Exchange 2013 and SharePoint 2013: Better together

You’ve used SharePoint and Exchange but have you ever used them together? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. In a new course, Exchange MVP J. Peter Bruzzese (right) shows you how these two solutions become better communication and collaboration tools when they’re joined together. We recently caught up with J. Peter to ask him about the most exciting lessons in the course, the biggest challenges and why you should care.

TrainSignal blog:  J. Peter, you just finished another course. Can you give a quick description of what it covers?

J. Peter Bruzzese: Yep, I just finished working up a new course with TrainSignal called Configuring Exchange Server 2013 with SharePoint 2013, and it’s an absolute must-see for anyone looking to combine these solutions together for greater collaboration and communication.  It’s a shorter course compared to some of my more “epic-like” courses, but jammed with some seriously complex configuration demos. Some of the most challenging ones I’ve ever done.

TB: Who’s the audience for this course?

JPB: I think the audience for this course is anyone who works with Exchange or SharePoint (or both) who would like to benefit from the added features you obtain when you combine the solutions together, as in the case of Site Mailboxes. Or, it’s for people who simply want to utilize Office Web Apps Server with both solutions in mind (Exchange and SharePoint).

TB: Why should people care?

JPB: I believe it is important for people to learn how these solutions fit together because we spend quite a bit of money to place these communications (Exchange) and collaboration (SharePoint) solutions into our environments, but we may not be getting the full value or return on investment (ROI) if we are not aware of and/or implementing the combination features.  At the very least, knowing what you can do is the key to determining what you need or don’t need for your particular environment.

TB: We’ve heard configuring the two has some challenges. Can you enlighten us further?

JP: The truth is Exchange and SharePoint work great separately and perform as expected for those familiar with the solutions. But there are obvious connection points between these two with not so obvious or intuitive configurations.

Case in point, on your SharePoint server you can find two links through Central Administration under System Settings, “Configure incoming e-mail settings” and “Configure outgoing e-mail settings” as shown in Figure 1 below.

The outgoing settings are quite simple to configure on the SharePoint side, although they do require the configuration of a receive connector on the Exchange side. The incoming settings, which require a send connector on the Exchange side, are quite a bit more complex, especially if you plan on using SharePoint Directory Management services to link SharePoint to your Active Directory, and correspondingly to add contacts (lists and libraries that have been email enabled) into the address book of your Exchange end users.

I can honestly say those lessons in the course went super smoothly. I had no problems configuring and testing the process and the recordings went off without a hitch. Things weren’t so smooth with Office Web Apps Server (OWAS) and Site Mailboxes.

TB: Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced setting up OWAS?

Office Web Apps Server (OWAS) is a new solution that improves upon the fidelity and quality of online “web app” document viewing. So, when a Word document is sent to you through email and you don’t have Word installed on the system you are using, you can preview the document in near-perfect quality if you have an OWAS set up (as shown in Figure 2 below).

The same is true of SharePoint documents. You can not only view, but with proper permissions, edit documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) if you have an OWAS set up. What should have been a piece of cake turned into a nightmare. The SharePoint side configured with no problem. But the Exchange side was very problematic. So much so that I had to contact Microsoft to ask what I (or they) had wrong. They confirmed, my setup was perfect.  Just a little tweak in the documentation and one or two extra steps and all was humming along. The good news? You won’t have to lose hours of sleep over the craziness because I did that for you and created a video that helps you make OWAS an easy add-on to your environment.

TB: And what about Site Mailboxes?

JPB: Nobody promised Site Mailboxes were going to be easy to configure and they aren’t. One expert said, “Once you get it working, you feel like you built a house!” On the plus side, by following all the documentation and taking my time (several hours) to read through all the instructions, the configuration went off with no issues. (Note the addition of the Site Mailbox in our SharePoint site in Figure 3 below).

On the negative side, the actually configuration includes practically every ability you have.  Networking skills, DNS skills, Certificate skills, SQL skills, IIS management skills, Exchange and SharePoint skills, PowerShell skills and more. And the lesson I created takes you through the whole process. When you finish, you may feel like you’ve built a house with your bare hands. But you know what? You’ll also have that same feeling of satisfaction, knowing you did something awesome.

JPB’s disclaimer: Feelings of building a house and the euphoria of such skills and efforts are used in purely a metaphoric sense here. Consider it a scaled “joy” model where a house may take six months to build, compared to six hours to configure a site mailbox.

TB: It sounds like you put a ton of effort into each lesson.

JPB: You don’t know the half of it. These configuration settings were just some of the “fun” tweaks I had to map out, determine a thorough lesson plan for and record. For those of you who watch my series you have to know that a ton of work goes into each lesson. Everything from my opening “Greetings! And welcome to TrainSignal!” to my closing “We hope you found that informative. Thanks for watching!  And I’ll see you, in the next lesson.” is thought through, tested, captured and recorded, edited, edited again by a Product Development Specialist, run through a technical editor, sent to the NSA (kidding) and, finally, released to the public.

TB: You’re proud of this one.

JPB: I’m incredibly passionate about everything I do, especially the training videos I create.  It’s always a privilege to put together something new and exciting that folks truly need to learn and I feel this course is one of those “special” series. I’m confident the students will enjoy it.  So, yeah, I’m quite proud of it.

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