ExBPA, Round 2

Former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Mark Lucovsky recently ignited somewhat of a brouhaha by claiming in his blog ( http://mark-lucovsky.blogspot.com ) that Microsoft has forgotten how to ship software. As a neat counterpoint to this claim, the Exchange team just shipped version 2.0 of the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer (ExBPA) tool. (For more information about what ExBPA is and what it does, see "The Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer Tool" at http://www.windowsitpro.com/Windows/Article/ArticleID/44008/44008.html .)

The new tool's biggest improvement, to my mind, is its integration with the Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) toolset. You can extend the base MOM product with management packs that add monitoring and control functionality for specific server products, including Exchange. Wisely, the MOM team generally makes the management packs freely available to customers who have licensed copies of MOM. Accordingly, an increasing number of sites are standardizing on MOM as their primary management and monitoring tool for Exchange and its Active Directory (AD) infrastructure. ExBPA 2.0 provides MOM support by exposing the data it gathers for analysis to MOM's reporting and monitoring tools.
This feature is important because of two MOM capabilities: synthetic alerting and state-based monitoring. These capabilities are easier to demonstrate than they are to explain, but I'll give it a shot.
Synthetic alerting means that MOM can monitor the alert messages generated by Exchange (or ExBPA or any other MOM-aware application or service) and generate alerts based on what the underlying application is doing. Instead of having to monitor the event log yourself, MOM can use synthetic alerting to scan for events and alert you with the same console you use to monitor everything else that's happening in your environment.
State-based monitoring collapses MOM's knowledge of the health and status of your environment into simple red/yellow/green symbology. You can always dig into the monitoring data to see exactly what's happening, but having summarized state data makes it easy to see, at a glance, what your Exchange and infrastructure servers are doing.
But enough about MOM; this column is ostensibly about ExBPA. In addition to its support for MOM, ExBPA adds support for several additional languages (including simplified and traditional Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish). ExBPA also adds several new collectors (Microsoft's term for the objects that collect specific types of configuration data for analysis). New in this release are collectors for DNS data, security and distribution group expansion settings, last backup times for storage groups and databases, and permissions. In addition, ExBPA 2.0 adds more export features, better support for scanning from the command line, and the ability to schedule scans.
If you' aren't using ExBPA, you're missing out. As many experienced administrators have noted, just because ExBPA flags something isn't a guarantee that the items it finds are actually flaws. But ExBPA scans help provide a solid backstop to your usual operational and change-management practices and catches things that you might otherwise miss. When used as part of a regular assessment process, ExBPA can help you ensure that your Exchange environment meets your business needs for performance and availability.
On May 10, the ExBPA team will present a Webcast about the new version (see the first URL below). In the meantime, you can download the latest version of ExBPA from Microsoft's Web site (see the second URL below). If you're using ExBPA, you'll welcome the improvements. If you aren't, now's a good time to start.
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