Corporations that are currently running Microsoft Exchange and have plans to migrate to Windows 2000 will want to investigate the upcoming release of Exchange Server 2000, due out in the first half of next year. This release brings many new and improved features, including integration with Windows 2000 Active Directory; improved server clustering; improved collaboration and communication, found in Exchange's new Web Store; and online, real-time conferencing tools.
The beta version that I tested proved to be full-featured, but a full migration will take some planning. Before a company decides to go with Exchange Server 2000, it first should commit to making a strategic investment in Windows 2000.
With this release, Microsoft attempts to expand its Exchange customer base by appealing to a wider range of environments, from small departmental groups to large-scale settings consisting of thousands of users. Exchange can still be installed either on one server or among multiple servers for a distributed configuration that will offer improved scalability.
Windows 2000 integration
For this beta review, I installed Exchange Server 2000 on Windows 2000 Server, Release Candidate 2. The combined installation process took close to four hours.
I soon discovered that, to become familiar with the new version of Exchange, customers would also need to be fully proficient with the new features in Windows 2000. This will mean additional investments in training for those purchasing or upgrading to Exchange Server 2000.
To increase reliability, Microsoft has enhanced server clustering to use dual active redundant servers versus the active and passive configurations used in prior releases of Exchange. According to company officials, four-way clustering will be available when the product ships. Rival Lotus Domino already offers this type of support in addition to a wide range of platform support.
Of course, a distributed groupware and collaboration Exchange configuration can provide a more scalable and reliable solution, but it will require a large investment in hardware and multiple licence fees for Windows 2000.
Microsoft has done a good job here of integrating Exchange with Windows 2000 and, in particular, with its Active Directory component. This integration will be a boon for Exchange administrators. Its tight integration with the new Windows 2000 Active Directory brings a single point of administration and Windows 2000 security to Exchange, streamlining tasks such as administrating two different user lists.
Easier administration aside, sites will still need to be diligent about applying Windows security patches as needed.
Exchange Server 2000 provides many new administration features that had been missing in previous versions. For instance, Exchange now supports policy management for system objects and recipients, enabling administrators to set policies on specific groups of users or objects such as servers. With support for multiple Exchange databases, I could create different storage groups, such as one for marketing and one for human resources.
Another situation in which multiple databases might be used would be an ISP setting up multiple storage areas for different companies it hosts. Administrators will find this helpful for maintenance tasks, such as decreasing backup and restore times, as well as providing a more reliable infrastructure.
Thus, Windows 2000 sites can eliminate a single point of failure by placing multiple databases on separate machines. Additional hardware investments will be needed for this type of installation.
When I created users during my tests, I found it more streamlined than in previous versions. For instance, users are created from the Windows 2000 Active Directory; therefore, administrators will want to familiarise themselves completely with Active Directory, which will take some time. When creating new users, the option to create Exchange mailboxes is available, which gives administrators a single point of administration from which to manage all users, groups, and security settings. Exchange inherits security from Windows 2000, and those purchasing Exchange 2000 will want to keep abreast of any security-related issues that pertain to Windows 2000.
Exchange Server 2000's tight integration with Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook 2000 affords Exchange increased collaboration. For example, using the Web Store as a file system, I could store and retrieve office documents directly to and from the Web Store from any Windows application. This gives users one place to manage and collaborate on documents and messages within a single repository, using familiar tools such as Microsoft Word and Outlook. By giving users a single repository, they can use the built-in indexing to search for documents and files directly from one location.
The Web Store is also a platform for Web-based application development supporting Extensible Markup Language, as well as Distributed Authoring and Versioning, ActiveX Data Objects, and Collaboration Data Objects.
During my testing, I could access the Exchange Web Store from Outlook 2000, Outlook Express, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Netscape Navigator. Of course, not all features are available with all clients such as with Outlook Express and older browsers. Therefore, to get the most out of Exchange, you'll have to use Outlook 2000.
As you might expect, Internet Explorer 5 was more tightly integrated and often used the Outlook metaphor for presentation. Web features include the capability to view private folders, schedule meetings, and view tasks and folders from the Web Store.
Although I could schedule meetings with my colleagues, I could not view their free and busy times with the beta version.
Catching up with Lotus Notes, Exchange now boasts real-time conferencing for conducting data, videoconferencing, and audioconferencing, supporting standards such as T.120, TAPI 3.0, and H.323.
I was able to conduct an online meeting with four team members who were using these different clients. We were able to share applications, use a whiteboard, and chat.
I liked that I was able to save the chat messages to a file and that I was able to directly send files to members of the conference. However, unlike some real-time conferencing vendors, Exchange does not support polling.
Exchange Server 2000 is best suited to sites dedicated to going down the Windows 2000 road. Companies planning a strategic investment in Windows 2000 might want to evaluate Exchange 2000's capability of fulfilling groupware and collaboration functions as part of an overall assessment of collaboration and groupware solutions.
Current Exchange sites that want to upgrade to Exchange 2000 will need to factor in all of the implications, because wholesale changes to server operating systems, upgrades of some clients, and significant training will be required. Additional investments in hardware will need to be factored in as well.the bottom lineMicrosoft Exchange Server 2000, betaSummary: Administrators will find this messaging package an improvement over previous versions. It adds enhancements such as Active Directory integration for better administration and improved collaboration with the new Web Store.
Business Case: Corporations will see improved messaging and collaboration functions; however, the need to migrate some clients and all servers to Windows 2000 makes Exchange Server 2000 suitable only for companies willing to make a large investment.
Pros: ¥ Active Directory integration ¥ Real-time collaboration ¥ Distributed configuration ¥ Improved clusteringCons: ¥ Runs on Windows 2000 only ¥ Some features unavailable for all clientsPlatform: Windows 2000.
Shipping: First half of 2000.
Cost: No pricing available yet.