Uncovering the New Outlook 2007 AutoDiscover Service

by [Published on 20 June 2006 / Last Updated on 20 June 2006]

A really interesting new feature in Exchange Server 2007 is the new AutoDiscover Service or more specifically Exchange Web Service, which among other things makes it much simpler and easier to configure the Outlook profiles in your Exchange 2007 organization.

Introduction

Microsoft Outlook 2007 AutoDiscover is a new Exchange Server 2007 service, or more specifically Exchange Web Service, which makes it so much simpler as well as easier to configure the Outlook 2007 profiles in your organization. In order to automatically configure and connect previous versions of Outlook to Exchange 2000 and 2003 Servers, you needed to do so using the Custom Installation Wizard from the Office Resource Kit or a similar tool. But now the users can configure their Outlook profile themselves, as they only need to click next a few times and specify their e-mail address and password, depending on whether they're using a client machine member of the respective Active Directory domain or not.

The AutoDiscover service is provided by the Client Access Server (CAS) role, which is the server role that replaces the front-end server we know from Exchange 2000 and 2003. So in order to make use of the new AutoConnect feature, it’s a requirement that you have at least one Exchange 2007 Server, with the CAS role installed, deployed in your organization.

How Does The AutoDiscover Service Work?

When the CAS role is installed on an Exchange 2007 Server, a new virtual directory called AutoDiscover is created in the IIS Manager.


Figure 1: AutoDiscover virtual directory

When Outlook 2007 is launched from a client machine it immediately starts searching your DNS server(s) for a host record. If an IP address is found the client will try to access the Web Site to which the XML file refers, which by default is the Default Web Site (more specifically the AutoDiscover virtual directory). The record should point to an Exchange 2007 Server with the CAS role installed, and that is accessible either via the intranet or the Internet. As soon as the CAS receives a request from a client, it generates a XML document with information found about the user in Active Directory. This XML file is then posted back to the client and used as a configuration template for Outlook. The template file contains information such as display name of the user, server name, alias, availability server URL (free/busy info), OOF URL, OAB URL, auth package etc.

Note:
Although we focus on the Outlook 2007 client in this article, the AutoDiscover service also works with Outlook Express (POP3 and IMAP4) and Exchange ActiveSync clients. It’s also worth mentioning the AutoDiscover feature works with Outlook AnyWhere (formerly known as RPC over HTTP) as well.

Creating the necessary record in DNS

In order to make use of the AutoDiscover service when configuring the Outlook 2007 clients in your organization, a necessary step is to create a special host (A) record in DNS. In order to do so log on to one of the DNS servers in your Active Directory, then open the DNS Management MMC snap-in by clicking Start -> Run then type dnsmgmt.msc. Now expand Forward Lookup Zones then right-click the respective domain in the left pane and select New Host (A) in the context menu (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Creating a record in DNS Management MMC snap-in

Type Autodiscover in the Name text field, then specify the IP address of the Exchange 2007 Server with the CAS role installed as shown in Figure 3 below.


Figure 3: Specifying the host record details

When you’ve done so click Add Host then OK in the appearing dialog box. You can now close the DNS Management MMC snap-in again.

Configuring the AutoDiscover Service on the Client Access Server

Before we’re ready to move on and configure our Outlook 2007 clients using the AutoDiscover service, we also need to specify which CAS server is to be used by the msExchOutlookProvider attribute on the msExchDiscoverConfig object in Active Directory. Because the Exchange Server 2007 build I use in this article doesn’t have an option for configuring the Outlook Provider Configuration settings in the Exchange Management Console, we need to do so using the OutlookProvider CMDlet via the Exchange Management Shell instead. So let’s fire up the Exchange Management Shell then type the below command and hit Enter:

Set-OutlookProvider –id exch –server: ehvms06

My CAS server is called ehvms06 so you should of course replace this name with the NetBIOS name of the Exchange 2007 server that holds the CAS role in your environment.

Note:
The Set-OutlookProvider command is, among other things, used to set specific global settings by using the msExchOutlookProvider attribute on the msExchAutoDiscoverConfig object in Active Directory. To get more information about the available parameters that can be used with this CMDlet, type get-help set-outlookprovider in the Exchange Management Shell.

If you want to test the AutoDiscover service without using SSL, you can disable the requirement for SSL with Set-OutlookProvider –id exch –ssl:$false. Just keep in mind that you always should be using SSL in a production environment, but since the current versions of Exchange Server 2007 aren’t meant for deployment in a production environment, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

Creating an Outlook Profile using the AutoDiscover Service

We’ve now reached the most exciting part in this article, and that is to see how the AutoDiscover service works. In order to see this, fire up Outlook 2007 on a client where you’re logged on with a user that currently doesn’t have an Outlook MAPI profile configured, then click Next (Figure 4).


Figure 4: Outlook profile wizard

Now select Yes and click Next (Figure 5).


Figure 5: Specifying the type of mail server

Be sure to select Microsoft Exchange Server, POP3, IMAP, or HTTP, then click Next. Now notice what happens. The screen in Figure 6 below appears for a few seconds.


Figure 6: AutoConnect account settings options

The name and e-mail address of the user currently logged on to the Active Directory domain is now filled in automatically (Figure 7).


Figure 7: Name and e-mail address retrieved from Active Directory

Bear in mind that the magic shown above only works if you’re currently logged on to the Active Directory domain. If you’re logged on locally to a machine, you’ll need to fill out the Name, E-mail address and Password text fields shown back in Figure 6 in order to have the profile configured properly.

Now click Next then Finish (Figure 8).


Figure 8: Outlook Profile created

That was it. The Outlook profile is now ready for use.

Transparent Mailbox Moves

Another cool thing about the AutoDiscover service is that mailbox moves will be completely transparent to the end-users, even when dealing with cross-forest mailbox moves! When a mailbox is moved to another server, the Outlook client will connect to the AutoDiscover Web Service and download the necessary configuration settings for the particular user. Actually the Outlook 2007 client polls the AutoConnect web server periodically as well as every time the client is launched.

Testing the AutoDiscover service  via an existing profile

Before we finish off with this article I thought I’d show you a little trick. Let’s suppose you have already configured your client either automatically or manually and want to test whether the AutoConnect feature works as expected. What to do? Don’t worry you can right-click the Outlook icon in the System Tray and select Test E-mail AutoConfiguration as shown in Figure 9 below. This is a pretty nifty feature if you want to check whether the AutoDiscover service still works as expected.


Figure 9: Test E-mail AutoConfiguration option

When Clicking Test E-mail AutoConfiguration in the context menu, a set of tests are executed against the Client Access Server as well as Active Directory (Figure 10).


Figure 10: Retrieving AutoConnect information

Conclusion

The new AutoDiscover service in Exchange Server 2007 makes configuring Outlook MAPI profiles a much more seamless process than is the case with previous versions of Outlook and Exchange. You no longer need to rely on the Custom Installation Wizard from the Office Resource Kit or other tools. A great new Exchange 2007 feature, which should be a welcome addition for any type of organization using Exchange Server as their primary type of messaging platform, but especially Exchange Hosting Providers should find the AutoConnect feature a very welcome addition.

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