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Migration Warriors: A wild, four-day ride from open source to Exchange

Feeling that it had little control over its Sendmail-based messaging system, Utah's Private Mentoring Group decided to bring e-mail in-house. But it found there's no easy path from other e-mail servers to Exchange.

A software platform migration can be a painful and expensive undertaking. Oftentimes, it's helpful to first take a look at what others have done to get an idea about what works -- and what doesn't.

Following is the story of one organization's Microsoft Exchange Server migration journey:

Migration Warrior: Nathan Whetten, system administrator, postmaster

Organization: Private Mentoring Group, Provo, Utah

Number of users/mailboxes: 125 users at the beginning, but we'll be up to 200 soon. Not a huge group, but not tiny either.

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Number of servers dedicated to messaging: One so far, but we are planning a redundant server for our second site.

Current version of Exchange: Exchange 2003

Messaging system you migrated from: Sendmail on the back end, Neomail on front end (Web interface). The server space was leased to us by one of our vendors, but had very little space, did not retain the e-mail and had no virus or spam protection. In short, we had little control over our e-mail situation and decided to bring it in-house.

How long did the migration take? In total, the main part of the migration took just under four days, but much of that was due to the fact that none of us had any experience on the server end of Exchange. We started late on a Friday night and finished on Sunday, with a couple of small modifications again on that next Monday morning. We were told by people from other companies that when they migrated to Exchange they took several weeks to complete the process, start to finish. We were not given that option, so we made the best with what we had.

Describe the migration: The process of migration was not easy. We had three people working on the migration full time, plus two others contributed briefly. There is no clear-cut process to migrate to Exchange from any other e-mail server, with the possible exceptions of Lotus Notes and a couple of other commercial platforms.

We first installed Server 2003 and then installed Exchange 2003. That part was easy and straightforward. We then contacted our previous e-mail provider and had them terminate incoming and outgoing services.

We then had to download all of the original e-mail files into individual user's PSTs stored on our local computers. From there we then accessed the new Exchange server and

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added the additional mailboxes into outlook for the original accounts. We also had to synchronize the OST files. Once all that was complete, we had to upload the individual folders and e-mail files to the server so they would be available via OWA. We also had to ensure that the antivirus was fully functional beforehand to strip any existing viruses from users' files.

Microsoft's documentation was not very consistent and did not offer much beyond the most basic information, so when we encountered problems with our DNS settings, we considered contacting Microsoft directly. However, considering most of their tech support (at least frontlines) is now run through India, and considering that they charge approximately $250 per case (there do not appear to be any freebies) we decided against that.

The main issue we found with DNS was that we had our MX and NS records on different servers (due to the fact that we had some servers running internally and others were running external to the company). Microsoft could not help us resolve that, the Internet had little information on it and the consultant we had hired to help with the install could not figure it out. We finally contacted a previous consultant that we had used, and he gave us the solution.

We also had problems redirecting to just We did not find the information from Microsoft on how to do that for some time, so in the beginning we just used a redirect html script. We have had various other problems in the last three months while running Microsoft Exchange.

Overall, the Exchange system has been great, but Microsoft should really consider reworking their migration plans for Exchange. They also need to consider some of the simple functions that people need, such as a catch-all account, allowing legal disclaimers and custom signatures to be set, and giving better attachment stripping. They also need to understand that not everyone runs a 100% Microsoft working environment and account for that as well. IIS and Exchange have about a million different settings in their consoles and very little documentation on what it all means. Usually I go to Google to get help since the Microsoft online KB seems to be getting worse and worse.

My advice would be: don't migrate. Start fresh with Exchange or something else, but the migration is a pain. There may be, and probably is, an easier method than we used, but we could not find it in the timeframe that we had.

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