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Users Reluctant to Undertake Exchange Migration but Others Like Results

During its Enterprise 2000 launch in September 2000, Microsoft Corp. trumpeted Exchange 2000’s integration with Active Directory (AD), a combination that the software giant claimed would make the Exchange environment more manageable and more scalable.

But many Exchange 5.0 and Exchange 5.5 administrators confess that they’ve opted not to make the move to Exchange 2000 precisely because of its AD requirement.

Take Joel Osborn, for example. Osborn, an information systems technical specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, says that Exchange 2000’s much-ballyhooed AD integration is actually one of its biggest drawbacks as well. “AD is a non-trivial implementation in an organization of [more than] 35,000 users,” he points out.

So Osborn and the Wisconsin DOT plan to stay put on Exchange 5.5.

“[We’re] currently on [Exchange] 5.5,” he says. “[The] business case has not yet been made for AD and planning has not yet been done. Many companies our size are not going to AD for the same reasons, from what I read.”

Similarly, Clarke Thomas, an Exchange administrator with Houghton International Inc., a manufacturer of specialty chemicals and lubricants used in metalworking and manufacturing, says that he’s heard “horror stories” about Active Directory implementations.

“I'm a bit afraid of using Active Directory,” he confesses. “Also, when my network was first setup – I wasn’t here – they used an underscore in the domain name. So having to change my domain name all together is enough of a hassle with [more than] 70 … locations around the world and about [five to seven thousand] people working for those companies.”

Like Wisconsin DOT’s Osborn, Houghton International’s Thomas says that the complexity associated with Active Directory – which represents a great leap forward from Windows NT 4.0’s erstwhile domain system, but which also entails critical planning and provisioning responsibilities – is simply not something that he needs to tackle right now.

“It’s not a headache I care to deal [with] right now. I've heard that if I don't set up my AD exactly correctly the first time, I would have to rebuild from scratch. I don't have time to do that,” he says.

Stephen Mynhier, an Exchange 5.5 administrator with a systems integration firm, says that he’s got nothing against Exchange 2000 and feels that it’s a “great product,” but also suggest that it’s not for everyone.

“I've seen several people who were in too much of a hurry to implement [Exchange 2000], and they neglected their AD and [domain controllers],” he says. “You obviously must have your AD set up and working right before even considering the migration to [Exchange 2000].”

Because of this, Mynhier says, Exchange 2000 is probably not a practical upgrade for most small- or mid-sized IT organizations.

“Many smaller companies really don't have the business need or knowledge resources to implement [Windows 2000] and [Exchange 2000]. Exchange 5.5 works just fine for what they need, and that's why I was disappointed when I learned that Microsoft had stopped selling [Exchange 5.5]. From Microsoft’s perspective, I completely understand why, but it was disappointing to me.”

The fact of the matter is that a lot of administrators seem to feel that Exchange 2000 amounts to a drastic and involved administrative experience.

“I've had bad feelings -- very bad feelings -- about this product since I first started seeing it two years ago,” says one Exchange administrator. “It's simply too much for many shops. They really should package an easy-to-install ‘Exchange Lite’….This is making me seriously rethink my career directions.”

Because of this, Lori Hunter, an Exchange administrator with Citigroup subsidiary Associates Commerce Solutions, says that she doesn’t plan to move to Exchange 2000 – and probably won’t migrate to the next version of Exchange, either. “I am staying put for as long as I can. I favor stability, and I don't program much so I don't look forward to the whole [kitchen] sink business,” she says.

The trials and tribulations of successful Active Directory roll-outs notwithstanding, William Lefkovics, a systems administrator with the AscentrA Group of Companies, a Las Vegas, Nev.-based health care provider, says that prospective Exchange 2000 administrators must also be prepared to negotiate other significant changes, as well. Lefkovics says that Exchange 2000’s dependence upon SMTP and upon other Windows 2000 services means that administrators should be familiar with the plumbing of the underlying Windows 2000 operating system, in particular.

“Just knowing Exchange is not enough. Also, with the use of Windows 2000’s [integrated] SMTP services, an Exchange administrator must be fluent in Windows as well. I believe the average Exchange administrator will need a broader range of knowledge and skills to care for and nurture Exchange2000 versus Exchange5.x,” he contends.

Administrators who’ve properly prepared for their migrations and who’ve taken the time to plan their Active Directory implementations report being very pleased with Exchange 2000, however. One such administrator, Robert Moore – who manages an Exchange 2000 environment for the Agnes Irwin Girls School in Philadelphia – says that he waited until Exchange 2000 SP1 first shipped in June before upgrading. Since then, Moore confirms, he hasn’t experienced any problems.

As for his reasons for upgrading to Exchange 2000, Moore cites easier administration and better support for Exchange’s Outlook Web Access (OWA) component. “I did the migration for two reasons: 1. because I anticipated much easier administration when Exchange and AD were integrated; 2. I wanted a better OWA for my end users. I've been pleased on both counts,” he says.

For his part, Houghton International’s Thomas says that he’ll probably eventually upgrade to Exchange 5.5 running on Windows 2000, but that he first wants to make sure that he’s got a more straightforward way of resolving his AD planning and integration issues.

“I do think that I will migrate to Windows 2000 [with Exchange 5.5 shortly], and as soon as someone can give me an easy resolve to my AD issues, I’d love to go [to Exchange 2000],” he says.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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