Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 – ExBPA v 2.0

Introduction to Exchange 2003 Server – ExPBA (Best Practice Analyzer)

It’s wonderful, it’s free, you simply must try the ExBPA.  The name says it all: Exchange Server Best Practice Analyzer and you get it from Microsoft.  Not only is the ExBPA a serious tool, which scans Exchange for weaknesses, but it’s also a fun tool, which prompts you to learn as you improve your servers performance.

Topics for Exchange 2003 – ExBPA (Best Practice Analyzer)


Getting started with ExBPA

Installing ExBPA is easy.  Just make sure that when you download ExBPA.msi from Microsoft, you get version 2.0.  Like any good .msi package, ExBPA installs smoothly.  My only complaint is that I could not persuade this Best Practice Analyzer to appear in my MMC.  However, to be fair, the installation wizard did create a shortcut for ExBPA in the Exchange Folder.  (Start Menu, All Programs folder, Exchange…)

ExBPA Scan settingsExBPA Exchange Server Best Practice Analyzer  - Health Check

One of the hallmarks of a great utility like ExBPA, is that you don’t need an instruction manual.  All you need to do is launch ExBPA, click on Connect to Active Directory, and you are ready to scan.  BPA takes a while to progress through its tests, but on reflection, this was a good sign in that it was making a comprehensive comparison between your system and Microsoft’s best practices.

A wild guess says that it will take 15 minutes to scan your Exchange organization.  Another guess says ExBPA will generate 1.5 MB worth of data.  When you are only troubleshooting one particular Exchange server, you may wish to speed up the scan, if so, then limit the scope to just that problem server.

Health Check
The health check will warn you about weaknesses on your Exchange server.   Perhaps BPA’s greatest strength is to alert you to those problems, which although not serious in themselves, will collectively slow down your server.  Once ExBPA identifies an ‘Issue’, it gives you chapter and verse, not just on the problem but even better, on the solutions.  Unless you have tried ExBPA, it’s hard for me to put over just how many tests it can do, and therefore how much time it will save you in analyzing an Exchange Server’s performance.  In a word ExBPA is – awesome.

Connectivity Check
It’s so handy to have all the troubleshooting tools in one place, you can oscillate between health checks and connectivity tests.  The Best Practice Analyzer really does make it easy to pin down that obscure email problems.  When the ExBPA finds a problem, it suggests answers in the form of links to the Exchange 2003 Server / TechNet knowledge base.

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ExBPA ReportsExBPA Best Practice Analyzer - ReportsCheck

One persistent grumble with Microsoft utilities in general is that there is no reporting feature; I hear the most complaints about ADUC*.  Well, let us hope that BPA’s reporting features are a sign of the future.  Fingers crossed that all interfaces will soon have a selection of options, such as Summary, Details and my favourite – the Issues List.  Incidentally, there is BPA for SQL so the concept is spreading.

Another must have report is the Items of Interest,  what you get here is a central list of all those statistics that can take an age to find, for example Exchange 2003 database locations and disk size.

Although I mention them last, baseline reports should be one of the first scans to run on a production server.  Once you have a baseline its easy to detect trends and play ‘what if’ games.

* Active Directory Users and Computers interface.

How ExBPA works

ExBPA feeds on XML configuration files.  In these XML files are WMI instructions for the very tests to be run on your Exchange server.  The key to the Best Practice Analysis is the list of rules which establish whether results pass Microsoft’s tests.  Amazingly, ExBPA is intelligent enough to check automatically if there any XML updates on the Microsoft web site.  The ExBPA engine has a most descriptive name – the dispatcher.  What the dispatcher does is send WMI collectors to gather the information.  The ExBPA engine then analyzes the data against the configuration files, and generates the results on screen.

One advantage of ExBPA Version 2.0 is a scheduler; this means that you can plan your scans and they run automatically at a time to suit you. In this instance, you would want the output report sent to a file, since nobody is likely to be looking at the screen when the tests are run in the middle of the night.

Can you run ExBPA from XP?  Or, do you need to be on an Exchange 2003 Server?  The answer is any client after Window 2000 professional will do the job, and Microsoft recommend XP for ExBPA.  Make sure that you have at least 20 MB of disk space, and that you install .NET framework (presumably to handle the XML).

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Summary – ExBPA (Exchange Server Best Practice Analyzer)

Best by name, best by nature, the Best Practice Analyzer is a must have Microsoft utility.  ExBPA will detect configuration and routing weaknesses in your Exchange 2003 server and recommend solutions.  Get ExBPA v 2.0 it’s free from Microsoft and it’s a joy to combine business with pleasure as you scan your server for weaknesses.  BPA is a real ‘techie’ tool, which not only makes your server more reliable and secure, but also gives you fun learning about how Exchange works.

See Also

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