Deploying the iPhone 3G for business: Integrating with Exchange

The iPhone 2.1 update and Exchange

Apple’s 2.1 firmware update for the iPhone—released on Sept. 12—included a wide range of bug fixes, security updates, and improvements for overall performance and reliability with 3G networks. It has also generated its own series of ActiveSync issues for some users. The problems seem to occur only on iPhones running the earlier iPhone 2.0.x firmware that were configured and able to successfully communicate with Exchange before the update.

More on iPhone 2.1

Following the update, some users reported being unable to access items on the Exchange server with a "connection to the server failed" error message being displayed when trying to access Exchange items stored on the server. Over-the-air syncing also may be affected. Detailed reports of problems can be found in a thread on Apple’s discussion forums.

While the problems appear to affect a number of users, it’s not universal and some of the posters to the forum reported no issues after the update. Although the exact cause isn’t clear from the information available so far, there do seem to be a couple of consistent points. First, problems seem to occur when an iPhone with an existing Exchange configuration is updated. Restoring rather than upgrading the firmware may be one way to avoid the problem.

Even some of those experiencing a problem have found that performing a restore operation and activating the restored phone as a new iPhone in iTunes—rather than restoring settings from a backup of the iPhone made prior to the restore—resolves problems completely. Note that this will require configuring the Exchange account on the iPhone again. Some users have also suggested that a full restore may not always be required and that simply resetting the iPhone can be effective. To reset the iPhone, power it off by holding the sleep button down until the Slide to Power Off display appears, then restart it.

Another tip noted by several users is that adjusting the use of the domain in a username for an Exchange account (adding it if it wasn’t there originally or removing it if was) may help resolve the situation. Why the update would have changed the iPhone’s behavior in this area compared to previous firmware versions isn’t clear, but multiple users have reported this as a workable solution.

Resources

The following are additional resources that you should review if you are planning to implement the iPhone in an Exchange environment or if you are trying to resolve problems with iPhone access to Exchange. Many of these resources are mobile device guidelines from Microsoft; also included are resources from Apple and relevant discussion threads from Apple’s iPhone in the Enterprise forums.

As I noted earlier, a full understanding of and experience with Exchange will go a long way toward making the integration of the iPhone as seamless as possible, and I strongly suggest reviewing all these resources before beginning such an integration. Smaller organizations or less-experienced Exchange administrators may also want to consider hiring a consultant who specializes in Exchange to ensure optimal configuration.

[Ryan Faas is a frequent Computerworld contributor specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues.]

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