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Get IT Done: Take time to maintain your Exchange Server

Five tips optimize your Exchange Server

With all the daily network fires you experience and the regular administrative functions that require your time, it’s easy to forget some of the easier, and smaller, tasks that must be completed. Basic Exchange Server maintenance is one such task that can slip through the cracks, and if it does, it can ultimately lead to many more fires for you to fight.

Here are five quick tips you can easily put to work to help keep your Exchange Server healthy. Implement them in your daily routine, and you can eliminate potentially time-consuming problems before they torch your server.

Antivirus scanning
How many virus warnings have you gotten this year? It seems that as soon as the security firms get a handle on one, a mutation of another pops up.

Your minimal first line of defense should be automatic virus scanning on your e-mail server. There are several products available that scan e-mail as it comes in to your server before users even have an opportunity to execute it. One successful scanner I’ve used is Trend Micro’s ScanMail product.

As each e-mail arrives, ScanMail checks it using virus definitions that can be regularly updated. You can select a few options—my preferred one is to have ScanMail scan the e-mail, see if it can remove the virus from the attached file, and then, if it can’t, completely nuke the file. ScanMail even allows for some insight into how these pesky nuisances operate. We recently had a few e-mails arrive with the Pretty Park virus. On a couple of clients, ScanMail actually showed what I like to call the “guts” of the bug—it displayed all of the binary of the virus on what was left in the e-mail.

ScanMail and many other virus scanners have a feature that enables you to schedule it to automatically update the virus definition. Take advantage of this. If the virus scanner you have doesn’t include this feature, I would highly recommend getting one that does. Doing so greatly reduces the amount of upkeep you’ll need to perform.

I also highly recommend a weekly virus scanning of the entire server. While the real-time scanning will most likely pick up everything, it never hurts to double-check its work at least once a week. Like the virus updates, most antivirus products contain virus scan schedulers. Take advantage of this feature as well.

Clean the Exchange Service account mailbox
While you could go through Exchange, whether it's 5.5 or 2000, and just purge the mailbox, there may be some important messages from the Exchange Server in there. Instead of purging everything, log on with the Exchange Service account and open up its mailbox.

Check out what’s in the mailbox, dumping anything you don’t need. In the end, you’ll be tipped to any trouble, such as bad e-mail addresses. You’ll also end up with more disk space.

Remove old mailboxes
Sometimes, IT is the last to know about an employee’s departure. This means there could eventually be quite a few unnecessary mailboxes sitting on the server and taking up disk space. On top of that, it can be irritating for the staff to have to wade through the names of people who are no longer employed by the company.

To combat this, once a month contact your human resources department and ask for a list of recent departures. Contact the managers of the departed staff and learn whether you can remove the former employees’ mailboxes. If they are still needed for a short while longer, ask for a date when you can remove them. Then, mark that date on your calendar.

In the meantime, go into Exchange Server administrator and open the properties of the mailbox. Click on the Advanced tab. Just below the Home Server box is the Hide From Address Book check box. Check it, click Apply, and voila! Staff will no longer see the mailbox while it is in a transition state. When the date for removal arrives, be sure to check with the former employee’s manager and verify that you can finally delete the mailbox before actually doing so.

Performance Monitor
Are you wondering if you requested sufficient horsepower in the e-mail server when you ordered it not so long ago? Worried about the load users are putting on it? Are you thinking a second processor or more memory is needed on an older server?

Either way, run Performance Monitor on your server during peak usage. Then you'll finally have some definitive answers, and these questions will stop keeping you awake at night.

A few counters you may want to consider, besides the ones for basic processor, memory, and hard drive, are:
  • MSExchangeIMC
  • Queued Inbound
  • Queued Outbound
  • Total Messages Queued
  • Queued MTS In
  • Queued MTS Out
  • MSExchangeMTA
  • Outbound Messages Total
  • Total Recipients Inbound
  • Total Recipients Outbound
  • Total Recipients Queued

Keep in mind that performance monitoring requires its own horsepower. The more counters you add to measure performance, the more the monitoring process will adversely impact your server’s performance.

Exchange 5.0/5.5 installs quite a few preset performance monitor configurations during set-up. These cover most of the items you’d want to monitor, and if you’re in a hurry, you will probably find it’s best to use them rather than trying to guess which counters you may need.

Conduct such sessions regularly. Keeping an eye on the server’s performance can help you address problems before they get out of hand.

Back it up
Almost all companies now rely upon e-mail. When the service goes down, it’s a safe bet the outage has a major detrimental impact on business.

Your boss will naturally want the e-mail server back up ASAP. One thing that may save your life (not to mention your career) in this instance is a good backup.

With a good backup in place, it’s feasible during a major crash to get an e-mail server up and running again quickly.

There are quite a few backup products out there. Two of the most widely known are ArcServe and BackUp Exec. When looking for a good backup for the Exchange Server, the most important feature is the ability to back up individual mailboxes. That way, if a user accidentally deletes an important e-mail from a client, you’ll be able to retrieve it and look like a hero in the process.

There is a way to use the Windows NT backup utility to back up Exchange. However, it has proven troublesome and not totally reliable. Therefore, you should consider a third-party program, like the ones previously mentioned.

Once you have a good backup program in place, you should conduct backups on a regular basis. It’s best to conduct them at a time when the server is at a low usage point. For most administrators, this will mean scheduling the backups at night.

If you don’t have an auto-loading backup device, and no one is in the office on the weekend, you should set the backup to execute a full backup on Friday night, followed by incremental ones on Saturday and Sunday. Should the incremental backups fail, you will still have a good full backup from Friday.

Christopher Tellez is a network manager based in southern California. He earned his MCSE in 1997. He’s also a Starbucks regular.

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