Tutorial: Microsoft Exchange


What Is Exchange?

Exchange is Microsoft Corporation’s premier email server.  In the world of Internet, there are email servers and email clients.  Servers are responsible for sending, receiving, and storing email messages and attachments; clients are needed to read these messages and download the associated attachments.

Ease of installation and graphic interface are among the reasons for Exchange’s popularity.  Exchange is ready to work right after installation, without the need to modify dozens of text files or settings to get the server up and running.  When implemented right, it allows for a robust email server for medium to large corporations.   This brief tutorial will discuss the installation requirements, integration with Active Directory, mailbox creation, storage management, web access, and the Outlook client.

History and Context

Exchange 4.0 debuted in 1996 as an upgrade to Microsoft Mail.  Version 5.0 was released in 1997 and soon 5.5 followed with its LDAP directory access method, a precursor to what would become Active Directory in Windows 2000.  With the introduction of Windows 2000 and Active Directory, Microsoft introduced Exchange 2000 Server, a robust platform which also allowed for chat and IM services.  In 2003, Exchange Server 2003 was released.  Chat and IM were removed and marketed as separate services using Live Communications Server.  The Outlook Web Access module which allows access to email using a browser was enhanced considerably to mimic the real Outlook client which installs as part of Office.  The next version of Exchange, name 2007, will add lots more features and expand the storage of this mail server even more.  The new version will have friendlier administrative tools and enhanced backup and restore, a sore point in versions of Exchange up to this point.

Historical Milestones

1996  Exchange 4.0 is introduced as a replacement for Microsoft Mail

  • Client/server architecture
  • X.400 based

1997  Exchange 5.0 is released in May

  • Adds administrative console
  • Support for stand-alone SMTP
  • Outlook is introduced as the preferred client

1997  Exchange 5.5 is released in November

  • Introduced in Standard and Enterprise versions to target different audiences
  • Provides “connectors” to allow Exchange to talk to any mail server
  • Introduces LDAP
  • Introduces clustering

2000  Exchange 2000 is released

  • Designed to work with Active Directory
  • Provides enhanced storage and administrative tools
  • Adds chat and IM services
  • Adds key management services for sending and receiving secure email

2003Exchange 2003 is released

  • Enhanced Outlook web access module is added
  • Management console is greatly enhanced
  • Support for blacklisting addresses is added
  • Enhanced spam control is introduced in the server and in Outlook 2003

Why Exchange?

Exchange is certainly not the only mail server out there; there are dozens of mail servers available.  In fact, Unix folks would probably speak of Exchange with disdain preferring Unix mail servers such as Sendmail.  While it is true that Sendmail is well-designed and robust, it needs a Ph.D. to set one up.  There are millions of small and medium size business who want to set up in-house email and with Exchange, in a few simple steps, they can be up and running.  In fact, small businesses who install Microsoft Small Business Server (with a series of Next clicks) have Exchange installed automatically and ready to go.  This simplicity and ease of use are the major contributors to Exchange’s success.

Principles and Operation

Exchange Server 2003 relies on Windows Active Directory services.  The installation process is rather straightforward.  The installation process modifies and extends Active Directory.  Existing users are given email accounts that match their logon names.  New accounts created are given the option upon creation as to whether or not email boxes should be created.  Outlook Web Access is automatically created for all accounts and ready to use.  For users preferring Outlook, the process or configuring all Outlook clients in an organization can be fully automated in minutes.  Once Exchange is installed and up and running, there is very little maintenance.  Clearly backups are recommended but for the most part, Exchange manages everything.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Exchange’s strength lies in its simplicity and robustness.  It installs and configures easily. Anyone can be trained in a short period to learn to use it effectively.  Since it also sets up web access automatically for all mailboxes, it makes it easy for its mail users to check email from home or while on travel.  All this has made Exchange a darling of many organizations.

If there is one weakness in Exchange, it is its difficulty in back-up and restore.  This is supposed to be addressed in the next version, i.e., 2007.  While the backup process is pretty straightforward, when it comes time to restore, the procedure is quite ugly and difficult.  While third party add-ons are available to address this one weakness, Microsoft has promised to address this issue in the next version.

Business Implications and Applications

Most business, small and large, the federal government, state institutions, colleges and universities, as well as non-profit organizations use Exchange.  While very popular, it is still viewed as a difficult topic to master and many administrators shy away from learning to work with Exchange.  Most training institutions that teach Microsoft MCSE tracks do not include Exchange.  Exchange instructors and administrators are hard to find and somewhat prized.  This is interesting since Exchange is not difficult to learn and use.  Because of its widespread usage, along with Outlook being the favorite mail client generally, Exchange can only become more and more popular and pervasive.  With Microsoft’s introduction of SharePoint services and its Calendar connector, both of which integrate with Exchange, this dominance in the market will last for the foreseeable future.

How to Learn More about It

Eogogics offers a five-day in-depth workshop called Exchange 2003 Server: Migrating to and Deploying Exchange Server 2003 for IT administrators and systems engineers.  For less technical professionals or managers with an interest in Exchange communications technology and administration, a one-day short course is also offered.  Please check out our IT curriculum for a number of related courses.


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