In a conference room in Redmond, WA last February, Microsoft revealed to a group of Exchange MVPs that Exchange 2013 would only include a browser-based administration client. The era of traditional Microsoft Management Console (MMC)-based UIs such as the Exchange System Manager (ESM), used in Exchange 2000 and Exchange 2003, and the Exchange Management Console (EMC), used in Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010, was at an end. The future, or so we were told, was in the web. The consensus of the group was that the change was a good thing, as long as no functionality was dropped.
And so it came to pass that the Exchange 2013 preview edition made available on July 16 includes the Exchange Administration Center (EAC), a much-enhanced version of the Exchange Panel (ECP) shipped in Exchange 2010 (hint: look at the URL for EAC shown below to see the close connection that it shares with ECP). ECP established many of the principles that EAC exploits, such as RBAC-controlled UI display, and it does indeed include the vast majority of the functionality that was in EMC plus all the UI necessary to manage new Exchange 2013 features such as “modern” public folders and Data Leak Protection (DLP).
As evident in the development of ECP, Microsoft has been on the path to browser-based administration for around six years now. You can understand why from their perspective as it makes a ton of financial, engineering, testing, and support sense to eliminate the Windows-based management tools. In 2011, Exchange 2010’s EMC experienced problems when the IE team upgraded a component that EMC used only to find that the EMC window wouldn’t close in some circumstances. Perhaps EAC will be less prone to breakage because of some change in a Windows components. Given Microsoft’s current focus on cloud-based delivery for its Office products, it also makes eminent sense for the Exchange team to discard any utility that’s tied to Windows and focus instead on creating a comprehensive management framework that works well across both on-premises and cloud environments. I see this happening in EAC and again, a hint to Microsoft’s directions is provided by the prominent “Office 365″ label displayed by EAC.
What’s for sure is that Exchange benefits because EAC uses the multi-browser approach that Microsoft takes for Outlook Web App (OWA). Essentially, if a browser supports OWA premium, it will support EAC, so that means that you can use IE, Chrome, Safari (for Windows), and Firefox. On the other hand, don’t expect to be able to run EAC on Opera or other less mainstream browsers. I’m sure that some in the Exchange community will bemoan the demise of EMC. That was my original position until I realized the benefits of upgrading from what has become a fat, dumb, and not-so-happy management console to something capable of running on multiple platforms that doesn’t depend on complex machinations between IIS, Windows Remote Management (WinRM), and other Windows components to run properly and which can be as slow as a wet pig on a bad night (with all due respect to our porcine friends).
In short, Microsoft is dead right to consign the MMC-based consoles to the great byte wastebasket in the sky. And if you really need to get an MMC fix, Exchange 2013 preview still includes the “Exchange Toolbox”, a console to manage traditional public folders (those that have not yet been migrated to the all-singing, all-dancing modern variety introduced in Exchange 2013) as well as provide pointers to useful tools such as the Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer (ExRCA). EAC isn’t perfect. However, I’m sure it will get better as feedback flows back from people who use the Exchange 2013 preview.
And I’m positive that there will be quite a few debates on EAC and how it functions as a management console at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in Orlando next September. Maybe I’ll see you in Orlando to join the EAC debate there!
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