Setting up Hosted Exchange and ActiveSync with Rackspace

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I’ve been selected by the Microsoft Communications Services (MSCS) team to test some of their services. Their services include hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Office Communications Services. The first service I played with is hosted Exchange with ActiveSync. I signed up for a trial account with Rackspace. Their online sign-up process was relatively simple. However, if you sign up with a free mail account (like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail), then you’ll have to verify your account information by phone.

The next step was to setup the email accounts on the Exchange server. The first step of this process was easy. All you have to do is log into the Rackspace control panel and click on the Add / Edit a Mailbox link. Then click on the Add Mailbox button and fill in the appropriate information (like first and last name, display name, user name, password). After you have added all your company’s user mailboxes, you will need to update the DNS settings of your domain to point the MX records at Rackspace.

To configure the MX record, it’s helpful if you have a little IT background (in my previous life, I worked in IT at Intel). If not, you can call the Rackspace Support team and they can walk you through the process. In my case, I logged into the cPanel of my domain (hosted elsewhere) and clicked on the MX Entry icon. Then I added two MX records (mx1.emailsrvr.com, mx2.emailsrvr.com) and gave them higher priority than the old MX record (I didn’t delete the old record in case I needed it again).

MX records for hosted Exchange at Rackspace

The next phase involves setting up Microsoft Exchange with Autodiscover, which enables email clients to connect directly to the Exchange server during setup. In order to setup Autodiscover, you have to create a CNAME DNS record. I actually wasted a few days on this part because I used the wrong syntax when I created the CNAME record via WHM (web host manager) on my server. Apparently, WHM does not warn you if you have the wrong syntax. You’ll just end up waiting and wondering why it’s not working. I didn’t discover my mistake until I used the Simple DNS Zone Editor in the Cpanel of my domain. That’s when I discovered I needed a period after my host name. Unlike WHM, Cpanel automatically inserted the trailing period in the hostname.

CNAME DNS record for Microsoft Exchange with Autodiscover at Rackspace

The final step of the hosted Exchange process is setting up a mail client on your computer. In my case, I used MS Outlook 2010 to connect to the Exchange server. And because I enabled Autodiscover, this step was fairly easy. All I had to do was enter the usual information (first and last name, email address, password) and Outlook automatically connected to Exchange — I didn’t have to enter the mail server information.

As part of my test, I also signed up for ActiveSync, which enables real-time sync for mobile devices. In order to set this up, you have to log into the Rackspace control panel and click on the ActiveSync link (via Email Accounts > Mobile Messaging). Click “Add” and then select the account you want to enable for ActiveSync. Next, you need to setup your mobile device with ActiveSync. Before you can do that, you will need to get some information by navigating to Email Accounts > Mailboxes > username (Mailbox Details) > Setup Instructions > ActiveSync.

ActiveSync with hosted Exchange at Rackspace

For my test trial, I decided to enable ActiveSync on my Apple iPod Touch. To do that, navigate to the following menu on your iPod: Settings > Mail > Exchange > Account. Then use the information obtained above to sync your device. That’s it. Hosted Exchange and ActiveSync are now ready to go.

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