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back to case studies main menuCase Studies - Exchange for the better
  (January 2000)
Andy O’Brien investigates Europe’s first live installation of Exchange 2000

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Exchange Server, a potted history
Exchange Server 4.0 July 1996
Exchange Server 5.0 March 1997
Exchange Server 5.5 November 1997
Exchange 2000 Beta 3 October 1999

In October 1999, Microsoft hosted its Exchange Conference 99 (MEC 99) in Atlanta. Here, it introduced Exchange 2000 Server Beta 3 to over 5,000. The European community was catered for one week later at EuroMEC (European Microsoft Exchange Conference) in Hamburg. This most recent edition of Exchange was designed to enhance the product’s scalability and messaging capability. Once Windows 2000 is released, Microsoft will offer an Active Directory Connector, which provides bi-directional replication of directory data between Exchange 5.X and the Active Directory for those migrating from 5.X to Exchange 2000.

Exchange Server is the fastest growing server application in Microsoft’s history, having sold 34 million seats in the three years it has been on the market. Its latest incarnation (formerly code-named Platinum), Exchange 2000, however, is not expected to bolster this trend in the first instance. The main reason for this is that it is not expected to ship until 90 to 120 days after Windows 2000, which currently makes it May or June 2000. Another reason for hesitancy in uptake could be unfamiliarity with the Active Directory, which is the user management and security engine for Exchange 2000. The companies which cannot afford to wait until everyone else has taken new technology on board are the systems integrators and consultancies installing and advising on the first implementations. One such company is Technosys, a subsidiary of ITNET plc and a computer services and systems integrator which focuses on leading edge and emerging technologies.

Guinea pig

Technosys has implemented the first live Exchange 2000 Server installation in Europe. Technosys is part of the US lead Joint Development Program (also known as the Early Adopters program) and set up the project in order to test it on its own systems before implementing it for one of its largest clients as Paul Turner, a technical consultant at Technosys, explains: "We have set ourselves up as guinea pigs. We implemented Platinum Beta 2 and now we have implemented Exchange 2000 Beta 3. We intend to use Exchange 2000’s enhanced features to improve functionality, first for us, then for our clients." The company is also working on a joint project with a multinational company that will eventually involve ten thousand users.

Technosys is now trying to encourage other companies to do the same and persuade those who are reluctant to implement before the first service pack otherwise. "We are actively marketing Exchange 2000 to companies via various mechanisms," says Turner, referring to Microsoft TechNet briefings and other standard sales routes. He is confident of its success: "It will make companies more competitive by giving the relevant information to users more quickly so they can act on that information."

Turner sees the implementation as fairly straight forward and does not subscribe to the idea that the company took a risk, as some of the more cautious might suggest. "The actual implementation of an upgraded mail system is not that big a risk," he says. "I suppose that it might be a risk for some, but our processes, and the planning that we’ve done for Windows 2000 in particular, enabled us to reduce that risk to an acceptable level." The implementation took place in two phases. For the first phase Technosys was running a single NT 4.0 domain. For the Beta 2 implementation it put in a separate Active Directory domain and then an Exchange 2000 server (see fig 1). Two servers were required, one to run the Active Directory and the other for Exchange 2000. Phase two (see fig 2) is typical of what can be expected to take place in most companies migrating from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000.

Fig2Stepping stone

The delays to the release of Windows 2000 have had a knock on effect to the project as Exchange 2000 is so dependent on the new operating system; some of Technosys’ customers have had to implement Exchange 5.5 as a stepping stone. At Technosys’ own site, installing Windows 2000 was a smooth process but at some sites it can be complicated as Turner explains: "In the large client that we have been working with, the Windows 2000 domain design has taken a couple of months – it can be affected by the existence of other naming systems like NDS or DNS." He feels that it is best to involve the techies (Unix people for the DNS and Novell people for the NDS), as well as looking at the business side, in order to move all the naming conventions forward into the Active Directory. "I think it’s best to have the Active Directory as the master, although you can live with DNS on Unix being the master domain. In this case you would need to have certain levels of security."

One of the big changes in Exchange 2000 is the Web Store which is designed for Web-based messaging, information management and creates a development platform for collaboration, along the same lines as Lotus Domino. Turner expects this to be extremely useful; the implementation that he has set up is running two databases on the server. This means that he can apply different quotas and back-up regimes. He can have people with 300 MB of mailbox on one store and only 50 MB of mailbox on the other. "Also, we don’t have to do so much administration on particular users," he adds. "At the moment, if our technical director wants 500 MB of mailbox, we then have to do something to him individually and then everyone else gets what they are given. Whereas with multiple databases, it’s a bit like NT 4.0 groups – we put people into a particular database or group for them to inherit all the properties of that database or group."

Exchange 2000 will also be able to allow users at remote sites to create mailboxes, although they will not have administrative rights to the whole of the server. They will not be able to alter any of the infrastructure details, such as site connectors that keep the mail system working, as they will only have access to the details that they need to do their job. This simplifies administration and will mean that larger organisations will need fewer servers.

Strength in numbers

Technosys’ involvement with the Microsoft Joint Developer program has meant that it has received help and support from Redmond. There are 25 companies worldwide on the program and they work as a team, sharing collateral and experience with everyone else. For any company installing it in a live implementation, there is a Microsoft support group trained up on the latest software. Technosys has round-the-clock access to this group. Turner believes that some people view Exchange 2000 as a straight replacement for Exchange 5.5, which or course it is, but it is now a product that goes beyond messaging. He believes that "the biggest competitive efficiency advantages will be gained by those companies who have legacy mail systems such as cc:Mail and MS Mail." Most importantly, Turner feels that future developments, building on features such as Web Store, can build up Knowledge Management and intranet-type systems which are currently two of the ways forward for business.

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