Exchange Server Training Kit and seat time should get you through Exchange exams

Thinking of adding a few Exchange certs to the old resume? Exchange admin Christopher Tellez describes Microsoft Press' Exchange Server Training Kit as, "a great study tool that's chock full o' information."

Looking for help on the Exchange Server 5.0 or 5.5 exams? Then you should check out Microsoft Press’ Exchange Server Training Kit. In addition to evaluation software, you’ll receive several labs and other instruction vital to passing these exams.
Microsoft Exchange Server Training Kit Published by Microsoft PressWritten by Kay Unkroth1,372 pagesThree CDs included (Exchange Server 120-day evaluation version, online copy of book)Purpose: The book is designed to train you to pass:
  • Microsoft Exam 70-076: Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0
  • Exam 70-081: Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5

What you’ll need
To maximize the use of the Microsoft Exchange Server Training Kit, you should have two computers, each capable of running Windows NT Server 4.0 and Exchange Server 5.0 or 5.5, with these minimum requirements:
  • Pentium 133 MHz
  • 32 MB RAM (64 MB recommended)
  • 1-GB hard drive, and a network card

The book
The book begins by detailing the content each chapter covers, as well as the software requirements (listed above). Also included is a handy section that helps you study for either exam. It lists the skills tested in each and directs you to the relevant section of the book for studying those skills.

Microsoft Press’ Exchange Server Training Kit.

To properly conduct the labs, the next section covers the installation of Windows NT Server 4.0. Keep in mind that whenever you run through a similar setup or perform such labs, you should follow every instruction to the letter. Missing a step or executing a step improperly can lead to problems later.

Don’t run the labs on production environment machines. Your test machines should be on a physically segmented section of your network or on a separate test subnet. Many of the labs in the text cover synchronization between sites. Should your lab machines synchronize with production machines, you’ll be spending your time troubleshooting your production machines (or updating your resume).

Like the rest of the Microsoft books I have read, the minimum requirements are just that: minimum. While you may be able to install Exchange Server on a machine that Microsoft lists (Pentium 133 MHz, 150-MB free hard drive space for Exchange Server, and 32 MB RAM), I seriously doubt whether it would start before the end of the day.

If you are going to install Exchange in a real production environment, my minimal recommendation is a system possessing the following configuration:
  • Dual Pentium II 300-MHz processors
  • 18 GB of free hard drive space (three 9-GB SCSI drives in a RAID 5 configuration)
  • 256 MB RAM

Is this overkill? Could be. It just depends on the environment you are running it in.

The book also mentions running SQL Server, or SMS Server, on the same machine. While you could do this, it would require a machine twice as powerful as the one I listed above to perform well. Such an installation reduces the number of servers on a network, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting two very crucial pieces of my network on one box. Exchange Server can be touchy as it is; thus, it’s not always wise to add something else for it to do, despite the fact that it’s been developed to work that way.

The lab setup calls for the machines to be set as domain controllers—one Primary Domain Controller (PDC) and one Backup Domain Controller (BDC). Although I understand why this is done for the lab purposes (interaction of user accounts), it’s not recommended that you install Exchange on a domain controller. The two can coexist, but unless the machine is quite powerful, you can run into performance problems.

The format of the book is a lesson/lab or lesson/question structure similar to that found in Microsoft courses offered by ATECs. You learn a particular area of Exchange, and then you are either walked through a lab that covers that lesson or you are questioned on what you have just read.

As is true of most technical books, Microsoft Exchange Server Training Kit is large (1,300-plus pages), and it can be a dry read. Luckily, it’s not as dry as most books are. Its wording is very upbeat, but like most Microsoft texts, it can give too lengthy an explanation for what may be a simple concept. It is very detailed, though, and covers much information ATEC classes fail to review.

Some of the well-covered sections that are important parts of the test are:
  • The overall Exchange Server architecture
  • The various Exchange Server components/connectors
  • Communication functions of the Exchange Server

While many Exchange exams include a few questions on the X.400 connector, some class materials contain only a single paragraph describing what the X.400 connector does. This book is filled with page after page of information on X.400, including tips on installing it, configuring it, and explanations of how the connector interacts with Exchange. If only I had this text during my studying, perhaps I would have passed the test the first time.

Another detailed section covered by the kit—although it isn’t too crucial on the test—is the interaction between Exchange Server and the Exchange or Outlook client. This is an area where much of my day-to-day troubleshooting occurs. The kit reviews the installation, configuration of, and architecture of the clients. It even contains a small section on automatic profile generators. This information is helpful if you’re deploying the Exchange or Outlook client to a large number of desktops.

There are also a number of diagrams in this book. Some are helpful, but some are just a little too much, with lines and numbers everywhere. Nonetheless, they helped me understand how Exchange works.

The labs
The labs are fairly simple. As long as you follow the instructions, they should all be successful. While the practice labs do expose you to the areas you read about, they really cannot be compared to the experience you get running a production Exchange Server. As a result, I recommend you get as much seat time as you can before you take the test.

The final review
This book’s main purpose is to help you prepare for the Exchange Server 5.0 or 5.5 exams, which it does. Reviewing the book, combined with an investment of time administering a production Exchange Server, will help you pass the test. It’s even helpful for those who may not be focusing on the exam but simply want to get into Exchange Server—or those who need a really good administration book to help them with their everyday admin chores.

Rating the book on a scale where “Cure for insomnia” is low and “A cheater’s guide to the Exchange Server test” is high, I rate this “A great study tool that’s chock full o’ information."

Christopher Tellez is a network manager based in Southern California. He earned his MCSE in 1997. He’s a Starbuck’s regular.

If you'd like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.

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