The Top Ten Troubleshooting Tools for Exchange Server

When it comes to the care and feeding of Microsoft Exchange, one thing you can count on is the need to troubleshoot things from time to time. Whether we’re talking about client issues, server issues, sending mail issues, receiving mail issues, delayed mail issues, missing mail issues, phantom mail issues, or issues with issues, we know that users are going to report…wait for it…issues. Having a collection of “go to” tools installed on your servers and ready to use at a moment’s notice can make troubleshooting quick and efficient.

Notice, I did not say painless. No troubleshooting exercise will be without pain, since by its very definition there is some kind of trouble. But with the right tools and a familiarity with how to use them, you can move smoothly from learning there is trouble to finding out the cause. In this post I’m going to list my top ten troubleshooting tools for Exchange Server. Some of these tools are built into the operating system or Exchange, some you have to download, but all are freely available to you and are a part of my standard build.

1. Event Viewer

Never underestimate the importance, or the usefulness, of checking the event logs. Don’t zoom in just one section either. The Application, Security and System logs are all critical components and will tell you when there is a server issue, a user issue, or a service issue. The MSExchange Management and Windows PowerShell logs can be useful as well, but more to tell you what someone already did before they called you.

2. Resource Monitor

You don’t have to go to PerfMon to get a snapshot of what’s hammering your server’s resources. Launch Task Manager, go to the Performance Tab and hit that little button at the bottom called Resource Monitor. Yeah, check that out! You can see CPU, RAM, Disk, and Network and breakdowns on what is using which and how much. It’s much faster than PerfMon, tells you more than Task Manager by itself, and can help you figure out what’s chewing up your server.

3. Best Practices Analyzer

In the Toolbox section of the Exchange Management Console are several tools. Some I might launch once a year, but others are old friends. The BPA is for more than just checking Best Practices, it can run some great diagnostics to tell you how your server is doing, any challenges interacting with Active Directory. If you have not used it before, go play around with it and set up a baseline.

4. Remote Connectivity Analyzer

The Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer can be reached at https://testexchangeconnectivity.com or by launching the shortcut in the Toolbox. This web site can test everything from Autodiscover to ActiveSync, and is a fantastic way to check out your server from outside your network. Always have a test account with an empty mailbox handy for testing EWS, and use it anytime a user says their phone doesn’t work, they cannot connect from home, etc. to see whether it is your server, or the user, that has challenges.

5. Mail Flow Troubleshooter

Another tool in the toolbox of the EMC, the Mail Flow Troubleshooter is a wizard driven tool to check on the cause of NDRs, delays, and more.

6. Queue Viewer

Not the last tool in the toolbox, but the last I use on a regular basis, the Queue Viewer enables you to see at a glance whether there are any backups or congestion in moving mail from point A to point B.

7. ADUC

Never underestimate the ability for an AD admin or helpdesk user to mess up a user’s account such that mail is impacted. Launch Active Directory Users and Computers, enable Advanced View, and check out the Attribute Editor Tab to check all the relevant attributes for Exchange. If you don’t know what those are, give us a couple of days, and we’ll have a post on that.

8. Err

The Microsoft Error Lookup Tool is the perfect command line companion for any system, not just Exchange. But it is promoted as an Exchange tool, and I use it religiously on Exchange servers, so it gets a place of honour on this list. You can download this free tool from http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=985 and you really should copy it everywhere. Just remember, it has to have access to the relevant DLLs, so don’t expect to look up an Exchange error running this tool on your Windows 8 workstation.

9. Wireshark

I refuse to touch a server if I cannot get a network trace, and Wireshark is the choice of professionals. Well that may not be their tagline, but I doubt you will find many to argue that point. Network traces are invaluable, and on mail servers they are crucial to identifying issues, and Wireshark is freely available to download from http://www.wireshark.org/.

10. A good text editor

With all the logs, outputs from command line tools like PowerShell queries, and text dumps that troubleshooting can create, having something better than Notepad is critical. Look for a text editor that can open multiple files, present them in a tabbed layout, and can do difference comparisons (diffs) between files. My personal fave is PSPAD, which you can download from http://www.pspad.com/en/download.php.

So that’s my list of the top ten troubleshooting tools for Exchange 2010 Server. In a future post we’ll look at the top tools for troubleshooting client issues, but until then, what are some of your favourites for troubleshooting servers? Leave a comment and let us know what works well for you.

Written by Casper Manes

I currently work as a Senior Messaging Consultant for one of the premier consulting firms in the world, I cut my teeth on Exchange 5.0, and have worked with every version of Microsoft’s awesome email package since then, as well as MHS, Sendmail, and MailEnable systems. I've written dozens of articles on behalf of my past employers, their partners, and others, and I finally decided to embrace blogging and social media, so please follow me on Twitter @caspermanes if you enjoy my posts.

3 Comments

  1. Ryan Bogard · June 10, 2012

    Isn’t it kind of strange that with as many tools as Microsoft develops for us admins on Exchange, they don’t have a better packed-in or tailor-made solution for text editing than Notepad? At least none so focused and standalone.

    I have to do a lot of off-site administration for various clients of ours that use our services, and so I’m partial to any tool that lets me run tests from the field without establishing a VPN or anything similar. The more I can figure out about their issues without having to leave my office, the better – it saves me the trip, and it gives me an idea of what I’m up against when I do need to pay them a visit.

  2. Donato Kimsy · June 10, 2012

    Would you believe it that some administrators are not maximizing those troubleshooting tools. For whatever reason is beyond me. Sharing this article and even printing it for all IT staff is one way to remind them how to make their lives easier.

    Some IT administrators need to be taught how to use perspective to learn what to work on at any given time. They are so focused on some minute issue and doing it (for the chase or challenge of it, perhaps), instead of doing something more strategic like maintenance and doing things easier by using tools.

    I know intellectuals love the challenge of problem solving, but when tools are at hand to do things faster and easier, isn’t it logical to use them?

  3. Sonny · May 2, 2013

    I admit that of the 10 tools in this list, I’ve used only 2. I, and the other guys I work with, use mostly the Event Viewer and Mail Flow Troubleshooter. I think it’s not because we’re ignoring the others, but more because of what the bulk of the things we do require. Anyway, I agree with Donato, IT admins like us should maximize the value of these tools. Also, I’d like to point out that although we’ve gotten used to text editing using Notepad, we’re open to the idea of a better alternative. I hope Microsoft hears you, Ryan!

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