A Sneak Peek at Exchange Server 2000

Hands On

Microsoft Exchange Server has grown quite a bit since its original July 1996 release. Exchange Server 2000 is slated for release soon after the final version of Windows 2000 ships. Although it will not be polished before Windows 2000 is completed, Exchange 2000 Server Beta 3 is available for preview on Windows 2000 Release Candidate 2 (RC2).

What Microsoft has done with Exchange Server is relatively simple when viewed from a distance. Microsoft has taken the mish-mash collection of communications servers -- e-mail, chat, voice messaging, text conferencing, instant messaging, video conferencing, and so on -- and tied them all together via Active Directory. Microsoft also enhanced the software’s scalability by using multiple data stores instead of a single repository. By splitting the data across multiple data stores, users can store more data; and that data can be accessed more efficiently. To top it off, Microsoft put a new, consistent management interface on everything via the Microsoft Management Console (MMC).

The result is a collaboration server that can store more data from a variety of sources and make that data available through a number of devices.

Test Drive

To install Exchange Server 2000 we first had to upgrade our test server to RC2 from a previous Beta release of Windows 2000. The installation didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped. After quite a bit of turmoil it turned out to be a faulty hard drive. After replacing the hard drive with one we scavenged from another system, we rebuilt the RC2 server. Exchange Server 2000 also requires that SMTP and NNTP services be installed on the server, as well as Active Directory being setup prior to the install. After the setup was complete, we finally installed Exchange Server 2000.

Exchange 2000 requires Windows 2000 Server, a 300-MHz or higher processor, 128 MB of RAM, and 4 GB of hard-disk storage.

Upon installation it extends the Active Directory schema to marry the data elements of Exchange Server into Active Directory. This extension took quite some time, and could have taken longer if we had a larger Active Directory database -- but the time was well worth it. What we achieved is a single authentication and security system that is managed from the MMC.

After creating user accounts and setting up several security settings, we moved on to testing Exchange Server 2000 from a range of e-mail clients. Administrators still using the original Exchange Mail client that came with Windows 95 can make this easier by upgrading. We tried Outlook Express 5.0 and then the full version of Outlook 2000. Both clients accessed the server using POP3 and IMAP protocols. We went on to test older versions of these plus Eudora Lite and Netscape 4.5 for e-mail access. We had no problems with any of them.

It’s no secret that Outlook 2000 is Microsoft’s client of choice here. The company has been enhancing Outlook with each version. Outlook Web Access client also has been significantly improved in terms of performance, scalability, and ease of use. In our testing, we liked the full version of Outlook 2000 the best. It has the nicest features and pulls together all the PIM tools into a single, simple interface.

Under the Hood

Exchange 2000 Server includes new capabilities, such as support for the Voice Profile for Internet Mail (VPIM) standard and built-in voice forms, designed to give users access to their e-mail and Web store content from a several wireless or wire-line devices.

It also includes enhanced clustering to support multimaster clustering. Windows 2000 Advanced Server will support two-way clustering, while Windows 2000 Datacenter Server will support four-way clustering.

Exchange 2000 is tightly integrated with Microsoft Office 2000. Office 2000 users can store and retrieve Office documents directly to and from the Web Store using the standard File Save As and File Open dialog boxes. This feature provides a consistent model and set of tools for the joint management of e-mail and documents. Information stored in the Web Store -- such as e-mail messages, documents, Web content, and applications -- can be accessed through a range of client software. This includes Outlook, any e-mail client that supports Internet messaging and newsgroup standards, Web browsers, other Windows 32-bit applications, and the command prompt.

Integration with Internet Information Service (IIS) and Active Server Page (ASP) technology will enable developers to use known tools and skills to build powerful, high-performance, Web-enabled applications that include Web-based forms, business logic, and workflow services.

The Great Migration

Microsoft has been touting Exchange Server 2000 as the cornerstone of its knowledge worker strategy; and the new collaborative, scheduling, and Web Store features will likely play a role in making Exchange Server 2000 more mission-critical to enterprises than Exchange 5.5 and some of its competitors -- especially as companies move toward unified messaging.

But if contemplating installing Exchange Server 2000, remember to line up all the pieces prior to migration.

For companies that are running Exchange 5.0 and earlier, version 5.5 is a necessary intermediary step to move to Exchange Server 2000. Exchange Server 2000 can connect and share data with the 5.5 version, allowing for a smooth transition to the new version once it is released -- but only if your server has been upgraded to 5.5.

Exchange Server 2000 Beta 3
Microsoft Corp.
Redmond, Wash.

+ Better platform for unified messaging

+ Greater scalability than version 5.5

+ Manageable via the MMC

+ Integrated with Active Directory

- Requires Windows 2000, NNTP, SMTP

- Active Directory must be setup prior to using Exchange 2000

- Can only migrate to Exchange Server 2000 from Exchange 5.5