Stopping e-mail traffic jams

Persistent e-mail performance slowdowns plagued Eden Prairie, MN-based ADC, the Broadband Company, until a beta test provided a great traffic cop.

Persistent e-mail performance slowdowns at Eden Prairie, MN-based ADC, the Broadband Company, were getting product manager Steve Whiteaker down. He'd slogged through numerous tests of monitoring products, only to find that they didn't come near to eliminating ADC's daily e-mail performance setbacks. It wasn't until he took a chance and tried out a beta product that things began to look up.

With messaging, performance problems are often caused by e-mail messages being sent with huge attachments that "eat up bandwidth," said Whiteaker. Though he knew that attachments are often the culprits, finding out which attachments were "overeating" was a tough and time-consuming task.

After trying out every available messaging monitoring product, Whiteaker tested a beta version of Irvine, CA-based Quest's Spotlight on Exchange, part of a suite of products for managing Microsoft applications.

The beta tests showed immediate results. "Spotlight put all the information into a readily viewable, rapidly assimilated view of our Exchange server," Whiteaker said.

Before implementing Spotlight, Whiteaker had to use three or four programs and utilities to find out where setbacks were occurring. Then, he had to visually look in the services applet to see if the right program was started. This was not a quick process.

With Spotlight, a display screen and color-coded interface downsized the search and discovery process. The display's color-coding provides distinct views of disk drives, CPU, memory, message queues and network connectivity. Each of those sections are seen as a table containing green performance bars. The bars turn to yellow, orange and then red according to the percentage of used capacity. By illustrating usage graphically, Spotlight made Whiteaker aware of potential bottlenecks, enabling problems to be resolved before end users are affected.

The ability to set color-coded warning percentages at any number was a plus for Whiteaker. For example, he has his disk drive displays set to turn yellow at 85 percent capacity, to turn orange at 90 percent, and to turn red at 95 percent, indicating a full disk. However, his log disks, which keep logs of message transactions on Exchange, are set to turn yellow at 75 percent, orange at 80 percent and red at 90 percent.

Setting the log disk percentages at a lower number provides an indication that there is a backup failure. An administrator could then play back the logs to see where the point of failure is and act to stop problems from affecting users.

Gaining the ability to be proactive in problem solving is Whiteaker's favorite thing about Spotlight. "It lets us get ahead of the problem, and users aren't impacted," he said.

Whiteaker frequently uses a Spotlight for Exchange tool that saves the performance statistics of all the components for the last hour in its memory. Using this feature, he can very quickly pull up a graph or table that shows how a problem had developed. With this knowledge, he can stop similar problems from happening again.

Whiteaker's days of searching through reports from several utilities to find and notify others of problems are over, he said. He can identify large attachments that are monopolizing bandwidth and send his users e-mail messages far more quickly than he could before.

While saving time is important, however, Whiteaker values Spotlight's crystal ball-like features more. It's great, he said, to be able to see a potential problem and nip it in the bud before anyone else is aware of it.

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