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Before migrating to Exchange Server 2003, preparation is an absolute must. In this article, I discuss four important factors you need to consider prior to your Exchange 2003 deployment.
1. Check your hardware
Whether you're planning to install Exchange Server 2003 on existing hardware or buy new hardware, you need to make sure that hardware is up to the job. Exchange Server has fairly modest hardware requirements, so it's easy to trivialize this step, but you really should take the time to make sure your hardware is adequate.
Also, although you can run Exchange 2003 on Windows Server 2000, Microsoft recommends you run it on Windows Server 2003. If you are thinking about upgrading your operating system, make sure your server doesn't have any hardware that's incompatible with the new OS. To find out more, take a look at Microsoft's hardware compatibility list.
Lastly, if you are buying new hardware, keep in mind that Exchange 2003 will not run on the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003.
2. Review your operating system
After you verify your hardware, you need to check out your server's operating system. Obviously, if you've got Exchange 5.5 server running on Windows NT, you'll need to upgrade to a newer operating system -- but there's more to it than that.
If you have a Windows 2000 box on which you are thinking of running Exchange 2003, you must make sure the OS is running Windows 2000 SP3 at a minimum.
You must also ensure (for Windows 2000 or Windows 2003) that any volume that will contain an Exchange server component is formatted as NTFS. Specifically, this means the system partition, and any partition containing Exchange binaries, databases, transaction logs, or any other Exchange files.
3. Check application compatibility
Check your current Exchange server for any Exchange-enabled applications that you are presently running that are not compatible with Exchange 2003. If you are running third-party Exchange enabled applications, this will probably be as simple as visiting the software publisher's Web site to see what the software is compatible with.
Another issue to be aware of is that some Exchange 2000 native components are not included in Exchange 2003. These include the chat service, Key Management Server components, and connectors for ccMail and Microsoft Mail. If you are running any of these components, you have to uninstall them prior to the upgrade. (Exchange 2000's conferencing and chat features have been rolled into Microsoft's Live Communications Server.)
4. Have a rollback plan
By far, the best advice I can give you with regard to an Exchange 2003 upgrade is to have a rollback plan in place.
Before you do anything at all, make a full system backup of the server that you are upgrading. Try to restore that backup to an isolated lab server as well to make sure it actually works! It would be terrible to get halfway through the upgrade, have a problem that requires you to abort, and not have a working backup to fall back on.
If you are upgrading from Exchange 2000, another thing to keep in mind is that Exchange 2003 modifies Active Directory during the upgrade. If you end up having to abandon the deployment for some reason and restore a backup, you will have to do an authoritative restore. Otherwise, changes made to Active Directory by the failed installation will still exist and could prevent the restored version of Exchange from functioning properly.
The downside to an authoritative restore, however, is that any updates made to Active Directory since the backup was made will be lost. This includes non-Exchange related operations.
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he 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.
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