Running Microsoft CRM 3 without Exchange Server

As many of you know, I am a Solution Specialist for Microsoft CRM, which means I am the first line for sales questions generally for CRM in my area.  Many of the blog posts here have been a direct result of emails and phone calls from my partners asking “how to”, “if” and “will this work” questions. So with that in mind, this post is NOT an official knowledge base article, statement of position, or even official enough to bother emailing to your friends.  

So the bottom line, this whole post is because I am lazy and am getting tired of writing the same email to different folks every week. Special Thanks to Dominic P from the Dev Team for proof reading and giving me a ton of information to build this on.

Before we go down this trail, let’s disclaim as follows: “The Best User Experience and Tested Solution for Microsoft CRM involves using a Microsoft Exchange Server, either standalone or utilizing Small Business Server. That is the environment our development was done in, our testing was done in and our support folks have the most amount of knowledge around.”

So, you want to deploy Microsoft CRM WITHOUT Exchange. Your first question is why? Normally the answer is one of two things.

  1. The organization is massive (or at least fairly large) they have a history with Lotus Notes or Oracle or (insert email server here).
  2. The organization is pretty small. Email is probably outsourced or delivered as a POP3/SMTP Solution for them.

So let’s get some common misconceptions out of the way right up front. Microsoft CRM does NOT REQUIRE Exchange to run. However, if you do not have an Exchange server, you will not have some functionality available to you. You will still have a CRM system with functionality that rocks, a killer user interface, awesome reporting and a ton of customization ability.

Let’s also talk for a second or two about a prefer method before we start talking about what exists without Exchange. It is co-existence. If you can create a rule on your mail server, have it "forward as an attachment" a copy of your mail to an Exchange Server. (Make sure it is a Forward As An Attachment and not a redirect, not a forward, otherwise all of the emails will get attached to where your email address is or the CRM Router will not work.) If you have a customer that has Lotus Notes, let’s look at this option as well.  (It does have a drawback, in that HTML get all of the coding stripped from them.) Yes folks, that generally does require the installation of an Exchange Server. (That would be in addition to the existing mail server.)

So, with all of that underway, let’s go through three areas that CRM has and handles mail. This is ONLY for Microsoft CRM 3.0. The Stuff that worked and didn't work in 1.2 was a little different, and being that I have a short memory, who cares about 1.x... :-)

Outlook Client

  1. The Outlook Client is ONLY supported when running against an Exchange Server. Period.
  2. In my 1.x days, the support was the same way. However, the Outlook Client worked very well with POP3/SMTP emails. You will need to manually promote each email to CRM. In 3.0, the enviromentational wizard will not allow this to work. The Outlook Client assumes that there is a Exchange Schema and things may not fare well unless it finds the schema it thinks should exist. So:
    1. For example, a Hotmail Store is not writable, so trying to save linking state will result in an ugly error message.
    2. For POP3, information is stored locally, so the link is made, but it will only work on that machine. (It is NOT test and NOT supported, but it may work.)
    3. IMAP, this scenario is not supported or is it being developed towards.
  3. This is also checked by the installer when CRM installs, so unless you do a reg hack, you will never get this far to begin with. :-) (I am told, that this architecture may change for our "Titan" release. As more details on "Titan" become available, they will be posted here... :-) )

Outgoing Mail

  1. Outgoing Mail from the Outlook Client is handled via Outlook’s Mail Transport. So IF and that is a BIG if, the Outlook Client works with your POP3/SMTP Server, then it will be attached to CRM as an activity.
  2. For Outgoing mail from the CRM Forms. (In either Outlook or the Web) CRM does NOT need to be Exchange. Does NOT require installing an outbound component. Can use a local or remote SMTP stack from Exchange SMTP stack, OS SMTP stack, third party SMTP stack.

Incoming Mail

  1. For that you are on your own 100%. You would need to cut and paste emails from your email system to Microsoft CRM just like you would for any other CRM system.
  2. If you are ambitious, the API’s exist and you could write the functionality for your customers yourself. 

UPDATE: New information released. Click Here for an update.