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Exam Ref 70-342 Advanced Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 (MCSE): Design, Configure, and Manage Site Resiliency

Objective 2.2: Design, deploy, and manage a site-resilient CAS solution

As well as ensuring that your databases are resilient across different mailbox servers, it is also important to ensure that the client access layer is redundantly available as well. Clients all connect to their mailbox layer via the client access server (CAS) layer. Unlike earlier versions of Exchange Server, there is no client connectivity direct to the mailbox database.

This objective covers how to:

  • Plan site-resilient namespaces
  • Configure site-resilient namespace URLs
  • Perform steps for site rollover
  • Plan certificate requirements for site failovers
  • Predict client behavior during a rollover

Planning site-resilient namespaces

In Exchange Server 2010, failover to a second site of the client access layer involved a change in the namespace. The namespace is what users and clients need to connect to Exchange to reach their mailboxes. For example, mail.contoso.com would be a namespace for the Contoso Pharmaceuticals email service and dr-mail.contoso.com might be a namespace needed when mailboxes are moved to the DR site. If you used protocol specific namespaces such as smtp.contoso.com for transport and owa.contoso.com then you would need disaster recovery/second datacenter versions of the primary URLs as well.

In the event of a full site failover, it is possible to update DNS and move the entire namespace to the secondary site. But while some databases are on the primary site and others on the secondary site, and the client access layer is operational at both sites. This meant that in Exchange 2010 you needed two namespaces. The primary driver for this was that connectivity between the CAS layer and the mailbox databases was RPC based which required a fast network with low latency between the tiers and so performance issues could occur if the CAS tier was in a separate site from the mailbox database. That is, your mailbox was on a database in the secondary datacenter but you were using a CAS server at the primary datacenter. In Exchange 2010, cross-site access could be disabled and then CAS connectivity would failover to the remote site, but a namespace change would occur.

In Exchange 2013, all connectivity between Exchange Servers has been moved to the HTTP protocol (and SMTP for transport, and IMAP or POP3 if using an older client). There is no cross-server RPC connectivity. This means that the client connection is ultimately made to the server that contains the active mailbox database for that user’s mailbox and that all connectivity happens to and from that server. Exchange Server 2013 provides a proxy layer, known as the CAS role. This proxy layer ensures that user connections are made to the correct mailbox server. Therefore a user or client can connect to any CAS role server, authenticate to prove who they are, and then the CAS role proxies their connections to the mailbox role server that holds their active mailbox database. This is shown in Figure 2-12.

Figure 2-12

Figure 2-12 CAS proxy to active mailbox database

In Figure 2-12, it does not matter if the user connects to either of the two CAS servers shown because both of them will proxy the user to the same mailbox server, the one that is active for their mailbox.

When Exchange Server 2013 is installed into more than one datacenter, and some or all of these datacenters have an inbound Internet connection, it is possible to use different technologies to direct the user at a specific datacenter. For example, this could be a technology that routes the user’s connection to their geographically closest datacenter rather than the datacenter that holds their active mailbox.

The Exchange CAS layer will then direct the traffic using the same protocol that the user connected with, and which is a protocol that is capable of dealing with lower latency links, i.e. HTTP, to the mailbox server that is active for that user’s mailbox.

This can be seen in Figure 2-13, which is an expansion of the network shown in Figure 2-12. If in this figure the user has a mailbox in Ireland but was travelling in the United States (US), they would be directed to the San Antonio datacenter as that is closer to them over the Internet. When on the private network of the company, the endpoint the user has connected to in San Antonio is then connected to the location of the mailbox server in Dublin. The user receives fast Internet connectivity rather than a high latency connection to another part of the world over the public Internet, and the performance they see from Exchange Server is quick. This is similar to the model that Office 365 uses with the Exchange Online service, and importantly for namespace simplicity, allows the user to use a single namespace regardless of their location or the location of their mailbox. In this example, if this was Contoso, all users throughout the world would use mail.contoso.com to access Exchange Server.

Figure 2-13

Figure 2-13 Single namespace design with multiple datacenters

In past examples, we have used both bound and unbound namespace models. A bound namespace is where the name is specifically targeted to a single datacenter and an unbound model is where the namespace works regardless of which datacenter you connect to.

Configuring site-resilient namespace URLs

Once you have decided upon the type of namespace that you will have with Exchange Server 2013, and the domain name that you will use for the namespace, you need to configure the InternalURL and ExternalURL of a series of web services and the hostname value for Outlook Anywhere. These URLs and hostnames will direct clients to the correct servers by the client resolving that server via DNS.

The majority of clients obtain their settings via the AutoDiscover service. This service returns to the client the InternalURL and ExternalURL for each web service, and the hostnames for Outlook Anywhere based on the site that the user’s mailbox is active in. The Autodiscover namespace is the first namespace value that you need for Exchange. The Autodiscover namespace is always the SMTP domain name (such as contoso.com) or Autodiscover and then the SMTP domain name (for example autodiscover.contoso.com). This namespace is unbound, that means it is the same regardless of where users are located. It only changes where you have more than one SMTP namespace (for example contoso.com and contoso.co.uk), and then Autodiscover is based upon the user’s SMTP domain in their email address.

If you want your users to connect through a single namespace, such as mail.contoso.com for all Internet facing sites as described above, then every web service in Exchange Server will have the same URL regardless of site. If you take a look at the example in Figure 2-14, you can see that though there are three sites, two of which are accessible via the Internet, the URL used for each service in each site will be mail.contoso.com.

Figure 2-14

Figure 2-14 Setting URLs based on namespace design

For the URLs in a single namespace model, as shown in Figure 2-14, it does not matter if an ExternalURL is set for each service in Oslo, as the namespace is the same in all sites. If Figure 2-14 represented a company with multiple namespaces, the following could be an example that would be needed for the ExternalURLs

  • Dublin: ie-mail.contoso.com
  • San Antonio: us-mail.contoso.com
  • Oslo: No external namespace

In the event of a failover, the single namespace model would require no additional configuration as a device such as a geo load-balancer or IP AnyCast would direct traffic to any working datacenter. The working datacenter is either capable of hosting mailbox databases from the DAG that was active in the failed datacenter, or being able to reach the datacenter that is hosting the databases.

In the event of a failure with a bound namespace model, where different URLs are bound to servers per datacenter, things work differently. If have an outage in Dublin (based on Figure 2-14), and ie-mail.contoso.com namespace becomes unreachable, you will need to either wait for the outage to resolve itself. Alternatively you could manually update DNS to point ie-mail.contoso.com to the same IP address as us-mail.contoso.com. Connections will now either connect back to Dublin over the WAN (if it is still up and it was an Internet connection outage only), or you will need to failover the databases to the DAG’s secondary datacenter in San Antonio. Of course technology like DNS-based geo-load balancing can be used to swap the DNS records to the working datacenter for you rather than doing it manually.

Setting the namespace URLs in Exchange Server

The steps to configure the site resilient namespace are to set the ExternalURL for the following services using either ECP or Exchange Management Shell:

  • Outlook Web App https://mail.contoso.com/owa
  • Exchange Control Panel https://mail.contoso.com/ecp
  • Outlook Address Book https://mail.contoso.com/OAB
  • ActiveSync https://mail.contoso.com/Microsoft-Server-ActiveSync
  • Exchange Web Services https://mail.contoso.com/ews/exchange.asmx
  • Outlook Anywhere mail.contoso.com (note that this is the ExternalHostname property and not ExternalURL)

In sites that are not Internet connected, such as Oslo in Figure 2-14, you need to leave the ExternalURL blank (or set it to $null). The InternalURL is often set the same as the ExternalURL because that makes connectivity for users easier to manage, regardless of where the user is, if the URL is the same. If the InternalURL is different it should be set the same for every server in the site.

An example of setting the Outlook Web App URL for the multi-namespace example in Figure 2-14 is as follows.

Set-OwaVirtualDirectory <ServerNameInDublin> -InternalUrl https://ie-mail.contoso.com/owa -ExternalUrl https://ie-mail.contoso.com/owa
Set-OwaVirtualDirectory <ServerNameInSanAntonio> -InternalUrl https://us-mail.contoso.com/owa -ExternalUrl https://us-mail.contoso.com/owa
Set-OwaVirtualDirectory <ServerNameInOslo> -InternalUrl https://mail.contoso.no/owa -ExternalUrl $null

Performing steps for site rollover

In the event of a site outage, the steps that you need to take to failover the DAG depend upon the type of namespace model you have in place, as well as other technologies such as Anycast DNS or geo-load balancing. For simplicity, these steps assume that technologies such as those mentioned are not in use, and manual DNS changes will need to be made.

  1. Failover mailbox databases to the secondary site. This involves Stop-DatabaseAvailabilityGroup and Restore-DatabaseAvailabilityGroup if using DAC Mode as a multi-site DAG should be (though it is not the default).
  2. Changing DNS both internally and externally to point to the IP associated with the load balancer virtual IP in the secondary datacenter.

Planning certificate requirements for site failovers

As Exchange 2013 uses Internet protocols for all client connectivity, every name used by Exchange Server in client connectivity should be listed on a single digital certificate. This means that a certificate used by Exchange should include autodiscover.domain.com. It should also include the namespace used for the primary site, as well as each protocol if using protocol independent namespaces and the secondary site namespaces.

The same certificate should be used on all servers because the HTTP authentication cookie that CAS generates when the user first logins is generated using the certificate on the server. When the load balancer directs that user connection to a different CAS server, as stateful connections are not required, the authentication cookie can be read as the same digital certificate is installed, and so the user is not required to authenticate again. Also, digital certificates are not licensed per server, and so the purchase of one certificate can be exported, with the private key, from the machine it is created on. It can then be imported onto all of the other Exchange CAS servers. Any Exchange mailbox only server role can use the self-generated certificate because clients do not connect directly to the mailbox role services. The same is true of certificates on the Exchange Back End website on a multi-role server as this website correlates to the mailbox server role. Whereas, the Default Web Site correlates to the CAS role and will require a trusted certificate bound to it.

Therefore, if you have a network such as that shown in Figure 2-15, you would generate the following certificate:

  • autodiscover.contoso.com
  • newyork.contoso.com
  • dallas.contoso.com

    Figure 2-15

    Figure 2-15 A bound namespace model with multiple datacenters and sites where users connect to their local namespace

    Compare the above with a network that supports a single namespace and a file share witness in a third site. This would need a certificate with either:

  • autodiscover.contoso.com
  • mail.contoso.com

Or, if using per-protocol load balancer checks:

  • autodiscover.contoso.com
  • mail.contoso.com
  • ecp.contoso.com
  • oa.contoso.com
  • eas.contoso.com
  • oab.contoso.com
  • mapi.contoso.com
  • ews.contoso.com

Predicting client behavior during a rollover

The exact behavior of any given client during planned switchover or unexpected failover can be determined by valid testing of the client. This testing should take into consideration the firmware or software version of the client because different products and versions will respond in different ways (specifically ActiveSync clients).

Let us consider some points of interest that will help predict what you should expect to see during rollover of the service to a secondary site, so that testing with real hardware and software is likely to validate your decisions.

DNS caching As all connectivity to Exchange Server is over IP protocols, and these protocols are reached by the way of a DNS hosted FQDN, the longer a client caches an out of date IP address for a given domain name, the longer the client will fail to connect. In the event of a failure where you are using DNS round robin for availability (not recommended as there is no service awareness with DNS round robin), if the client caches a single IP address for a given DNS FQDN and that IP goes offline, the duration of the cache impacts the clients time without connectivity. If the client caches all of the DNS addresses returned to it, as do the majority of modern clients, loss of connectivity to one IP means a second IP can be used without downtime.

DNS round robin load balancing Clients that support multiple record caching or very short DNS caching work with DNS round robin based load balancing. The only problem with DNS round robin is that servers that are not responding correctly at the application layer (even though they are responding to ping etc. at the TCP layer) will still be connected to the client, and so the client needs to be aware of what constitutes correct service. If the client sees a valid TCP connection but invalid data at the protocol layer, they need to discard that IP address and try another one. This requires intelligence built into the client. The latest versions of web browsers and Outlook will do this to the TCP layer, but not to the application layer.

Layer four load balancers When the client is connected to Exchange Server by the way of a layer four load balancer, and when a server goes offline, the load balancer stops connecting users to it. From a DNS perspective there is only one IP address for a namespace, and it becomes the load balancers responsibility to keep clients connected. When a server fails the user is abstracted from this because the connection from the client to the load balancer stays up. From the perspective of the load balancer, the loss of a TCP session to the real server that it is load balancing constitutes a loss of service. There is no intelligence in the higher layers of the TCP protocol stack.

Layer seven load balancers Some load balancing products that sit between the client and the real server can also operate at the application layer. This allows them to understand the application request and deal with it appropriately. From an Exchange Server viewpoint this typically means forwarding the Exchange URLs to Exchange Server and blocking requests to the servers that would be invalid.

Exchange Server 2013 supports a health checking service that load balancers can make use of to ensure that they are connecting their clients to real servers that are actually working. In the case of Exchange Server 2013, each HTTP protocol has a URL called Healthcheck.htm that returns a 200 response code when the checked service is operating correctly. Status code 200 means that all is okay for HTTP. A single load balancer can be configured to check the status for multiple endpoints and make a decision on whether or not the real server that it is load balancing is available. For example, if the managed availability service of Exchange Server for Outlook Web App determines that OWA is not functioning properly on a given server, then /owa/healthcheck.htm on that server will not respond with 200 OK. When the load balancer sees this response it will take the server or maybe just requests that attempt to go to /owa away from the client. The load balancer will continue to check the health of the real server and when it comes back online again will add it back to the load balancing pool. Figures 2-16 and 2-17 show two different load balancing products and their user interfaces for setting the monitoring options.

Figure 2-16

Figure 2-16 Setting OWA health checks on a Kemp load balancer

Figure 2-17

Figure 2-17 Setting OWA health checks on a JetNEXUS load balancer

Redundant load balancers The aim of both layer four and layer seven load balancers is to abstract from the client the state of the real server they are connecting to, and to ensure that loss of a server does not result in loss of a client’s ability to connect to the real server. But what happens when the load balancer fails, or as load balancers are typically available as virtual machines, what happens when the host machine fails and takes down the load balancer? Typically you would install two load balancers as a failover pair. One load balancer is active for the IP addresses that Exchange is being published across, and the other in the pair is passive. The two load balancers check the state of the other frequently, and the passive load balancer takes ownership of the virtual IP in the event of failure of the primary. Configuration within the load balancer says what happens when the passive comes back online. The virtual IP is represented at the network layer with a mac address that moves between the devices as required. As long as the switch in front of the load balancer can cope in a timely fashion to the switching of the mac address from one port to another, the client is not impacted during load balancing failover.

Geographically redundant load balancing When your datacenters are geographically separate you need to ensure that the load balancing devices are able to take ownership of the shared virtual IP in the event of an outage. In the case of geo-load balancing, if the primary load balancing pair go offline, as the datacenter is offline, the secondary load balancer sees this by way of a shared communication and updates the DNS record to point to their virtual IP. The load balancers are configured to provide DNS resolution for requests by the client. In a geo configuration, for say mail.contoso.com, either a new zone called “mail” is created within “contoso.com” and that zone is delegated to the load balancer cluster, or the record mail.contoso.com is a CNAME for a record in the zone hosted by the load balancer such as mail.geo.contoso.com, where geo.contoso.com is a zone that is delegated to the IP address of the load balancer (as shown in Figure 2-18). Then the IP address for mail.geo.contoso.com is the virtual IP from the working load balancer. When the working environment fails, the mail.geo.contoso.com record becomes the virtual IP of the load balancer in the second datacenter.

Figure 2-18

Figure 2-18 Configuring a delegation in Windows DNS to support geo-load balancing

Objective summary

  • The CAS role always routes a client to the mailbox server hosting the active copy of the database where their mailbox is located.
  • The CAS role proxies all connections to the correct mailbox server, using the same protocol as the client, after the client authenticates and the CAS role has queried the Active Directory to access the user’s mailbox information.
  • Cross-site connectivity is much simpler in Exchange Server 2013 as the RPC protocol is not used outside of the active mailbox server. The RPC protocol typically requires low latency on the network and is susceptible to issues when high latency occurs. That was always a possible issue with Exchange 2010 when your CAS server was in one site and the mailbox had failed over to another.
  • A single namespace is a possibility with Exchange Server 2013 due to this change in protocols used between servers.
  • Options for site resilience need to take into consideration the namespace used, that is, if it is bound to a given datacenter or unbound (where the same namespace is used everywhere).
  • It is recommended to use the same certificate across all CAS role servers (or multirole servers, where you are setting the certificate on the CAS role specifically).

Objective review

Answer the following questions to test your knowledge of the information in this objective. You can find the answers to these questions and explanations of why each answer choice is correct or incorrect in the “Answers” section at the end of this chapter.

  1. You need to request and install a digital certificate for the four client access servers that will be used in your Exchange Server 2013 deployment. (Choose all that apply.)

    1. Run New-ExchangeCertificate on each CAS server
    2. From the Exchange Admin Center generate a new certificate request for autodiscover.yourdomain.com
    3. From the Exchange Admin Center generate a new certificate request for autodiscover.yourdomain.com and all of the names used by all of the CAS servers in all of the datacenters
    4. Purchase a UCC digital certificate from a trusted third-party certificate authority
    5. Delete the default certificate configured by the Exchange installation
  2. You are creating a plan to ensure that if an Internet link failure occurs at your primary datacenter, and you successfully move your mailboxes over to the DR site, that all users will be able to connect. You want to do this with the least IT management tasks required. (Choose all that apply.)

    1. Ensure that all ExternalURLs for all protocols are mail.contoso.com.
    2. Ensure that OWA has its ExternalURL set to mail.contoso.com but that all other protocols have ExternalURL set to null.
    3. Configure your internal DNS server to have an A record for each CAS server in both sites listed with their own IP address.
    4. Configure your internal DNS server to have an A record for mail.contoso.com that has the IP address of your load balancer that load balances Exchange Servers in the primary datacenter as the IP address of this A record.
    5. Configure your external DNS server to have an A record for each CAS server in both sites listed with their own IP address.
    6. Configure your external DNS server to have the externally NATed IP address of your load balancer that load balances Exchange Servers in the primary datacenter.