Ease the Pain of Managing Exchange Server

FRAMINGHAM (07/24/2000) - There's no question that Exchange is a popular e-mail package. Your feelings toward this product, however, may vary depending on whether you are an Exchange user or an Exchange administrator. While users often find using the Outlook client an easy thing, administrators often wish they had a little help in getting their jobs done.

Exchange administration lacks granularity. A user is either a full administrator or a normal user. Administrators must fix all problems, from the trivial to the catastrophic. It would be nice if administrators could let someone else handle minor problems, like name, address and phone number changes.

It would be great if Human Resources staffs could automatically create Exchange accounts when new employees were entered into a payroll system. And it would be convenient for those accounts to automatically be removed when the employees left the company.

Discus Data Solutions LLC created its Exchange Management System (ExMS) as a means of making Exchange administrative hassles easier to handle. We found ExMS adds management functionality to Exchange that saves time and effort, letting administrators focus their attention on problems worthy of their training and skills. For these reasons, ExMS earned the Network World World Class Award.

The four main components of ExMS are the Account Creator, Account Updater, Account Deletion Manager and the Directory Integrity Agent.

ExMS is installed into containers within Exchange. Most Exchange systems have the "recipients" container, where users are created by default. If your system is customized to include many containers, you can install ExMS to any or all of these containers.

A mailbox recipient is created for each process within the container, and each process is configured to run as a specific Windows NT domain account.

Whether using predefined Outlook forms created by ExMS on installation or authenticating through a Web interface, authorized users can create new accounts, modify properties of existing accounts or even delete accounts.

Administrators will notice that this lower-level administrative interface looks similar to the forms used in the Exchange Administrator. Addressing is handled automatically within the form so users don't need to know which process to send a request to. They select the task they need to do: create, update or delete.

ExMS then sends the request to the appropriate agent to be processed. By default, a response is sent back to the originator. If the request was sent via Outlook, a new e-mail message would appear in the originator's in-box detailing the event.

For Web interface users, a new window is opened to give success or failure results. Additional notification can be sent to other administrators so they can stay informed.

Another nice feature of this product is that the forms can be sent to someone for approval before they are processed. For example, it may be advantageous to let lower-level administrators request new accounts or changes, but have a superior review them. By accepting the requests, transactions are sped on their way.

As far as deleting old accounts, ExMS provides some extra safeguards. When you wish to get rid of an account, the form first lets you "disable" the account for a specified period of time. This will "hide" the account from the global address listing and schedule the account for deletion automatically at the specified time.

In addition, the ExMS program can delete the associated NT account, a step administrators usually do manually. During this time, you can go back and "enable" this account, effectively restoring this user back to an active account, or delete the account.

There are also forms to create and maintain distribution lists. ExMS can let an administrator put someone in charge of a particular list and add or remove recipients as necessary.

What's under the hood?

As useful as these features are, it's obvious you can only do work on one account at a time. This is where the Directory Integrity Agent (DIA) comes into play. The DIA uses scripts to perform an almost limitless array of tasks, such as synchronizing accounts with other databases and running reports on your Exchange system. These can be scheduled to run at various times or started on demand.

Many companies have a payroll database that is the "master" database, but everyone also needs an e-mail account. The DIA can run a script that checks for additions to the payroll database and automatically creates an Exchange account for these new people. How often the script runs is up to you.It also can remove accounts when they are deleted from your external database or mirror any changes made to any other Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) database.

The DIA can work with any data source that you define in the ODBC control panel. This includes SQL Server-enabled databases, smaller access databases, and even comma-delimited and text files.

You can also use the DIA to generate reports. One script available to customers runs through the recipients and then reports on how large their mailboxes are.

Fishing this information out of the Exchange Administrator is time-consuming, but with ExMS, in-depth information about user behavior can be delivered automatically to your in-box each week.

ExMS comes with a small library of popular scripts and examples. Discus Data also has consulting services available to help create custom scripts.

If you have a very small Exchange system, you may not need to dole out authority to other people to save time. But if you have a system of any appreciable size, chances are ExMS could make life a lot easier.

Berkley is LAN support supervisor with Computing Services at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at berkley@ukans.edu.

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