We are looking to setup a test e-mail environment in the cloud using Windows Servers (Active Directory servers and Exchange Servers) and some Windows Clients (Windows 10 computers with Outlook installed). We want this all setup on a fake domain (one we don't actually own [e.g., my-test-domain.com]) where any of the Windows Clients that join the domain can send each other email via the Exchange Servers. We don't have any particular requirements for the versions of the software used but we prefer the latest versions wherever possible.

We believe this can all be done via proper use of our own DNS server but are unsure of the exact details. Our plan is to do the following:

  1. Spin up 2 Windows Server 2016 instances
  2. Set one of the servers as the AD controller and use it as the DNS server
  3. Set the appropriate DNS entries for the test domain (MX record?)
  4. Set the other server as the Exchange Server (configured against the test domain)
  5. Spin up 2 Windows 10 instances and join them both to the test domain and point their DNS to the AD controller
  6. Install Outlook on both instances
  7. Create two user accounts in AD
  8. Send email between the two accounts on the Windows 10 boxes

Our questions are:

  1. Are the set of steps, at a high level, correct? If not, what needs to change?
  2. What DNS entries need to be set?
  3. Which cloud provider would you recommend? We normally use AWS but it seems easier to spin up Windows 10 boxes in Azure and we are wondering if Azure would be easier since this is all Microsoft stuff.
  4. Anything else we should be aware of?

Thanks in advance!


In the scenario that you have outlined, you don't need MX records. Exchange doesn't use them for internal email. MX records are for external email only.

You should use a domain that you control, even if it is a sub domain. Failing that, use example.com.

However if you don't use a valid domain, then you will not be able to get a trusted SSL certificate which will can cause issues with client connection.

As for provider - not really much to choose between them. Rather than the multiple machine route, you could just get one fat machine and divide it up using Hyper V or VMWARE. In that case you could look at a dedicated server from any provider or your choice.

  • Good to know about MX records. Does Exchange just use the A record for internal systems? No problem about the SSL certificate, we control the trust stores on all of the systems so we will be using our own internal PKI. – Hmmmmm Feb 3 at 19:40

According your description, you would deploy a test lab in a private network (internal only). Your steps are OK.

In addition, if you don’t want to use the default self-signed certificate, you could also install ADCS role on DC, and request a new certificate about Exchange server.

About DNS, you could also add A record for Autodiscover (Autodiscover.domain.com) against your server.

And I think both Azure and AWS are OK. Here is a Azure reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/exchange/plan-and-deploy/deploy-new-installations/create-azure-test-environments?view=exchserver-2019

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