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Top 10 Exchange management headaches

Ten of the top headaches to plague Exchange managers, and tips on how to solve them.

Question: Why is a Microsoft Exchange manager like a voodoo doll? Answer: Somebody is always needling him about a problem.

Such black humor is common amongst Exchange administrators, who are always on pins and needles about when the next message system crisis will pop up. That's why the Exchange management headaches listed in this "top 10" list will sound all too familiar. To help managers solve these sticky problems, Kim Roy accompanies each headache with tips on Exchange management tools. In each case, choosing a tool with the right features will help managers ward off evil Exchange spirits, said Roy, product manager for Houston, Texas-based BMC Software.

Headache #1: The technical staff is constantly fighting fires instead of working on projects.

Dealing with unexpected day-to-day problems is "the nemesis of most administrators," said Roy. Some of these daily mishaps can be avoided if your Exchange management tool offers automated recovery actions. When a potential problem is detected, the recovery action is initiated and the problem can be solved without involving the administrator.

Headache #2: When performance is degraded, the staff spends most of the time diagnosing the problem, not fixing it.

When an Exchange glitch occurs, the administrator can easily see the symptom but not the cause, said Roy. Make sure that you choose a management tool that spotlights problem areas as soon as, or even before, errors occur.

Headache #3: There's no good way to analyze the environment at any given point in time.

"An immediate view into the Exchange server environment is imperative when solving problems," said Roy. Choose an Exchange management tool that allows the administrator to view the key system and application parameters on an ad-hoc basis. Having local performance data stored on that server assists administrators in getting a quick view of the entire server.

Headache #4: Consolidating servers seems to always negatively affect performance.

Today, most administrators are asked to cut down on floor space and consolidate servers. "When this occurs there are so many factors to take into account that it can quickly become overwhelming," said Roy. Choose an Exchange management tool that will model the current environment and allow for "what-if" analysis. This gives the administrators control over the decision and helps to ensure a smooth transition for the end-user.

Headache #5: Every hacker seems to be gunning for Microsoft, so viruses are constantly bombarding Exchange Mail.

Choose a management solution that has the ability to detect suspicious mail - which many times turns out to be a virus - and to implement an automated recovery action. This recovery action will prevent the virus from spreading.

"The key with a virus is timing," said Roy. "Because of this, the fastest way to stop the virus from spreading is to have the tool that detects it also stop it from spreading. Then the administrator can be notified and clean up can begin."

Headache #6: Tracking storage device usage in a distributed environment is like finding a needle in a haystack.

"As storage becomes more distributed, it is difficult for the administrator to know which device is being used by the more critical users," said Roy. Make sure that you have an Exchange management tool that enables the extraction of specific application data and makes it possible to associate it with related physical storage assets that support that application.

Headache #7: Buying too little storage [for Exchange] too late, or buying too much storage too soon.

"Knowing the optimal time to buy more storage is difficult," said Roy. "If the administrator guesses wrong, end-user performance suffers."

Implementing a strong capacity planning program will enable Exchange managers to forecast future storage requirements. A good Exchange management tool will help managers analyze historical data at the file system, server and enterprise storage subsystem levels.

Headache #8: Figuring out how to charge back particular departments for their storage use is very difficult.

Find a management tool that offers detailed usage reports. "Cost accounting enables customers to calculate the cost of storage, the amount to be charged back and the percentage of an asset that is in use by an application, file system or server," said Roy. If a particular user-group or department is utilizing the majority of available storage, the cost of that storage can be accounted for and charged back to those users.

Headache #9: When user problems arise, the Exchange manager is often the last to know about them.

"Knowing what the end-user is experiencing at all times is hard to achieve," said Roy. Instead of waiting for that call from the end-user when the machine is slow, the administrator needs a management tool that alerts him to the problem. The tool should be able to manage response times from servers to servers, servers to end-users and servers to Internet mail users. This will give the administrator an accurate view of performance from the end-user perspective.

Headache #10: The Exchange administrator is an island, cut off from information about systems that can affect Exchange performance.

"If Exchange e-mail stops flowing, the first person the end-users call is the Exchange administrator," said Roy. Yet, that administrator may not have access to information about network, Web server or back-end database problems that could slow down or stop the flow of mail. Besides having tools that offer views into other applications, Exchange managers should make sure that the lines of communication with other application managers are open.

Does your messaging system have a weakest link? Tell us why this problem makes management a nightmare, and how you cope with it in the real world. Then, tell us what solution you would use -- in a perfect world -- to kiss that weakest link, "Good-bye!" Send your weakest links and possible solutions to

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