Second, the Exchange Preferred Architecture favors physical servers over virtual servers. In the blog post, Microsoft makes the point that Server Core is “ideal for cases where you run virtual machines at scale,” but Exchange Online has always preferred physical servers because virtual servers introduce an extra layer of complexity that Microsoft considers undesirable at cloud scale. Another reason is economics: large-scales services like to extract every possible CPU cycle from servers. After all, if you buy a server, shouldn’t you use it to the maximum for the service you’re selling?
On a practical level, because Server Core includes fewer components, its smaller footprint makes it easier for Microsoft to deploy Server Core across Exchange Online using their technique of taking servers offline and rebuilding them from scratch. The build process is simpler and faster, and those benefits really accumulate at the scale of Office 365.
Third, although Exchange Online is more functional than the on-premises version of Exchange 2019, Exchange Online doesn’t need the functionality of full-blown Windows Server. Core is a well-suited platform for Exchange Online, especially in the highly-automated environment of Office 365. Exchange administration is built around remote PowerShell, so losing the GUI is no great loss.
Fourth, the CPU cycles released by not having to support the features cut from Server Core power the extra functionality in Exchange Online. Many of the cloud-only features (like the Focused Inbox) use background assistants or other processes to extract, analyze, and update data, and that overhead has to be absorbed alongside normal user activity.
Configurations for Exchange Online Servers
Apart from saying that it uses Server Core, Microsoft hasn’t released other configuration details for Exchange Online servers, but you can bet that they configure the servers with the maximum 128 GB of memory and use the metacache (SSD storage for hot data) to supplement the JBOD storage used for mailbox databases.
Given its 100 GB enterprise mailboxes, large recoverable items quotas, expandable archives, and inactive mailboxes, Exchange Online has a very different storage profile to on-premises servers. Another point is that an Exchange Online mailbox holds a heap of hidden system data that doesn’t exist in on-premises servers. The hidden data is used by the Microsoft Graph, background assistants, and other processes, and the net result is that the average Exchange Online mailbox is much larger than those on-premises. With so much mailbox data available, the metacache is critical to maintain fast access to essential mailbox data like the indexes.
Exchange Online Moves Forward
Other Office 365 applications might generate more hyperbole, but the simple fact remains that Exchange Online is the largest and most-used workload in Microsoft’s cloud suite (you wouldn’t know this by the session allocation at the upcoming Microsoft 2019 conference). Still, it’s nice to have solid progress in the background, even if it’s only appreciated by Exchange’ aficionados.
I totally agree with Tony that Exchange Online using Windows Server Core is not a surprise. He has good points about why they build servers as they do. While I work at Microsoft, I have no better information than Tony has but I have one viewpoint he may not have. One extra reason for using Windows Server Core is the ease of automated deployment of Core. My team manages over 40,000 Windows Servers and deployment can be long and troubling at times. By using Core, the Exchange Online team can reduce the build time and the failure rate. This is Cloud Mindset at its best. JS
This morning, at the Government Leaders Summit, Satya Nadella took to the stage to make the pitch about how Azure is the right solution for government workloads. While talking about how Microsoft is already being utilized by various military services, the company showed off a new version of Azure Data Box Edge.
Data Box Edge is a Hardware-as-a-service solution. Microsoft ships you a cloud-managed device with a built-in Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) that can operate independently of a network connection. In the scenarios shown today by Microsoft where Data Box Edge is applicable, they were referring to a forward operating base or during the recent Ebola outbreak.
Previously, Microsoft offered a blade-server that you could bring along and gain the benefits of Azure, but localized to your working office. The company is taking this concept one step further with a new solution that weighs under 10lbs, can fit in a backpack, runs on batteries, and meets the 810G ruggedized standard.
Shown above is the small version of Azure that can fit nearly in your pocket. The device can run for “extended periods of time” on battery, Microsoft did not provide a duration, and the solution brings AI/ML features to your worksite. As an example, the company said you could use this box to scan real-time drone footage to look for a lost person.
Microsoft often portrays its cloud services as this monolithic, interconnected, database of applications but the company is quickly moving towards edge-use cases such as these Data Box products. Yes, Microsoft has been a player in ‘edge’ computing for a long time, but the reality is, that as computational power increases and machine learning scenarios can be localized while off the grid, Azure services are venturing deeper into what was traditionally “on-premises” territory.
Microsoft announced the mobile cloud today. This device can help provide Azure Cloud Services in places that may not have the best networking access. Since it was announced at a government conference, I feel that this is being offered for the Department of Defense. However, there are a lot of civilian uses for this device. Think about scientific research being done in extreme locations, construction projects preparing locations for further projects, and "outposts" with low network opportunities like National Parks or Forests. This technology could open may doors for use of Cloud Services in those locations. JS
A question I get asked all the time is how I stay up to date with all the features and announcements that happen for Azure products. Something that I have within my arsenal to help me keep up to date is the Azure Charts or Azure Heat Map.
The Azure Chart is a website that a Microsoft employee, Alexey Polkovnikov has developed as side project. Utilising public updates, RSS channels and web pages as data sources the Azure Chart website tries to pull together all Azure news, stats and changes.
There are many features on the website but my favourite is the Azure Heat Map.
The Azure Heat Map is a great visualisation of the latest changes to the Azure products. The website lists all the Azure services and then highlights those in a bright colour that have an update and darkens those that haven't. You can then click on the tile for that product and it takes you to the new story on the official Microsoft website so you can find out what the update was.
My favourite view is the "last 7 day" update view. Which helps me focus on the latest updates without being overwhelmed. It's a great view if you've been off on an annual leave for a few days or a week and need to catch up on what has happened while you were offline.
The website also has other features, another I like to use is the Azure Region Scope. This allows you to pick an Azure region and then discover which services are available there and if they are generally available (GA) or within preview. Again great for understanding what is available and can be really useful when you are architecting solutions.
Overall, the Azure Charts website is a useful resource and show be within your Internet favourites at all times.
Personal Vault is a great addition to the consumer version of OneDrive. Having a secure enclave is a nice addition. Some people have asked why the OneDrive in Office 365 Business or Enterprise plans don't offer this. I don't know for certain but I think it has to do with the fact that Business/Enterprise plans provide higher levels of security meaning the whole OneDrive is secured like the Personal Vault. I will check on this. JS
Since we announced the preview of Windows Virtual Desktop in March, thousands of customers have piloted the service, providing valuable feedback and insights for Microsoft to integrate into the service. Today, we are excited to announce the worldwide general availability of Windows Virtual Desktop. It is the only service that delivers simplified management, a multi-session Windows 10 experience, optimizations for Office 365 ProPlus, and support for Windows Server Remote Desktop Services (RDS) desktops and apps. With Windows Virtual Desktop, you can deploy and scale your Windows desktops and apps on Azure in minutes.
Now available in all geographies, customers will be able to deploy scalable Azure-based virtualization solutions with a number of operating systems, including Windows 10 multi-session, Windows Server, and Windows 7 desktops with free Extended Security Updates for up to three years for customers still completing their move to Windows 10. We have also been working closely to build out an extensive partner ecosystem that can extend the benefits and capabilities of Windows Virtual Desktop to enable customers to get the most of out their virtualization investments.
This is going to be a game changer. Companies can look at moving to lighter-weight devices while still having access to "heavy" applications hosted on Azure Virtual Desktops. I am going to look at this myself possibly with a Surface Pro X. JS