Tackling Exchange management from all angles
Tools from DYS Analytics, Microsoft, Quest, Zenprise emphasize different admin strengths
See correction at end of review
When you consider the number of different applications, Windows services, and settings that need to be configured properly in order to create a working Exchange server, it isn’t surprising that many administrators spend a lot of time maintaining their systems. The basic MMC (Microsoft Management Console) and Exchange Manager software provided with Exchange offers a tool for configuration, but no reporting, alerts, diagnostics, or troubleshooting to speak of.
I took a look at four products that aim to ease that burden: DYS Analytics Email Control for Exchange, Microsoft Exchange 2003 Management Pack for MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) 2005, Quest Spotlight on Exchange, and Zenprise.
My test setup consisted of two AD (Active Domain) controllers, two Exchange servers, and a Mirapoint RazorGate 100 anti-spam appliance. Getting permissions straight can be complex: All of the products require user accounts with administrative privileges on the Exchange servers to be monitored, as well as test mailboxes to which they can send mail. Correctly configuring those accounts can be trying, but this isn’t a defect in the Exchange management tools themselves; it’s a reflection on the convoluted permission structures in Windows Active Directory.
I tested several error conditions -- such as interrupting connectivity between two servers, creating zero free space on a server drive, and stopping an Exchange service -- and observed how the products handled these scenarios. I also examined their reporting capabilities.
The four products all take a similar approach. Each collects data from the Exchange servers in your organization, relying on accounts with administrative access rather than agents that run on the server. Each stores data in a Microsoft SQL Server database, either the full version or the MSDE (Microsoft SQL Server Database Engine) runtime version.
However, each product has a different emphasis, and therefore, they have very different feature sets. Two are focused on monitoring and management: DYS Analytics has very useful reporting tools at a reasonable price, whereas Quest allows you to configure and manage multiple Exchange servers. Exchange Management Pack for MOM 2005 combines monitoring and management with a useful knowledge base for problem resolution, whereas Zenprise focuses exclusively on troubleshooting. (Because Zenprise is essentially a diagnostic tool for Exchange, it was evaluated using different scoring criteria than the other products here.)
Exchange administrators will be looking for different things in a management tool, so these four products -- whether by themselves or in combination -- will meet a variety of needs. Some admins want reporting and alerts, whereas others crave the troubleshooting capabilities of Zenprise and the Exchange Management Pack for MOM 2005. Others will want the ability to trace mail flows from one user and server to the end destination that DYS Analytics, Quest, or MOM bring.
None of these products covers all the bases (see “Balancing Management Needs,” page 44). None will actually make recommended changes for you -- you’ll still have to use MMC to do that (even Quest’s tools are based on MMC). But after the software has been installed, these products will bring you more information on your Exchange servers than you’re used to receiving.
DYS Analytics Email Control 5.0.2 for Exchange