Microsoft Exchange Server -- Enterprise-level mail server for Windows NT platforms

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jan 4, 2000

Blurring the line between electronic mail, the Internet, and groupware, Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 is a full-featured mail server that provides a fine-grained approach to user permissions while also adding some basic groupware functionality. Blurring the line between electronic mail, the Internet, and groupware, Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 is a full-featured mail server that provides a fine-grained approach to user permissions while also adding some basic groupware functionality.

Exchange Server offers all the mail functionality you'd want, including an IMAP4 server and an LDAP directory service. There are two editions of Exchange Server: a Standard Server and an Enterprise Server. The Standard Server includes Active Server Components, news support, and a set of handy connectors to other e-mail systems (cc:Mail, Notes, and the Internet). The Enterprise Edition is designed for larger, clustered enterprise server installations and includes e-mail gateways for IBM OfficeVision, X.400, VM, and SNADS (provided Microsoft SNA Server is also installed).

There are also many ties between the Internet and the World Wide Web within Exchange Server. For instance, Exchange Server now supports Web scripted applications that are run by Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS). Web users can access their mail and news discussions via a Web browser. The Web pages generated by Exchange Server's Web view look very similar to the interface presented by Outlook, so users will feel a consistency when moving between applications. And Java applets allow groupware features to be accessed via the Web browser.

You must have a host of other Microsoft products installed on a server before Exchange Server can run, most of which are contained within either Windows NT Server 4.0 (such as Internet Explorer 4.0 and Internet Information Server 3.0) or Windows NT Server 4.0 Service Pack 3 or later (which adds support for Microsoft Active Server Pages).

Administration is done from the Exchange Administrator and employs a fine-grained approach to services and user privileges but lacks some basic sysadmin functionality. You can set web, IMAP, SMTP (outgoing mail), and NNTP (Usenet news) access for users or groups. In addition, you can set data-storage limits for users, groups, or the system as a whole, and you can determine how long messages are stored on the same basis. And you can restrict user access to specific times in the day and logons from specific workstations. Alas, administration must be performed when logged on the NT server as no remote browser-based administration is available, and replication is a tedious chore that is basically performed by hand.

Like every other Microsoft product, Exchange Server 5.5 is tied to other Microsoft products, this time both for users and administrators. The client of choice for Exchange Server 5.5 is Outlook 98 (included with the Service Pack 1 CD-ROM and also available for download from Microsoft), but any IMAP4 or POP3 mail client can access Exchange Server 5.5; they just won't have access to the more advanced features.

Visual InterDev is supported as a development environment. The Exchange Server user data is tied closely to the Windows NT user directory; you can't set up an Exchange Server account for a user who doesn't have a Windows NT account. (This is handy for users, who have the same passwords for mail and network access, but not so handy for security-conscious system administrators who would rather have another level of protection available.) When setting up Exchange Server, user names and passwords can be imported directory from a Windows NT Server Domain or a NetWare NDS directory.

You can set up Exchange Server to be the hub of sorts of a more extensive mail-server array through a feature called Smart Host, which forwards outbound SMTP mail to a third-party SMTP server. This allows you to set up direct communications between networked mail servers.

The groupware capabilities within Exchange are basic and amount to little more than scheduling and Usenet-style discussions. You can check the public calendar of another network user, but there's no document-management capabilities (such as version control) whatsoever.

Overall, as a one-stop solution for electronic mail and groupware, Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 is a strong choice for the enterprise.

Pros: High-performance mail server; LDAP and IMAP4 support; Tight integration with Microsoft Outlook; Easy import of Windows NT user database; Fine-grained approach to user permissions

Cons: 7 No UNIX versions available; No Web browser-based administration tools; Limited groupware functionality

Version Reviewed: 5.5 SP1
Date of Review: 1/4/00
Last Updated: 2/12/01
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard

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