB. Exchange 2016 remains capped at 192 GB RAM.
PageFile sizing is now 25% of total RAM. Exchange 2016 was configured as RAM + 10MB (capped at 32GB).
The maximum processor count has also been increased to 48 cores. Exchange 2016 remains capped at 24 cores.
Here is an overview of the system requirements:
- Windows Server 2019
- .NET Framework 4.7.2
- Visual C++
- Forest Functional Level of Server 2012 R2 or higher
- 128 GB RAM for Mailbox role (max of 256 GB RAM)
- 64 GB RAM for Edge role (max of 256 GB RAM)
- Page file equal to 25% of physical RAM
- Minimum coexistence with Exchange 2013 CU21 & 2016 CU11
- Minimum client support of Outlook 2013
The Exchange Server Role Requirements calculator has been updated to support these new requirements.
For a full list of all system requirements check the article Exchange Server system requirements.
On the roadmap
During the Ignite session Welcome to Exchange Server 2019, the following roadmap items were discussed:
- Modern authentication
- Extending client access rules to other protocols
- Mailbox encryption with Customer Key
- Monitoring & Analytic tools
- Block legacy authentication
- Removing support for RPC over HTTP
- Simplified calendar sharing
A timeline has not been provided for these items.
Where do I get it?
One of the new limitations is that Exchange 2019 will only be available via volume license. Exchange will no longer be available via other license programs.
What do you think?
What feature would you like to see in Exchange 2019? Drop a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter