MS exchange: Balancing risks and rewards

[Dana H. Schultz]

During the past year or so, Microsoft's hegemony has spread from Windows and the Office application suite to Exchange groupware and e-mail software. But while Exchange is a fine, powerful product, it is complicated. And complication means mistakes.

Berkeley-based network integrator Lynch, Marks & Associates (www.lynchmarks.com) recently examined a number of Exchange implementations to discover which types of mistakes occur most frequently and to identify the problems that result from those mistakes. Here are some highlights.

Importing old e-mail

Microsoft's Exchange Wizard helps network administrators set up Exchange and import e-mail from other systems. Unfortunately, importing does not always work properly.

According to LMA, Microsoft acknowledges problems but has not provided fixes in the latest Service Pack. The work-around is to develop scripts that help the Wizard or, in particularly difficult cases, to call Microsoft's Exchange experts for assistance.

Personal folders

Exchange allows messages to be stored in two types of folders: public and personal. Public folders are created by the administrator on the Exchange server and are available to all users. Personal folders are created by users or administrators and are available only to designated users.

Personal folders can reside on the Exchange server or on user PCs. Unfortunately, many firms do not warn users about the dangers of putting personal folders on their PCs.

First, PC-based personal folders are not backed up with folders on the Exchange server, and few users are likely to back up their own folders. If the PC hard disk fails, messages stored on that disk will be lost.

Second, messages stored in personal folders on a PC are available only from that PC. So, for example, if a user dials in from a home computer, messages stored on that user's office PC will not be available.

Monitoring performance

To provide information about how Exchange is performing, Microsoft has included Crystal Reports for Exchange in the Exchange Resource Kit. The reports provide multiple levels of detail and statistics on many topics.

For example, there are reports about incoming messages, outgoing messages, those that could not be delivered and highest-volume message senders and recipients. Unfortunately, most administrators do not know about this product and how it can help ensure that an Exchange server is configured and running properly.

Backups and viruses

Firms usually are careful to back up their Exchange data to tape every day. However, few test their backup tapes to make sure the data has been recorded correctly. Once a month, the Exchange backup tape should be restored to a spare server and tested to ensure that there are no errors.

Most network administrators know enough to put anti-virus software on their file servers and PCs. But few think about adding anti-virus software to their Exchange servers.

This added level of protection eliminates incoming viruses before they reach users' PCs and makes sure outgoing messages (to clients, for example) do not carry viruses with them. Leading products include Network Associates' McAfee GroupShield for Exchange (www.nai.com/products/antivirus/groupshield/default2.asp) and Symantec's Norton AntiVirus for Internet Email Gateways (www.symantec.com/nav/fs_navieg.html).

The bottom line is that many firms need to examine their Exchange servers more carefully. E-mail is becoming just as critical as word processing and, thus, is becoming equally important as regards risk management.

Dana H. Shultz is an Oakland-based lawyer, certified management consultant and speaker specializing in office technology and online marketing. He may be reached by e-mail at dhshultz@ds-a.com and on the World Wide Web at www.ds-a.com.