I was hoping to post something less controversial for my first blog entry, but this issue came up again recently and I felt I had to address it.
I’m frequently asked why I we don’t support putting Outlook and Exchange on the same machine. One response I typically hear is “But I run both on my machine and never have a problem”. In this post, I’ll attempt to clarify a few things and explain what kinds of problems you can expect when you put Outlook and Exchange on the same server.
A couple definitions – shorthand mainly:
Admin: The Exchange Administrator (5.5) or the Exchange System Manager (2000 and 2003).
The main thing to clear up is that the warning against putting the Outlook and Exchange on the same machine applies primarily to servers and other mission critical machines. Basically, if your server hosts an application which uses MAPI, you should never install Outlook on it.
So why do the articles make a point to say not combine the Admin and Outlook? The answer is because there are a large number of server applications out there which rely on MAPI for integration with Exchange. Examples include voicemail, PDA synchronization, workflow, archival, legal discovery and connectors (gateways) to third party mail/database systems. The recommended method for installing MAPI onto a server for one of these applications is to install the Admin.
Here’s a (greatly simplified) synopsis of MAPI’s architecture. The core file is mapi32.dll. After loading MAPI, applications then open message stores and address books. These are implemented by providers. The providers which allows MAPI to talk to Exchange and the directory are emsmdb32.dll and emsabp32.dll.
MAPI was designed so that anyone could implement the core component and providers. A few companies did choose to implement the Simple MAPI portion of the API in their own mapi32.dll, but AFAIK, the only currently available implementations of the Extended MAPI portion of the API are those shipped by Outlook and Exchange. A key flaw in the original MAPI design is that it did not allow for multiple implementations to coexist.
Life would be very simple if the mapi32, emsmdb32 and emsabp32 shipped by Outlook and Exchange were the same implementation, built out of the same code tree. If that were the case, the only concern would be keeping up with the latest builds.
However, life is not this simple. Outlook and Exchange have different needs from MAPI, and, as such, the code for their implementations has diverged a good deal. Exchange needs high stability and scalability out of MAPI, so a good portion of the design and testing is focused on eliminating potential deadlocks and memory leaks. Outlook needs a strong user experience, so the focus is on features like Cancel RPC, RPC over HTTP, Cached Mode, and server reconnect. Outlook also needed to solve the coexistence problem to allow for other mail clients, so enter the MAPI Stub.
The stub library works by acting as a central dispatcher for MAPI calls, proxying the calls out to the various implementations of MAPI which may be on the box. There’s a performance penalty to the stub library’s proxying mechanism though. This performance penalty was not acceptable in a server environment, so Exchange declined to support their implementation of MAPI with the stub. The effect of all this is that Exchange’s providers expect to be loaded by Exchange’s MAPI, and Outlook’s providers expect to be loaded by Outlook’s MAPI. We can’t guarantee this will be the case if both are installed on the same box.
I began this post promising to list some concrete examples of the problems this can cause. These are real issues I’ve encountered as an Escalation Engineer:
- Missing interfaces – Exchange has recently extended the IExchangeManageStore interface to allow the Admin to provide listings of over 65000 mailboxes and public folders. The new interfaces required for this are not in Outlook’s Emsmdb32.
- Memory leaks and deadlocks – Outlook’s MAPI trails far behind Exchange’s MAPI in shipping fixes for issues which can show in high stress multithreaded MAPI applications. This is not suprising considering the level of testing Exchange’s implementation gets, not only internally but by third parties. Quite often, we get calls from our partners saying that “the latest fix didn’t work” – that their customer is still seeing a leak/deadlock/transient hang that should have been fixed by a recent hotfix. On investigation, we’ll find that some administrator at the customer’s site had installed Outlook on the application server “just for testing“, essentially forcing the application to run in an environment where it was never previously tested.
- Stub dependencies Lead to Crashes – Just found this one last week. The Outlook stub library works great with Simple MAPI, which has only 12 functions, each with a well defined DLL entry points. Proxying Extended MAPI calls is much more complex – more places to fail. In the scenario I debugged, Outlook’s stub failed to locate the entry points for some functions in Exchange’s Emsmdb, so the function pointers were left NULL, leading to a crash when we tried to invoke the functions. I believe the setup was Exchange 2000 with Outlook 2000.
- Simple MAPI – I just mentioned the stub library works great with Simple MAPI, but it can’t work at all if Simple MAPI isn’t there. As of Exchange 2003, Exchange no longer implements Simple MAPI. The API was removed to reduce the potential attack surface.
- Rpc_Binding_Order – Installing Outlook on an Exchange cluster will prevent mad.exe from logging on. The Exchange release notes only indicate Freebusy won’t work, but that’s just one effect of mad.exe failing. Any other MAPI based program could fail in this scenario as well.
Of course, most of these problems could be solved (any problem can be solved, right?), and the stub library is a good first step, but committing to support of this configuration would greatly expand the test matrices of both Exchange and Outlook, not to mention the increased test burden for third party server applications using MAPI. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to justify the cost this would entail.
So, can you put Outlook and the Exchange Admin on the same box? If you’re just talking about an administrator’s desktop, one which can be rebooted on a whim or even rebuilt if needed, where downtime isn’t a big issue, sure – it still won’t be supported, but you might get away with it. If you’re talking about your Exchange server or a server hosting an application integrated with Exchange, you do so at your own peril.
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