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Five tips for maintaining Exchange Server 2003 stability

Shunning virtualization and retiring Exchange 5.5 servers are just a couple tricks to improve the stability of your Exchange Server 2003 environment.

Exchange Server 2003 is mature and reliable, but its overall stability has a lot to do with how it's configured. These five best practices will help ensure the stability of your Exchange 2003 server.

  1. Always run Exchange Server 2003 on a dedicated server
    You can run other applications alongside Exchange, but this deprives the server of valuable resources. Running additional applications can also complicate disaster recovery efforts. It's best to only run Exchange 2003 with utility applications like antivirus software or backup agents.
  2. Antivirus software tweaks
    Use the right antivirus software on Exchange server and make sure that the software is configured correctly. Performing a file-level antivirus scan can result in 1018 errors and server failures. Exclude \Exchsrvr\MDBData and \SRS folders from file-level scanning.
  3. Shut down unnecessary services
    Running services that you're not using doesn't directly affect Exchange 2003 stability; however, it can tax operating system resources. Closing out these services can free up resources for Exchange Server 2003 and reduce the server's attack surface.

    Some of the services you can shut down include:

    • Computer browser
    • Distributed file system
    • Distributed link tracking client
    • Distributed transaction coordinator, unless the server is a member of a cluster
    • Print spooler
    • Wireless configuration
  4. Think twice before virtualizing Exchange 2003 servers
    Microsoft doesn't officially support virtualizing Exchange Server 2003 on Hyper-V or VMware. I recommend that you only run Exchange Server 2003 on physical hardware. According to Microsoft's Exchange virtualization policy , Exchange Server 2003 is only supported on Virtual Server 2005 R2 and later versions of Virtual Server. In my experience, Virtual Server is not as reliable as Hyper-V or VMware and is lacking performance in comparison.
  5. Retire Exchange Server 5.5
    Support for Exchange 5.5 was discontinued in2006; using Exchange 5.5 servers can negatively affect the stability of your entire Exchange environment.

    Exchange 5.5 runs on an outdated OS -- Windows NT 4.0 -- and typically does not work with modern hardware. Running on old server hardware presents a unique problem -- it could fail at any time and it may be impossible to repair. Your backups also may not help in this instance because it's almost impossible to restore a Windows NT or Windows 2000 backup to dissimilar hardware.

    Uninstalling Exchange 5.5 server can create some simple Active Directory synchronization troubles as well as more severe problems like mailbox data loss or an inability to send and receive email.

In addition to the best practices listed here, Microsoft offers a few others. I recommend running the Exchange Server 2003 Best Practices Analyzer at least once a month to see how well your server configuration matches Microsoft's best practices.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a seven-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services (IIS), and File Systems and Storage. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, Brien has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal website at

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