3 weeks of Exchange ActiveSync Horror

October 23, 2006

I knew my day would eventually come and almost 3 weeks ago it finally did. James Kendrick has blogged numerous times about his hatred of ActiveSync, complaining that when it works, it works great, but when something goes wrong there is no easy recovery from it. Having used Windows Mobile devices for a few years now, and never having experienced any issues with AS, I always kind of scoffed at jk (stupid me). My scoffing days are done my friends. From 8:27a on 10/5 through this morning I was completely unable to perform over the air synchronization to my Exchange server. The specific error I received was this blastedly vague phrase: “ActiveSync encountered a problem on the server Support code: 0x85010014”
All the Googling I could possibly do lead me to various solutions, none of which resolved the problem, and to make things worse one of those potential solutions was to hard reset both the 6700 and the 700wx (both getting the same error seeming to indicate that it was indeed a problem on the server). I have done enough hard resets that I am unafraid of them, or full blown ROm upgrades for that matter, but the frustrating thing is that upon reattempting the OTA sync (and failing) and then performing a soft reset after reloading my key apps, AS by default attempted to connect on startup and wound up freezing the device so quickly that I couldn’t stop the freeze in time to get into the task manager, thus leading to another hard reset.
I could at least do regular desktop syncing with Outlook to get all my contacts, calendar items, email, and tasks loaded, but having been able to do this OTA for a few months has spoiled me forever!
Suffice it to say, the research for a solution was exhausting and fruitless until my IT brethren and I determined that a recent install of an email archiving software had to have caused the issue. I also stumbled upon a 1 year old Powerpoint presentation from a Microsoft webcast for Exchange administrators. This ppt. contains some very valuable information about precisely how the sync process works (between front end and back end servers in particular) which lead me to what was ultimately a correct guess about how the problem occured.

The installation of the archiving software (Mimosa’s Nearpoint)on the back end server which holds my exchange account occured sometime the morning of 10/5 after 8:27a (my last successful OTA sync until this morning). The confounding thing is we have several back end servers and the 2nd installation did not lead to the same issue for Windows Mobile users on that server! In the review of the archiving software I link to above this comment caught my eye:

“Best of all, users can restore messages themselves. There are no special clients to install—management takes place through Outlook or Outlook Web Access (OWA)”

Because I knew this is also how OTA essentially works, I guessed aloud to my Exchange Admin that this had to be where the conflict was occuring. Sure enough what the initial Nearpoint installation did was by default change 2 specific permissions (not sure which ones) on the IIS virtual directory for OWA. It is these permissions that apparently make Nearpoint’s OWA archive management possible, and on the installation to the 2nd back end server, these 2 permissions were treated differently, thus the answer to why the WM users on that server weren’t having any OTA sync issues.

There is no documentation (that we could find anyway) on this issue from either Microsoft or Mimosa (who by the way I think is now owned by Microsoft). Yes it is a rather obscure issue and we did find a solution, but the fact that we had to pull so much hair out before we did is what still bothers me. This seems like a predictable conflict between these 2 pieces of software and I would bet that I’m publishing the first knowledge of this today?!

Though I am thrilled to be able to OTA sync again (which by the way duplicated all my contacts, tasks, and calendar items on 1st sync since the horror…nice), the bad taste from this affair won’t soon dissolve for me. If the boys in Redmond want their direct push solution to truly displace Blackberry Enterprise as the corporate mobile email drug of choice (which to be fair wouldn’t be the successful business model it is without the ubiquity of Exchange anyway), then they better start paying more attention to preventing issues like this from even needing to be documented in the first place!!!!!!!!

There’s no reason from a cost perspective that MS shouldn’t overtake Blackberry, once enough good WM5 devices are available from all cellular providers. The Blackberry Enterprise solution requires a another robust server (or multiples thereof depending on the number of users) in addition to the investment in the Exchange server(s) a company has already plunked over good cash for, and a per user/per month cost of around $40 bucks a user (based on what our organization was quoted at least). With a little more expensive WM device (compared to typical cost of Blackbery devices) and Exchange Service Pack 2 installed, this extra cost is eliminated and you get more syncing functionality to boot! How is this not a slam dunk?!!!!

And yet, somehow I don’t think Microsoft’s dominance in this area will come to pass. Why? Because executives don’t have the patience or the time to deal with suddenly not having mobile access to their email for 3 weeks. They will pay more for a more a more reliable solution, and though I haven’t made the time to scour the web to search for similar Blackberry horror stories, I’d bet good money up front they don’t exist………..

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