Let’s face it: administering a Microsoft-based network inevitably means dealing with Exchange Server. Microsoft continues to lead the messaging market in new-account sales “by a significant margin,” according to Erica Rugullies, principal analyst at Forrester Research. That’s amazing success when you consider that today, with e-mail already a staple of every corporate network, leading the market isn’t about finding new customers so much as it is about taking them away from someone else.
It’s even more impressive when you consider the administrative burden that Exchange places on IT staff. Microsoft has
taken Exchange far beyond basic e-mail, adding advanced collaboration features and a wide range of feature synergies with ever-tighter integration to other Microsoft platforms. Implementing, tracking, or even emulating these changes with other software is a never-ending challenge for Exchange administrators, on top of the everyday issues of e-mail reliability, performance, backup, recovery, provisioning, and security. Add to that the upgrade issue, with a new version of Exchange Server (code-named Exchange 12) looming on the horizon, and you have a recipe for one of IT’s toughest challenges.
But help is available. Third-party software vendors offer a wide variety of Exchange add-ons, from specific utilities to full-on management consoles to fully outsourced mail server management. Additionally, the lamentations of Exchange admins haven’t fallen on deaf ears in Redmond. Microsoft’s Exchange team has responded to customer feedback with a number of new tools for managing Exchange today, in addition to having significantly rethought its approach to Exchange management for the future.
Management, Microsoft Style
Despite its commanding role in the enterprise messaging market, Microsoft isn’t resting on its laurels. Exchange still faces competition from its closest competitors, IBM and Novell. IBM’s Lotus Notes/Domino platform, for example, is considered the strongest choice for quick development of groupware-style applications.
Redmond has taken overt steps to attack this core Notes capability with the combination of the .Net framework, Visual Basic for Applications, Exchange 2003, and SharePoint Portal Server. Because of its complexity, however, few Microsoft shops have made full use of this feature set to date. Deploying collaborative groupware applications on Exchange usually requires additional expertise with IIS, Internet Security and Acceleration Server, and Active Directory. That means a significant investment for these customers, and it places an extra pressure on Exchange administrators: reliability.
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