Exchange 2000 ups the groupware ante

New features include Windows 2000 Active Directory Integration, clustering, options for real time chat, and instant messagingProviding a single tool which users can use for messaging and groupware will increase their productivity, while reducing training and maintenance costs.

Collaboration and information sharing are critical for businesses intent on capitalising on corporate mind share.

Microsoft's Exchange 2000 Server aims to do just that with triple the capacity of Exchange 5.5, a raft of security enhancements, and an add-on conferencing product.

Exchange 2000 Server's impressive new features include Microsoft Management Console (MMC)-based administration, Windows 2000 Active Directory integration, support for Distributed Authoring and Versioning, clustering, and options for real-time chat and instant messaging. The optional Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server can add data-, voice-, and videoconferencing. This add-on moves Exchange 2000 Server into the groupware space traditionally dominated by Lotus Domino servers and Notes clients.

Microsoft has split the Exchange 2000 product line into three offerings: the entry-level Exchange 2000 Server, Exchange 2000 Enterprise Server, and Conferencing Server. The Enterprise Server edition can scale across as many as four servers, bringing Exchange 2000 in line with Lotus Domino in terms of increased reliability and redundancy.

Exchange 2000 Server is built on top of the Web Store, a transacted data model introduced in Windows 2000. Data is stored in a single repository that can be accessed from any Windows application, encouraging group collaboration.

The single repository enables full-text indexing of all documents, including e-mail attachments, allowing users to use standard search tools. Also, the contents of the Web Store are accessible from a single URL-addressable location, making it easier for users to access information via a Web browser.

Fortunately, Exchange 2000 Server is more flexible than previous versions, allowing you to configure multiple databases for each server. This is a boon for backup and restore planning and also means you can create databases that reflect organisational structures. Also, because it has been integrated into Active Directory, Exchange 2000 provides a single point of administration, scalability, and beefed-up security.

Knockout new features

This version offers expanded direct connectivity to the Internet. Exchange Server 2000 uses Internet Information Server to access Exchange data stores. In addition to HTTP, users can access information stores through POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3), IMAP4 (Internet Message Access Protocol 4, revision 1), and NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol).

Outlook Web Access client is more full-featured than before. In addition to supporting browser-based access to e-mail, personal calendars, group scheduling, and contacts, the beta client has drag-and-drop support.

To round out Exchange 2000 Server, Microsoft has enhanced Internet security. One option lets you create a server-side black list to filter out spamming domains and addresses.

Domain name/IP mapping can be used to verify that a sender's address domain matches the IP address from which the message came. If a match is not made, the e-mail is rejected. The ability to be proactive with issues such as e-mail storage space and attachments will help you avoid potential problems down the road.

Apart from sluggish response times, I was hard-pressed to find any outstanding beta bugs in Exchange Server 2000 RC1(Release Candidate 1). The Web Store worked as promised, allowing access from a variety of clients, including Outlook 2000. But to get the most out of Exchange 2000 you'll need to run Outlook 2000. Other clients - including Netscape Navigator, Outlook Express, and Internet Explorer - do not give users access to all of Exchange 2000's features.

In addition to the instant-messaging and real-time chat services built in to Exchange 2000 Server, you can add real-time conferencing features via Conferencing Server. It supports most of the standard data, audio- and videoconferencing standards, including H.323, TAPI (Telephony API) 3.0, and T.120.

Although Exchange 2000 might not win any converts from the dyed-in- the-wool Notes/Domino set, it does represent a significant step up for Exchange shops. If you decide to upgrade, keep in mind that any implementation plans should encompass additional training, hardware, and infrastructure costs. Another big factor is the requirement for Windows 2000 Advanced Server, which may give pause to some IT administrators who have only recently finished Y2K rollouts.

Nevertheless, given the wealth of new features, if you are committed to moving to the Windows 2000 platform, give Exchange 2000 some serious consideration, especially if you want to streamline your messaging, collaboration, and groupware services.

Business case

Exchange Server 2000's new features can increase the speed and efficiency of storing and sharing information. But due to the cost of upgrading clients and servers, the Windows 2000 requirement may impede enterprise rollouts.

Technology case

Active Directory and Web Store integration make this e-mail and messaging server a more powerful extension of Windows 2000. Real-time communication and collaboration options bring Exchange Server 2000 in-line with Notes/Domino.

Pros:

+ Active Directory integration

+ Unified management via Microsoft

Management Console

+ Clustering and distribution

capabilities

+ Real-time conferencing add-on

available

Cons:

- Runs only on Windows 2000

Advanced Server

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