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The New Exchange 2010 - From the Law Firm's Perspective

May 18, 2010 by Daniel Aw

I never thought I’d say this: For once, I am very excited about a new release of Exchange. Having had the good fortunes of deploying several installations of Exchange 5.5, 2003, & 2007, I can confidently say this has been the easiest Exchange deployment I’ve ever done. In a future post, I will discuss what makes this the easiest Exchange ever. However, for this post, I want to concentrate on my reasons for thinking that a lot of the new features in Exchange 2010, have been carefully architected to play very well towards Law, Financial Services and Accounting Firms. Here are my reasons:


Real Time Failover – Having done several Exchange 2003, and 2007 deployments, I was mostly impressed by Failover features built into 2010. In Exchange 2007, failing any of the Exchange roles to a standby server required you to manually execute failover commands. At best, you can attempt to automate the process by scripting those commands – which is what we have done with our clients at Control-Z. However, even the scripted  failover needed time to get into Exchange, fire up Powershell and run our scripts. This still required some downtime – which in today’s world, is beginning to become unacceptable.  Exchange 2010 introduced Data Availability Group which leverages clustering technology to check for heartbeats in production servers. If a server doesn’t have a “beating heart,” Exchange routes the email to the nearest healthy server(s), allowing instant automatic failover.

Large Mail Box Support – If you’ve ever worked at a law firm, you can appreciate the challenges of managing Outlook for those attorneys who prefer to never delete old emails. Outlook 2003 & 2007 were designed to achieve max performance when mailbox size was under 2gb. SP2 attempted to correct this shortcoming but was still not optimal for anything over 10gb. Microsoft has realized that mailbox sizes will only grow bigger and those assumptions that 2gb should be more than enough mailbox size are fast becoming archaic. Microsoft asserts that Exchange 2010’s IOPS has improved by 70%. I noticed significant performance improvement on mailboxes over 10gb when compared to 2007 SP2. Imagine being able to tell your attorneys that the days of being limited to 2 - 5gb boxes are over.  With Exchange 2010, we can confidently start increasing the mailbox capacity to 10+ gig without worrying about degraded performance. In a subsequent post, I’ll talk about how we plan on achieving this using a very sophisticated SAN equipment manufactured by a company called SCALE. 

eDiscovery Features – This is one of a few new features that law firms will find very handy. In Exchange 2010, you can designate a staff member to have various e-discovery privileges without investing in additional third party tools. Depending on the user-rights, the designated staff can search multiple users’ IMs, emails, contacts or calendars. For example, assume Bill, Jerry and Tom are working as a team on a particular client case. It’s 9pm on Sunday night, and Tom, who is the lead attorney, needs to go over his presentation that will be used in court the following day. Tom realizes a language in the presentation that he’s having doubts about and needs to be certain about the details. Bill and Jerry had been working with the client on that particular piece of language over the past one week. If Tom has the appropriate “e-discovery” privileges, he will be able to find necessary supporting communication by searching Bill and Jerry’s mailboxes for all emails that have been exchanged with the client within the past one week. This ensures that Tom can have the most accurate piece of information without needing to call Bill or Jerry at 9pm on a Sunday.

Legal Hold & Retention Policies – Another feature we think law firms may just fall in love with. For example, Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) Act’s email retention policies may require financial-related emails to be retained for up to seven years. Using Exchange 2010, one can configure all emails sent to accounting department to be retained for up to seven years. This means even if an end user makes a deliberate or accidental attempt to delete the email, Exchange will not honor the request. End users can easily apply retention policies to an email, or folder. In the future, if those records need to be subpoenaed for any reason, you can be rest assured they will be available and easily accessible.

 Email Signatures, Disclaimers and Circular 230 Disclosure – Previous versions of Exchange provided a very primitive method of administering corporate signatures and disclaimers. The tool could not accommodate inclusion of AD properties or HTML in signatures. In order to achieve this, administering email signature and Circular 230 disclosures required investing in third-party tools. At Control-Z, we wrote a very nifty logon script that allowed us manage signatures across our clients’ enterprise. Even with that, keeping the signatures consistent across Outlook, OWA and Activesync was a big challenge. With Exchange 2010, the administration of signatures and disclaimers has been significantly streamlined. Organizations can now design, format, include AD properties and administer their own custom signatures across the enterprise.

Information Rights Management – Attorneys by nature are involved in exchange of confidential emails. Exchange 2010 provides features that make it difficult to compromise a confidential email. When an end user marks an email as “confidential” just before sending, he can be rest assured that the recipient of such IRM-protected email (including any attached files) cannot forward, modify, print, fax, save, or cut and paste the email content. Even though others will argue that this doesn’t protect against someone memorizing the email content, or taking a picture of the screen; I believe that it does an excellent job deterring compromise of a confidential email.

Mailbox Tips – How would you like it if your Outlook could warn you that the size of the email you are sending is larger than the acceptable size just before hitting “Send?” Or that you are about to reply to all when you were BCC’ed on the on the message, or that a more recent version of the mail you are responding to has been detected in your mailbox, or that the user you are sending the email is away? These are just a few of the tips that Exchange 2010 offers just before you click the “Send” button. This is a big improvement on what we saw in 2007, where you are made to think the message was successfully sent only to receive a notification a few minutes (sometimes hours) later that the email could not be sent.

Overall, it’s not hard to see why I think a high percentage of Exchange 2010 focus groups must have been lawyers. No doubt, we can see every Exchange user out there benefitting from these new features; I can see our lawyer friends embracing the new Exchange 2010 the quickest.

Daniel Aw is a Senior Systems Engineer at Control-Z.  Control-Z provides trusted guidance for deploying and managing I.T. infrastructure, applications, processes and people. Visit www.pushcontrolz.com to see why some of the “Fastest Growing Companies” & “Best Places To Work in Indiana” trust us to manage their information systems.