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Interview: Exchange expert talks challenges for 2003

Messaging expert Lee Benjamin has worn plenty of hats. He is currently an independent consultant and chairman of the New England Exchange User Group, which has 250 members. Most recently, he was vice president of Microsoft technology and strategies at IntelliReach Corp., an e-mail management software company. He also spent six years at Microsoft where he played a role in the development of the first Exchange Server, as well as having a number of other positions in the messaging world. He has designed systems for companies of all sizes, but one of his most memorable jobs came during the height of dotcom fever when he helped a now-defunct virtual company draw up a proposal for a Web application that could support 1 million users. He recently chatted about the more down-to-earth challenges that face Exchange customers today

Are there common technical problems that Exchange administrators are grappling with?
They run the gamut. The biggest ones are backup and restore, and what do you do if the database gets into trouble. There are group policies and retention policies. How do you retrieve data if you have to? What if HR asks for e-mail that Joe has sent for the past six months? How many backups do you need? What if you are Worldcom or Enron? How does the [U.S. Department of Justice] come in and look at past e-mail? I always ask what antivirus everyone is using, and for Exchange customers, it's usually one of the top five or nothing. Where are most of your members in terms of a migration to Exchange 2000?
They are mixed. Some of our large companies are about 95% upgraded to Exchange 2000, but there's a whole bunch in the [Exchange] 5.5 world. Around the time of MEC, we talked about Microsoft's new support life cycle. We said, by the end of 2003, support for NT and 5.5 goes away. We did some polling around the room. For the largest customers still on [Exchange] 5.5, I said, 'you can get another year on those if you want to pay through the nose, and if you have product support. If you aren't already paying for Microsoft's Premiere support, you may not even be eligible to pay the extra fees to get support.' The bottom line for most customers is 2003 is the year to get off of 5.5. Are members expressing any interest in Oracle's messaging product?
No. My perspective from 20 years in the e-mail business is that Oracle has tried a number of times. Four or five times they have failed. They will probably get some customer penetration from their largest customers who know and trust their database technology. I don't think customers are concerned about Microsoft's messaging strategy. Titanium [Exchange 2003] will succeed because it's an easy upgrade. With Kodiak [next major version of Exchange] and Yukon [next version of SQL Server], no one is pushing for that to happen fast because what exists today works fine. The largest customers have told Microsoft to slow down because they've invested so much in Exchange they won't throw it out until Microsoft really proves it has a better database than what works today. Yukon will have to be out a year before Exchange customers will be convinced to move.


Featured Topic: Goodbye Exchange 5.5. Now what?

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Ask an expert a question about Exchange.

Article: Expert ranks Domino against Exchange What are your Exchange administrators talking about?
Anti-spam is a big topic. People can't wait until Exchange 2003 to deal with spam, so they have to look for any solution that is out there. Another big issue is getting off of [Exchange] 5.5 and NT. If I were [a 5.5] customer at this point, I'd have the release candidate of Windows 2003 and the beta of Exchange 2003 in the lab this year, and I'd actually skip Windows 2000 and go to those other releases as soon as they are comfortable with them. They are close enough to their immediate predecessors. If you've waited this long, put your energy into testing the 2003 products and make your move. There are so many things that will make your life easier -- with Active Directory and the migration wizards. There are also migration challenges for people on other platforms that are looking to move to Exchange. And this is the year there is no more MEC [Microsoft Exchange Conference]. Just how good a job Microsoft will do in taking care of Exchange administration issues inside of TechEd remains to be seen.

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