Nothing can make an IT professional sweat quite like Exchange administration. If an Exchange server goes down, irate users will let you hear about it.

Since e-mail is one of the most highly valued services that IT departments provide, and since it’s critical that Exchange servers are kept up and running continuously, you’re likely to find that Microsoft’s Exchange server administration exam is among the hardest certification exams you’ll ever encounter. This is especially true if you don’t specialize in Exchange administration but must operate Exchange servers in addition to the regular IT tasks you fulfill.

Here are 10 tips you can use to help focus and concentrate your studying as you prepare for Microsoft exam 70-224: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server.

#1: Start with the requirements
There are three different Exchange 2000 server platforms:

  • Exchange 2000 Server
  • Exchange 2000 Enterprise Server
  • Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server

Make sure that you know Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server adds collaboration features to Exchange 2000. Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server isn’t an e-mail platform by itself.

Know the differences in capability between Exchange 2000 Server and Exchange 2000 Enterprise Server. For starters, the standard Exchange 2000 Server is limited to a database size of 16 GB and a single mailbox store, whereas Exchange 2000 Enterprise Server’s database size has no limit, and multiple mailbox stores are supported.

Memorize the system requirements for Exchange 2000 Server and Exchange 2000 Enterprise Server. Both platforms require a minimum of 128 MB of RAM, although 256 MB of RAM is recommended. Both server distributions also require 500 MB of free disk space on the hard disk where Exchange 2000 is installed, as well as 200 MB of free space on the system drive. Both platforms also require a 166-MHz or faster processor.

Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server requires the same minimum amount of RAM and identical processor requirements. However, Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server requires only 10 MB of free space on the hard disk where Exchange 2000 is installed and 5 MB of free space on the system drive.

#2: Know how to upgrade from Exchange 5.5
Worldwide, countless organizations are going to be migrating their Exchange 5.5 servers to Exchange 2000. Thus, it’s likely you’ll encounter many questions testing your ability to upgrade a 5.5 server to the 2000 platform. Be sure that you know how to troubleshoot common upgrade errors too.

For example, you can upgrade only Exchange 5.5 Servers that are running Service Pack 3 (or higher). In addition, the server you’re migrating to must be running a Windows 2000 server platform with Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 installed.

Understand the three different upgrade processes that can be used:

  • In-place upgrade
  • Moving mailboxes upgrade
  • Swing server upgrade

During an in-place upgrade, you take an existing Exchange 5.5. Server offline and install Exchange 2000 on it. Of course, an organization’s e-mail service will be interrupted when an in-place upgrade is used.

In organizations where downtime isn’t possible, a moving mailboxes upgrade can be used. The moving mailboxes method involves moving mailboxes and public folders from an existing Exchange 5.5 server after the Exchange 2000 server is built and moved to the Exchange 5.5 site.

Another method that eliminates downtime is the swing server upgrade. Exchange 2000 is installed on a new server, that server is joined to an existing Exchange site, and mailboxes are moved from the Exchange 5.5 server to the new Exchange 2000 server. Once those steps are completed, the server running Exchange 5.5 is then upgraded to Exchange 2000.

#3: Master administrative groups
Study the role that administrative groups play in Exchange 2000. Know how administrative groups are used to control the permissions Exchange administrators receive and learn how to create administrative groups and change a group’s permissions. Remember that administrative groups need not match the routing groups used in an Exchange 2000 environment.

Study up on Exchange 2000’s three types of administrative models:

  • Centralized
  • Decentralized
  • Mixed

In a centralized model, a single administrator or group is given complete authority for an Exchange organization. A decentralized model, however, separates administrative permissions by department, site, or another boundary. A mixed model, meanwhile, uses a combination of both the centralized and decentralized models.

I recommend that you spend some time creating and testing different administrative groups. Learn how these groups integrate with Active Directory and ultimately how they are supposed to simplify administration.

#4: Understand storage groups
Exchange 2000 uses storage groups to collect Exchange database files (known as stores) that share the same pair of EDB and STM transaction log files. Remember that up to four storage groups can be created on a single server and that each storage group can contain up to five stores.

Remember that Exchange 2000 doesn’t write data to the database files immediately but instead writes information on that data to transaction log files. Know how checkpoint files are used to track the transactions that have yet to be committed to Exchange’s database files.

Spend time creating storage groups as part of your preparation for this exam. Configure a storage group’s properties to familiarize yourself with the parameters that can be set. Perform the same actions with individual stores within the storage groups you create. Hands-on experience is the best method for learning storage group and mailbox store management.

#5: Manage performance
Exchange 2000 places a heavy hit on server performance. You’re certain to find at least a few questions on exam 70-224 that test your ability to monitor and optimize Exchange 2000 performance.

Know how to identify and eliminate server processor, memory, and hard disk bottlenecks. Familiarize yourself with the objects and counters that are added to Windows 2000’s Performance Monitor when Exchange 2000 is installed:

  • MSExchangeIS
  • MSExchangeIS Mailbox
  • SMTP Server
  • MSExchangeMTA
  • MSExchangeMTA Connections
  • MSExchangeSRS
  • MSExchangeIM Virtual Servers

Other important thresholds that cause trouble when exceeded are:

  • Processor time usage in excess of 80 percent. If exceeded, you need a faster processor.
  • %Disk free space less than 10 percent. If exceeded, you need additional disk space.
  • Pages/second less than five. If exceeded, additional memory is required.
  • Avg. Disk sec/Transfer greater than .3. If exceeded, disk failures may be occurring.

#6: Manage recipient objects
Of course, you’re not going to pass this exam if you can’t administer recipient objects. Know how to create and configure user mailboxes, instant messaging, address lists, and chat user objects. You should practice moving user mailboxes as well. Review the recommended methods for securing recipient objects. You’re sure to be tested upon them.

I recommend you create several users and configure different objects for each on a test server. It’s critical that you be comfortable administering all user objects and can customize address lists on the fly.

Keep in mind that mailboxes are moved using the Active Directory Users And Computers console. Don’t get tripped up on an exam question by believing that mailboxes can’t increase in size when they’re moved; their size can increase as a result of a move. If a mailbox is moved outside its storage group, the single-instance storage principle (in which only a single copy of an e-mail is stored on a server even though the e-mail message was sent to multiple recipients) won’t apply until the new storage group server creates copies of each message that has been sent to multiple recipients. Creating those copies can make the mailbox larger when it is moved to the new storage group.

#7: Administer public folders
Organizations are increasingly making use of public folders. Exchange’s public folders are essentially public mailboxes that any user with appropriate permission can access. Know how to create public folders and secure them using individual permissions and the Exchange permission groups, which are known as roles.

Again, it’s essential that you spend time physically creating and configuring public folders on a test machine. Taking this exam without having spent hands-on time with Exchange 2000 leaves you with little or no chance of passing.

Don’t forget that the public folder tree All Public Folders is created by default when Exchange is installed. Also, know that system folders are hidden public folders and that you can access public folders using the path http://server/public/folder.

Also know the three users who are given permission, by default, to public folders: the folder creator, a Default user representing all users with public folder store access permissions but no explicit permissions, and an Anonymous user, which applies to any user having Anonymous access permission.

#8: Plan for and accommodate growth
A few years ago, growth was all the rage. Now downsizing seems to be the latest trend, although reports suggest that the economy just might be picking up. Regardless of the real-world environment, you should know how to expand an Exchange 2000 server implementation to accommodate a growing or expanding organization.

You need to know how to monitor messaging, chat, public folder access, calendaring, and even Exchange’s Instant Messaging service to ensure that Exchange 2000 isn’t being overwhelmed. Thus, you must develop expertise monitoring the Information Store, which is the service Exchange runs to manage a variety of tasks. Develop experience using regular server monitors and even the System Monitor to keep an eye on the load Instant Messaging places on Exchange, for example.

While it’s important to have hands-on knowledge of Exchange to develop your monitoring skills, here’s an area where reading up on policy usage and best practices can be invaluable. Repeatedly read the Exchange growth management sections of your favorite Exchange exam study guide. (All these topics will likely be listed in the book’s monitoring section.)

#9: Understand routing design
Even smaller organizations are likely to have remote offices with their own Exchange servers. These locations must be able to communicate with a central headquarters. So you can expect to be tested on your ability to properly position Exchange servers and configure routing appropriately.

Study how routing groups are configured. Here are a few points to remember:

  • Exchange 2000 routing groups are similar to sites in Exchange 5.5.
  • SMTP is used to transfer messages between Exchange servers within a routing group.
  • Routing Group Connectors are the preferred method of linking routing groups within an organization.
  • Bridgehead servers are the Exchange servers on each end of a Remote Group Connector that assume responsibility for transferring messages between routing groups.

#10: Know recovery procedures
You’ll find yourself polishing your resume if you can’t back up and recover mail and messaging information. Know how to back up and restore individual storage groups. Remember that the PRIVx.EDB and PUBx.EDB databases are the two database files that store private and public messages.

Memorize the location of the EDB.LOG transaction file. Hint: Its default location is in the \Exchsvr\Mdbdata directory.

Memorize the Exchange items that should always be backed up. You should back up not only the Exchange message databases and transaction logs but also the message tracking information and other data found in the \Program Files\Exchsvr folder. Know that you need to back up the Site Replication Service and Key Management Server databases, as well as users’ personal folder and address book files.

The work of protecting an Exchange server doesn’t end there. The Windows 2000 server’s System State should also be backed up. Don’t be surprised if you see a few questions on this pop up on your exam. Although you’re being tested on Exchange server, Exchange runs on top of Windows 2000 server. As a result, it’s heavily dependent upon many of Win2K’s services and files to run properly. Know the different types of backups that can be performed. Memorize the differences between full, incremental, and differential backups.

Study up on recovery methods too. Essentially, Exchange 2000 rides the Windows 2000 backup process, so data is recovered using the Windows 2000 Backup utility’s Restore function. Remember that in almost all cases, you’ll want to restore files to their original location when performing a recovery.

Eckel’s take
You need to know much more than just the information presented in these 10 areas to pass the Exchange 2000 administration exam. You’ll have to overcome client access issues and master a vast number of security techniques, among other things. However, these tips should help you get off to a solid start in preparing for the exam.

Ultimately, I recommend you create and work with a test Exchange 2000 Server regularly for a minimum of three months before you try your hand at this certification. The time you spend actually installing and administering Exchange 2000 will prove to be the most valuable studying you undertake.