Prior to Exchange Server 2007, managing email distribution lists was quite tedious (especially in larger organizations), because administrators had to update them manually. Exchange Server 2007 offers a new feature called dynamic distribution groups that greatly simplifies the process.
An Exchange 2007 dynamic distribution group is a distribution list whose membership changes dynamically as the organization changes. These distribution groups are creating through Active Directory queries rather than creating lists of recipients.
Dynamic distribution groups work by querying Active Directory for specific user object attributes. For example, if you wanted to create a dynamic distribution group consisting of all recipients who live in Miami, Fla., you would create a query on the City attribute. If a user object's City attribute contains the word "Miami," then the user is automatically included in the Exchange distribution group.
Because Exchange Server 2007 dynamic distribution groups work by looking at Active Directory attributes, they will only be effective if you have populated the various user object attributes. Due diligence must also be exercised to make sure that your user object attributes remain up to date.
Exchange 2007, Longhorn Server, Windows Vista, and even Office 2007 to some extent, use Active Directory object attributes much more often than Microsoft products have in the past. So make sure you take some time to populate or update your Active Directory user object attributes if necessary.
How to create an Exchange 2007 dynamic distribution group
- To create an Exchange 2007 dynamic distribution group, begin by opening the Exchange Management Console and navigating through the console tree to Recipient Configuration -> Distribution Group.
- Right click on the Distribution Group container.
You will now see an option to create a new distribution group. If you choose the New Distribution Group option, you will be creating a static distribution group. Make sure you choose the option to create a new dynamic distribution group instead.
- At this point, the Exchange Management Console will launch the New Dynamic Distribution Group wizard. The wizard's first screen simply requires you to enter a name for the new distribution group. Use something descriptive that will help you to remember the distribution group's purpose. As you type the name, the Alias field will be populated automatically.
- Click Next, and you will see a screen -- similar to the one that's shown in Figure A
-- that allows you to filter the recipients included in the distribution group based on mailbox type. By default, all recipients are included in the filter, but you can narrow down the list by choosing to filter based on users with Exchange mailboxes, users with external email addresses, etc.
Figure A: You have the option of filtering recipients by mailbox type.
- Click Next and you will be taken to the screen that allows you to create conditions for your dynamic distribution group.
To understand how this works, imagine that you wanted to create a distribution group consisting of all of the recipients in South Carolina. To do so, you would select the Recipient in a State or Province checkbox, as shown in Figure B. The Conditions portion of the screen will update to reflect that you want your distribution group to contain recipients from a specific state or province.
Figure B: Set the conditions for the dynamic distribution group here.
Notice in the figure that the word Specified is underlined. If you click on this word, you'll be given the opportunity to enter the name of the actual state or province you want included in the condition.
- After adding conditions to the dynamic distribution group, click the Next button to view a summary screen detailing the options you've chosen.
- To finish, click the New button to create the new dynamic distribution group.
As you can see, Exchange Server 2007 dynamic distribution groups can be a huge timesaver, because they free you from having to manually managing static distribution lists. Keep in mind though that dynamic distribution lists are only as good as the user object attribute data in your Active Directory.
About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Exchange Server, and has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). 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 Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.
It is interesting to know that there are dynamic distribution groups in Exchange 2007 and how they can be configured, but it is not true that it is a new feature. The query distribution lists in Exchange 2003 have similar characteristics and functions as those in Exchange 2007.
Besides, a reference to the PowerShell command that performs this operation should be mandatory for all function descriptions in Exchange 2007 reference documents -- or the information that there is no such command should that be the case.
I just read your tip about creating dynamic distribution groups. The tip is pretty good, except for one thing. This feature is not new; it is also a part of Exchange 2003.
I did some checking, and you are right. It did exist in Exchange Server 2003, but in a different form.
In Exchange 2003, the feature was called "Query Based Distribution Groups." The feature was added to the Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC) console and was not accessible through the Exchange System Manager (ESM).
In Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft designed the dynamic distribution list feature to make it easier to use, and also made the feature accessible through the Exchange Management Console (EMC).
Probably the biggest improvement is that the wizard makes it obvious that you can filter recipients based on Active Directory attributes. You could filter on attributes in the Exchange 2003 version, but that feature was kind of hidden. You had to define a custom filter and really hunt around to find the attribute filtering mechanism.
—Brien Posey, tip author
I think Microsoft is missing an even simpler dynamic distribution list. For instance, I work at a college which runs a large database system that stores all student information (as all colleges do). I already query this information to generate Windows logins, so I have their email addresses ready to use. Why can't I just query the information to generate group emails for each course a student is enrolled in? The connection to Exchange Server could just be an ODBC link to a table or query containing the distribution list name and the email addresses of all students on it.
I'm sure there are many other organizations which want to query their own information, not Active Directory data, for distribution lists.
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