Setup and Management
I began my tests of Exchange Online by logging in to the service's Web-based management interface, which greeted me with straightforward instructions on configuring my domains of choice to send and receive e-mail through my hosted Exchange account. With the Web interface, I created a couple of users and directed a few test messages their way, then-voila-the mail arrived.For bulk account creation, the service offers tools for synchronizing with an existing Active Directory instance. The tool must be run from a Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 box that's running PowerShell, is joined to the domain to be synchronized and is not itself a domain controller. After satisfying those criteria and enabling AD synchronization from the Web-based management interface, I was able to sync up my modest directory of test users to Exchange Online with a few clicks from my Windows Server 2003 box. I then navigated over to the disabled users list in the Web interface and could enable accounts for some of my uploaded users. The sync process is one-way only, which is meant to preserve the integrity of the on-premises directory. By default, my Windows Server 2003 box was set to re-sync my directory with my Microsoft Online Services account every three hours moving forward. I did not test Exchange Online alongside an existing on-premises Exchange server, but after synchronizing my AD instance, I had the options of migrating existing Exchange mailboxes up to the service and of divvying up my users between my on-premises and hosted Exchange services. In the future, I would like to see Microsoft add the option of having on-premises user accounts fail over to the hosted service in case of local Exchange downtime. Exchange Online provides for virus and spam filtering of incoming and outgoing mail via Exchange Hosted Services. As far as I could tell, there were no spam or virus management controls accessible through the Exchange Online admin site. What's more, I haven't maintained my Exchange Online e-mail addresses long enough to test the performance of these filters, so I'll follow up once those test accounts have had time to accrue some Internet crud.
One of my favorite parts of the service's user-account controls was the option to temporarily disable certain users' accounts (without deleting the associated mailboxes) to free up Exchange Online licenses for other users. License management is often a confusing piece of the Windows software puzzle, and it's good to see Microsoft easing these chores with its online services.