Exchange Server 2000 has been touted as the Exchange network that administrators have been waiting for. It is fully integrated with Active Directory and includes some other impressive bells and whistles. Earlier, I went over the install and configuration of Exchange Server 2000 Beta 3. Now, I’ll cover some of the more exciting features of the mail server. Read on, as I reveal what I think makes this version of Exchange a worthwhile investment.

Centralized administration
How many of you have the user manager, server manager, and Exchange administrator programs on your machine? These are necessary tools, and to be really efficient, you shouldn’t have to run around to a different server for each one. With Active Directory (AD) you’ll be able to customize a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) via snap-ins that you can take from machine to machine and even load into a roaming profile.

This MMC can contain as many or as few tools as you need. From one MMC you could:

  • Add/remove users.
  • Create/remove/manage mailboxes.
  • Manage your Internet Information Server (IIS).
  • Add/remove/manage machines.
  • Manage Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS).
  • Manage Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP).
  • Manage Domain Name Service (DNS).

The concept of Active Directory may seem intimidating at first. Forest, trees, etc.—is this a Discovery Channel special or an operating system? I can say that after going through one Win2K class, it’s not as scary as it might sound. In fact, if you’re an Exchange admin, you’re already dealing with the predecessor of Active Directory; AD is based on the Exchange Server admin console.
Outlook Web Access (OWA)
Do your users need access to their e-mail from home? Are you reluctant to tell them how to set up a POP3 connection? Is the current OWA not user friendly? Good news: Microsoft has totally revamped this new version of OWA. It now has drag-and-drop capabilities and looks exactly like the users’ desktops when they use Outlook. It’s much easier to look up an address when creating a message—in fact, users can rely on the standard Outlook addressing techniques. Please note that while OWA is accessible from other browsers, Microsoft does make a point that only Internet Explorer 5.0 allows you to use all of the features.

Conferencing service
Do you have users who like to use NetMeeting or some other form of conferencing software to communicate between locations? I’ve found that using NetMeeting between two machines can be taxing to both systems. Add video, and the machines drag as they try to talk to each other. Exchange Server now has a service that will host and manage the conference. Its interaction with the Private/Public databases allows users to schedule and join meetings with Outlook.

Multiple databases
Instead of having one private and public information store per server, Exchange 2000 allows you to have multiple databases. This is convenient if you wanted to have one server and still do some political, geographical, or departmental arranging of mailboxes. It is touted as being able to support up to 90 databases on one server. Individual databases can be brought up and down at will.

One concern I have is how large an individual database can get. Unfortunately, while we get the added benefit of being able to section off parts of the Exchange Server, it will impact our storage size.

Instant messaging
Are your users installing ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, or AOL Instant Messenger to talk among themselves or with friends on the Internet? Need to get messages to someone who’s on the phone, but don’t want to interrupt them? Exchange 2000 has taken care of that with its own integrated instant messaging service. By using the service along with Microsoft’s Instant Messenger (which will also allow users to communicate with those on the Net), users can take advantage of real-time communication.

Chat service
Exchange can now host chat rooms where users can gather and discuss issues. So instead of having instant messaging where two users communicate, now an entire department can meet online to discuss what’s going on. This can be of great use for companies with multiple locations. Rather than use your phone line for a conference call, you can use your network connection and save on the long distance bill.

Multimedia and unified Inbox
Remember when Elf Bowling dragged down your network last Christmas? Too bad you didn’t have Exchange 2000 implemented at the time. Exchange 2000, along with Outlook 2000 (or OWA with IE 5), will support video and audio content embedded in the messages. This feature could be useful to firms that work on graphic effects like Industrial Light and Magic. Instead of having to access a network share, all you need is access to your e-mail to see the latest work completed on a project.

To make your Inbox more versatile, Exchange will now support interoperability with Voice Profile for Internet Mail (VPIM). This feature enables you to check your voice mail via Outlook 2000 or the OWA client with IE5. It also opens up the road for developers to create software that allows you to check your e-mail by phone.

Back up and restore
Microsoft is professing that Exchange will now be able to use the Windows 2000 back-up utility to back up and restore Exchange stores—even while everyone’s still connected to the server and plugging away at e-mail. Along with the multiple database support from Exchange, you’ll supposedly be able to restore individual databases without having to shut down the working sections of your Exchange server. However, having heard about a lot of problems getting Windows NT backup to work with Exchange, I’d say the jury is still out on this feature.

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

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