With many features geared toward reducing management and network overhead, Microsoft Corp.s Exchange 2003 definitely delivers more value to administrators than previous versions of the messaging server. However, the hurdles of Active Directory and system migration still remain high for sites that have balked at upgrading from Exchange 5.5.
Microsofts Exchange 2003 is an administrators update, including a number of new features to improve management, performance and reliability. Many of the meaningful performance improvements require running Outlook 2003, while the reliability enhancements require Windows Server 2003. Many of the security and privacy enhancements are useful, but Microsoft has opted to enable or add features that can present security risks.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
The changes in this release are myriad, largely focusing on improving the ability of administrators to deploy and manage Exchange securely, reliably and with simplified management. eWEEK Labs tests show that most of the improvements in Exchange 2003 will be welcome to companies running Exchange 2000. Furthermore, incremental value will be gained through better methods of accessing Exchange from a Web browser or wireless client.
Exchange 2003 Standard Edition is priced at $699; Exchange 2003 Enterprise Edition, the version we tested, is $3,999, with client and device access licenses costing $67 per user or device. Exchange 2003 will become generally available next month.
Microsoft continues keeping customers on the upgrade path to get the most out of Exchange 2003. Some reliability and scalability features, such as eight-node clustering, require running Exchange on Windows Server 2003-based servers. And some client performance and access features, such as junk e-mail protection, require Microsoft Outlook 2003, which will ship to Select Customers later this quarter.
From an administrative standpoint, Exchange 2003s major new features and enhancements will aid day-to-day server management in enterprise deployments. Exchange System Manager, the snap-in for MMC (Microsoft Management Console), has a number of improvements that allowed us to quickly navigate to controls and resolve problems. We liked the way the queues are organized on a per-server basis, as well as the ability to more readily sort information by columns.
More important, a few new tools in the snap-in eased management of servers and user mailboxes. For example, the Mailbox Move tool made it easy to move a users mailbox from one server to another. However, Microsofts reliance on MMC, rather than Web-based administration, is not without the significant downside of server management being restricted to just those systems on which the snap-in has been installed.
On the performance side, Microsoft has targeted some practical message management issues, including "out of office" messages and replication performance, to help administrators reduce storage and traffic overhead.
Replication performance has been improved in a number of areas. The gains werent readily visible from an end-user perspective during our testing, but the improved method of limiting exchanges to native message formats will help server performance with large numbers of users. Unfortunately, companies will need to invest bandwidth in deploying Office 2003 to realize any gains from this feature.
On the reliability side, Microsoft has improved the Mailbox Recovery tool to support disaster recovery scenarios in which Active Directory user account information and Exchange mailboxes no longer synchronize.