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Exchange 2000: Slow Going for Active Directory's Killer App

Every new technology needs the proverbial killer app to get moving.

Exchange 2000 Server is supposed to be the killer app for the Active Directory. The complexity inherent in both products, as well as Active Directory's slower-than-Microsoft-hoped-for uptake, has prevented Exchange 2000 from exploding onto the market.

Some users are reaping benefits from the Exchange 2000/Active Directory combination, but many others don't believe any irrefutable business case has been presented for making the leap.

With the launch of Windows 2000 two years ago, and the launch of Exchange 2000 Server six months later, Microsoft created a hand in glove fit. Windows 2000's integrated enterprise directory services, the Active Directory, interfaces and enhances the capabilities of Exchange 2000.

According to Chris Baker, lead product manager for Microsoft Exchange, deployments of Exchange 2000 and Active Directory were a bit slow in materializing throughout the first half of 2001.

“It’s taken some time, yes. Realistically, we told [customers] to plan this out, and involve their Exchange team and their AD team at the earliest stages of planning,” Baker says.

Because AD presents a difficult learning curve, Dana Gardner, research director of messaging and collaboration services with consultancy Aberdeen Group, agrees that overall uptick has been slower.

”The overall transition from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000 does require the migration to or adoption of Windows 2000 and the deployment of Active Directory. That’s meant a slower adoption rate because of the overall complexity,” he says.

Almost a year-and-a-half after Microsoft first shipped Exchange 2000, however, Microsoft’s Baker says that customers are past the planning stages and are ready to implement. The result, he maintains, is that Exchange 2000 is becoming the first “killer app” for AD. “We are seeing strong uptake now in Active Directory. We surveyed customer attendees at the annual Exchange conference last fall. We talked to in the neighborhood of [more than 600] customers … and found that 80 percent were either deploying or in the stages of deploying,” he says.

That attendees of a Microsoft Exchange conference are deploying Exchange 2000 is hardly surprising. When it comes to providing more meaningful statistics, such as what percentage of the 100 million Exchange seats are connected to Exchange 2000 Servers, Microsoft is silent.

According to Baker, organizations that successfully deploy Exchange 2000 should begin to realize business value by virtue of its tight integration with AD.

“When you bring Exchange into the organization … that tight integration allows more cost-effective management of users,” he says. “From an administrative perspective, as you create a new account for the network, [for example] you can also create that Exchange account, so you’re automatically provisioned.”

That has been the experience of Cinergy Corp., a Cincinnati-based electric supplier, since migrating to Exchange 2000 in late June.

"Now, rather than having to maintain and manage two separate directories, we have one," says Jeff Starke, project manager for Cinergy's Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000 planning and deployment. In fact, Cinergy is extending the administrative simplicity to other applications. "At the same time, we also put a process in to link our Active Directory into our HR IS system. We don't have to manually manage that." The company has plans to link Active Directory to Cinergy's PeopleSoft application as well.

The company has also seen improvements in the reliability and availability of its Exchange servers since the migration, Starke says. "In our Exchange 5.5 environment we had scheduled weekly reboots. We no longer do that. We've had Exchange 2000 servers running 30-90 days plus, and the only reason we had to reboot them is updates," he says.

Cinergy did a faster rollout of Exchange 2000 than its own internal plans had originally called for when the CEO instituted an employee PC program. Employees were able to get a home PC and unlimited Internet access for $7 a month. The IT department wanted to implement some of the more advanced features available in Exchange 2000's Outlook Web Access as part of that employee PC program.

True to Microsoft’s word, organizations that do buy into the Exchange 2000/AD package, and which successfully deploy both Exchange 2000 and AD, typically enjoy a variety of manageability enhancements, says James Kobielus, a senior analyst with consultancy the Burton Group.

But Kobielus says that IT organizations that have already standardized on Windows NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5 don’t often have a compelling enough reason to make a move to Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000. After all, Kobielus points out, even if they’re concerned about NT 4.0’s reliability vis-à-vis Windows 2000, Exchange 5.5 can be installed on Windows 2000, as well.

“In a lot of ways, there’s no compelling value proposition for enterprise customers to migrate to Exchange 2000,” he says. “There’s a lot of architectural issues, and then there’s also the issue that you have to harmonize your design for AD deployment. With all of this, it’s no surprise that a lot of customers are very happy with Exchange 5.5, it works just fine for e-mail, calendaring, public folders.”

William Lefkovics, a systems administrator with the AscentrA Group of Companies, a Las Vegas, Nev.-based health care provider, says that Exchange 2000’s tight integration with AD means that, to some extent, administrators must also become familiar with AD to effectively manage their Exchange environments.

“In order to administer Exchange 2000 at an intermediate level, especially in a larger organization, … learning [Active Directory Services Interface (ADSI)] was pretty much mandatory. ADSI was a useful tool for NT 4 already, but it was hardly required for most administrators. Now with Active Directory, ADSI is the tool,” he says.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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