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User gives Exchange Server 2003 high marks for scalability

Microsoft appears to be making some strides in scalability with an upcoming release of its messaging server and its database software. Its Web server, on the other hand, could use a little primping, says one early adopter.

Microsoft appears to be making some strides in scalability with an upcoming release of its messaging server and...

its database software. Its Web server, on the other hand, could use a little primping, says one early adopter.

Scalability improvements made to Exchange Server 2003 are a main reason why Pacific Life Insurance Co. will start installing the software even before it officially ships in September. Among other things, improvements to this latest version of Exchange will help cut costs by reducing the vast amounts of hardware that populate Pacific Life's branch offices.

Pacific Life will eliminate Exchange 5.5 servers at each of its 30 remote locations and consolidate on a single Exchange Server 2003, to be located in the home office, said Matthew Hansberger, director of Wintel technology at Pacific Life, in Newport Beach, Calif.

With fewer servers at each site, the company has less hardware and therefore reduced costs for maintenance and support. Hansberger said the consolidation is possible because Exchange Server 2003 promises a 65% reduction in bandwidth traffic for the company. "This also means [we] won't have to add bandwidth as it rolls out more Web-based applications," he said.

Pacific Life will make a similar consolidation with its SQL Server 2000, which lets customers load more than one database on each server. The consolidations won't mean staff cuts, but they won't have to add new employees either. He said he expects procedures and processes to run more smoothly because IT staff will be focusing more on the technology and not on administration.

"Plenty of enterprises have built these great systems, and now managing those systems has become a nightmare," he said.

Most IT administrators are slow to adopt new versions of software, but Hansberger is unfettered. Like many other IT executives, Hansberger says the migration difficulties that come with moving from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000 stem mainly from building an Active Directory. Other than having directory integration and centralized management, there were few other blockbuster features in the 2000 release. Pacific Life's home office runs Exchange 2000.

Exchange 2003 has improved Outlook access, built-in snapshot features and improved reliability, which, in Hansberger's opinion, make it worth the move.

Hansberger also says it's worth skipping from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange Server 2003, when it becomes available, because the Active Directory migration tools are much better.

He advises IT administrators who are deciding to move from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000 to watch for applications that are integrated with Exchange --because they are likely to be impacted when the Active Directory schema is upgraded.

Hansberger said he would like better scalability from the Internet Information Services (IIS) Web server. Its open-source competitor, Apache, is a stronger product because it lets customers cluster or virtualize Web sites.

Pacific Life currently runs 30 Web sites, each with a Web server, a test server and a staging server.

"It would be easier to put all 30 sites in one box, manage that box and have one for testing and one for staging," he said. "Or you could virtualize them or cluster them so you can bring them up or down, and you never have a loss of connectivity for your users.

"Today, if you lose a Web site, you lose business. They need to take IIS to the next level, and they are trying to do that. But IIS really needs to handle more Web sites and scale up substantially."


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