Time is both the greatest enemy and greatest friend of technical books. I know that seems like a statement which makes little sense, but truth lurks in these words.
We all know that technology now evolves at an ever-increasing cadence. The upshot is that the traditional publishing cycle struggles to keep up. In the past, an author would have time to consider several betas of a new product and then the final version before settling down to write text that (after technical and copying editing) would be accurate and valid for a couple of years. The publishers were happy because the investment they made in bringing a book to market could be recouped over that period; authors were happy because the hundreds of hours of work required to create the text would be compensated for through royalty payments.
The cloud has had a terrific effect on all of us, most positive as new features and functionality are revealed every week. But this makes it really difficult for authors who write about technology because their text ages dreadfully quickly, even as the first printed copies of books appear.
Take Exchange 2013 for example. Paul Robichaux and I declined to write our “Exchange 2013 Inside Out” books based on the first (RTM) version because past history had taught us the wisdom of waiting for at least six months to see how a new server functioned when revealed to the harsh judgment of customer deployments. Even though some kudos can be gained through first to market status, books rushed out to coincide with the first availability of a new product are invariably flawed, and in the case of Exchange, they can be horribly flawed.
So we worked away in the background to create and hone content, going through the exacting editorial process managed by Microsoft Press to ensure that the books were as good as a team of technical reviewers, copy editors, indexers, design artists, and series editors can deliver. We eventually ended up with material that is up to date with Exchange 2013 CU2, but that’s five cumulative updates ago!
A lot has happened since CU2 appeared. I would argue that the content of Exchange 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox and High Availability and Exchange 2013 Inside Out: Connectivity, Clients, and UM are still valuable resources because although some details have changed since Paul and I stopped writing in September 2013, the concepts and general descriptions of technology have not. Some of the content could be rewritten now because we have more knowledge about a topic or Microsoft has made decisions that affect how we might describe things. Modern public folders are an example as the scalability issues that have forced Microsoft to focus on some reimplementation and tuning in this area were not known when I wrote that chapter and I would definitely have some different advice to offer today.
Still, the books are valuable resources and have largely stood the test of passing cumulative updates as long as you treat them as a starting point for understanding Exchange and supplement what you find in the Inside Out series with information published since Microsoft released Exchange 2013 CU2.
Which brings me to “Deploying and Managing High Availability for Exchange 2013”, a new eBook authored by a high-powered trio of very experienced Exchange MVPs: Paul Cunningham (“Exchange Server Pro”), Michael Van Horenbeeck (“Van Hybrid”), and Steve Goodman (all-round nice guy and co-host of the regular UC Architects podcast). That’s a pretty good line-up of talent to focus on a topic like High Availability.
Spread over 210 pages of content and 43 of a useful lab guide, the book addresses the following areas:
- Client Access server High Availability
- Mailbox Server High Availability
- Transport High Availability
- High Availability for Unified Messaging
- Managing and Monitoring High Availability
- High Availability for Hybrid Deployments
The best thing about the book is its practical nature. The content is approached from the perspective of an administrator who needs to get things done and there are lots of examples included to show you what commands need to be executed to perform different tasks.
The interests of the authors shine through too. Paul has long been a dedicated fan of Database Availability Groups (DAGs), so the coverage of how to put a DAG into operation is detailed and exact. Michael’s interests cover hybrid connectivity (obviously), but also the murky world of Managed Availability, so there’s plenty on that topic. And I suspect that Steve had something to say about certificates and their proper use within an Exchange deployment.
You can buy an electronic (PDF or EPUB format) copy of the book here. The cost is a very reasonable $34.99 (check the site for a discount). That might seem high for an eBook, but consider how much you have to pay for an hour of a consultant’s time and it makes perfect sense to acquire some knowledge by buying a book.
No book is perfect and I am sure that people will find points on which they disagree with the authors in this book. But that’s missing the point. A book about technology should never be deemed to be the last word on a subject, especially when dealing with servers that are deployed into a huge variety of different on-premises environments where one implementation differs from the next. It is the role and responsibility of an administrator to accumulate knowledge from books like this and then put that knowledge to work by placing it in context with the operational environment and business needs of their company. This book provides a lot of useful information that will help people immediately but it is important that readers surround the knowledge contained in the book with their own experience, background, and opinions.
And because no book is perfect, it’s good to know that this eBook can be updated pretty quickly if new information comes to hand. For example, the thinking around DAGs evolved significantly with the introduction of the simplified DAG in Exchange 2013 SP1. It will evolve again when Microsoft allows witness servers for multi-site deployments to be located in Azure early next year. And so on.
I believe that the future for technology books is not in the printed form. Sure, we will continue to have some books that are suitable for printing, but I think that the vast bulk of the market for books covering commercial application servers like Exchange will soon be in electronic format. Given the release cadence, it just makes sense.
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