Microsoft Exchange Server management tools can help you find out which parts of your system are being overused and which are being underused. Quest Software MessageStats 4.0 is a comprehensive Exchange management tool that provides all the functions needed in an enterprise environment. PROMODAG Reports 8.4, better suited to small-to-midsized business (SMBs) provides a functional but less versatile solution. Sirana AppAnalyzer 4.01 ranks between the other two in terms of functionality, but it has some problems the other two don't.
One of the most critical systems in business environments is the messaging infrastructure. Many businesses depend on Microsoft Exchange Server to provide email and unified communications services for users who work both inside and outside the office. Although Exchange has mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on local processes, it doesn't come with a comprehensive presentation layer or easily assembled organization-wide reports for deployments with multiple Exchange servers. You might require dependable reporting on Exchange usage to charge departments or companies for their share of resources, assess server capacity, or identify trends in server use to anticipate further needs. Reporting can help identify power users or abusers of the corporate email server or verify that service level agreements are being met. Exchange reporting can also identify resources that aren't being used, including public folders, distribution groups, and resource mailboxes. In short, reporting functionality contributes to reduced costs and better policy management and helps you meet compliance requirements.
Many third-party applications are designed to report on Exchange. The power of reporting applications is evident in consolidated reports generated for organizations with multiple Exchange servers. I've reviewed three competitors in the realm of Exchange reporting. Sirana AppAnalyzer for Exchange, PROMODAG Reports, and Quest Software MessageStats are all mature third-party products that work with multiple versions of Exchange. All three of these products separate functionality into tasks, which gather data and configuration input, and reports, which present sorted and filtered information. Each application pulls Exchange information from the organization and stores that information in a separate database for manipulation and analysis.
Exchange information comes from multiple sources and includes static information about the organization and activity information from stores and connectors. The products get configuration and recipient information from Active Directory (AD) if you're using Exchange 2000 or later. They gather messaging patterns from Exchange's message tracking and other logs, and they derive Outlook Web Access (OWA) data from the Microsoft IIS logs when OWA is installed. All three products tested well in a virtual environment (Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 on Windows Server 2003), but companies considering these products should make their own assessments, especially with regards to Microsoft SQL Server performance.
All three products tested require installation on a second system, not directly on an Exchange server. Small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) often deploy a management server or administration server to centrally manage network resources such as antivirus clients or Windows Server Update Services. Exchange reporting applications would fit well on such a server.
Managing Exchange servers is complicated enough without having layers of challenging third-party applications consuming excessive computer and administrator resources. Reporting applications for Exchange should be relatively simple to deploy and manage. Great software companies provide comprehensive online information about their applications in addition to prompt and competent support personnel to address urgent problems that customers experience in using the software. All three companies I reviewed solidly back their products and are listed on Microsoft’s Partner Solution Finder site, solutionfinder.microsoft.com.
Sirana AppAnalyzer for Exchange 4
Sirana Software was formed in May 1999. NetIQ acquired the company in early 2000 and released NetIQ AppAnalyzer. In April 2003, Sirana was spun off as an independent company and licensed AppAnalyzer back from NetIQ. Sirana AppAnalyzer 3.5 was released in late 2006 and won a readers’ choice award at MSExchange.org. AppAnalyzer 4.0 was a major upgrade from the previous release.
Installing AppAnalyzer was simple. The process includes a preinstallation system check. Although running the system check is mandatory, you don't need to wait for it to finish; clicking Next bypasses the uncompleted portion of the system check. Some of the checks are for required components, such as .NET Framework 3.5. Other checks, such as for RAM allocation, give warnings but don't prevent installation. The system check is useful for ensuring that your system meets the prerequisites for AppAnalyzer. For example, I installed SQL Server 2005 Standard to use for AppAnalyzer storage. In SQL Server 2005, the Agent service is set to manual and stopped by default. Because AppAnalyzer requires this service, the system check gave instructions on how to apply the correct settings to the service.AppAnalyzer has a capable browser-based administrative interface, as shown in Figure 1. It offers an alternate blue theme that you can apply through the interface, suggesting that some basic customization of the web application is possible, but I don’t suspect there's much need to do so. I found the interface to be slightly sluggish on our midrange management server compared to the administrative interfaces of competing products, but the application wasn't slow in generating the reports. Reports are generated within the web interface and can then be exported to other formats. AppAnalyzer requires Microsoft Report Viewer 2008, a separate, free download from Microsoft, and reports are generated using Microsoft Report Definition Language. I found reviewing reports within this interface less than optimal. The web-based administration interface might be preferred by some administrators and detested by others. AppAnalyzer also runs as a service on the reporting server dependent on SQL Server services.
Sirana AppAnalyzer for Exchange 4.01
Managing your Sirana AppAnalyzer account requires registering with Sirana. Account history, including software licenses, invoices, and the support ticket system, are maintained at sirana.com.
PROMODAG Reports for Microsoft Exchange Server
PROMODAG Reports has been around for a long time. You can run PROMODAG Reports against any version of Exchange from Exchange 4.0 to Exchange 2007. As a mature product, it manages reporting for Exchange quite well. PROMODAG Reports isn't part of a series of complementary management solutions; it's a standalone reporting solution, and Exchange reporting is all PROMODAG does. The product is simple and it works. It has well over 100 reports and certainly includes all the reports most requested by customers.
After a simple installation and a little configuration, PROMODAG was ready to connect to the Exchange organization and gather reporting input data. PROMODAG can use a SQL Server database or the embedded Microsoft Access database for the Exchange source data. With the Access option, the database has the Microsoft-imposed limit of 2GB. PROMODAG maintains three versions—Standard, Professional, and Enterprise; the Enterprise version is required to use the SQL Server option. The initial seeding of PROMODAG’s database took the longest out of the three products I tested.
PROMODAG Reports for Microsoft Exchange Server 8.4
Quest Software MessageStats 4.0
Quest Software maintains a wide range of management and migration solutions for Microsoft products. The company's range improved and expanded with the acquisition of NetPro and its competing product, NetControl for Exchange, in September 2008. Quest MessageStats reporting is available in the form of Report Packs for several different server technologies, including Microsoft Office Communications Server, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and even Postfix and Sendmail.
MessageStats for Exchange is divided into three roles: server, database, and reports. The database role requires SQL Server, and the reports role uses Microsoft IIS for presentation. You can install the roles on separate servers to distribute resources for enterprise-level reporting, or you can install them in combinations, including the common configuration of placing all roles on a single MessageStats server. During installation, MessageStats warned me that a prerequisite was missing. It was looking for Exchange System Manager (ESM) from Exchange 2003 or Exchange 2000. This is a problem if the installation is for a native Exchange 2007 organization. After some research, I learned that what it really needed from ESM is the Messaging API (MAPI) provider. MessageStats needs MAPI, Collaboration Data Objects (CDO), and Collaboration Data Objects for Exchange Management (CDOEXM) for complete reporting. CDOEXM is required to access inherited mailbox permissions information. This minor shortcoming is covered in Quest’s knowledge base and release notes, which both recommend installing the Exchange Server MAPI client and CDO 1.2.1 libraries from Microsoft (Search Microsoft downloads for “ExchangeMapiCdo.EXE”). Although Quest said that the problem was resolved in the version I reviewed, my experience suggests otherwise. However, after I installed the Exchange MAPI client and CDO 1.2.1 libraries from Microsoft, the MessageStats deployment didn't request ESM.
MessageStats uses a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in for its administration interface, shown in Figure 3, making it flexible in Windows environments and adaptable to custom-built MMCs. The reporting interface uses web-based output, which requires Active Server Pages to either be enabled for the site or set to active in IIS running on Windows 2003 or Windows 2008. Figure 3 shows the output is being viewed within the MMC, but it can be presented outside of the interface as well.
After installation, MessageStats shows instructions in the console's right pane detailing the steps needed to compile initial reports. Like the competing products, MessageStats has to collect information from the Exchange organization and save it to its own SQL Server database. For a larger organization, this is a significant step that will require planning. For the initial connection to Exchange, the product's dependence on NetBIOS names seemed a little dated to depend on NetBIOS names, but it worked well.
The interface to input parameters for the reports, such as start and finish dates, resides on a single page. I didn’t have to move through different tabs to configure various settings for a single report. Reports for OWA require the separate Report Pack for OWA to be installed. Report Packs get their own folder in the report tree. My only nitpick with reporting is that the report interface could provide additional means of organizing the different reports in the tree menu. It was a challenge to locate a report that could fit in multiple categories: With all folders expanded, most of the report tree is out of view of the current page.
Quest Software maintains an extensive selection of management, migration, and reporting solutions for different environments, with or without Exchange. If you already use Quest products, it might make sense to incorporate MessageStats into your environment. For example, MessageStats has an optional report pack with reporting templates for use with Quest Archive Manager.
Different Situations, Different Tools
You can alleviate the demands of administering Exchange Server with the help of detailed and timely monitoring and reporting. Administrators can better anticipate resource requirements and identify messaging trends with quality reporting on Exchange server usage. Exchange reporting can help companies and their messaging administrators ensure that their Exchange organization is performing in a manner appropriate to their specific needs.
Each of the products considered in this review is a solid reporting solution for Exchange. They all provide the standard reporting that I expect, such as individual mailbox statistics. Each of them collects information from Exchange and assembles it in its own database tables, which the applications then use to generate reports. Each product uses a hierarchal Windows Explorer–like tree to navigate report templates. To some extent, the format of these reports might dictate which product administrators prefer: AppAnalyzer and MessageStats use a web browser to show reports generated from the local web server; PROMODAG Reports incorporates reporting into its administration console. However, report output from all three applications can be directed to other devices or locations. Sirana offers one other application and PROMODAG offers only this reporting application.
A good reporting system can ensure that your messaging platform is being used in the most efficient manner. It can also be an auditable resource for maintaining compliance goals, allocating chargeback for departmental usage and storage, and identifying trends that influence server capacity decisions.
SMBs will probably find PROMODAG Reports the best fit for their reporting needs. However, MessageStats is the most comprehensive solution in terms of breadth of reporting and integration with other Quest products. Large companies and those that need information from both Exchange and other, similar technologies would be better off with MessageStats. AppAnalyzer falls between the two in terms of its functions, but watch out for a few weaknesses.