Product Reviews

Distribution Patterns

Imanami’s SmartDL helps manage distribution lists.

Everyone knows spam is a major problem. But there’s another flood of unwanted e-mail rarely mentioned: Internal spam—widely spread messages from co-workers and others in your organization that have absolutely no value.

The problem arises when users, unsure (or not caring) exactly who needs to get their message, simply blast their quilting guild schedule, beer bash invite, or Spanish-speaking women’s club newsletter to everyone. Then there are the people who hit “reply to all.” All these problems have the same root cause—inefficient management of distribution lists within Exchange and Active Directory. Enter Imanami with an elegant solution: Smart Distribution Lists (SmartDL 3.1).

SmartDL creates and updates Exchange distribution lists and Active Directory groups through user-defined queries. Administrators tell SmartDL—just once—who should be a member, and SmartDL updates them automatically from that point forward.

SmartDL deals with the distribution list mess by dynamically maintaining distribution lists based on rules applied to directory data. It also allows administrators to easily maintain large distribution lists and groups without having to add and remove members manually. This is done with SmartDL Dynasties, rules that define SmartDLs. A Dynasty (no relation to Joan Collins) is really a distribution list that creates and manages other distribution lists, automatically creating, updating and deleting groups based on user-defined criteria.

For instance, if your organization requires a group that contains everyone on a server and there are five servers, a group would have to be created for every server. If your company were to add or remove servers, you’d have to create or delete the corresponding group each time. With a Dynasty called “Servers,” SmartDL determines how many servers are part of the environment and creates or deletes groups when necessary, even populating them if empty.

Imanami SmartDL
Figure 1. Imanami’s SmartDL makes importing a newly created group a snap. (Click image to view larger version.)

Multi-level Dynasties—a feature new to 3.1—can enhance existing Dynasties. You can create a Dynasty based on any field and SmartDL will scan the directory for every unique value of that field. It then creates a distribution list for each value and keeps it up to date, creating new distribution lists and deleting ones no longer needed.

When users’ directory information changes, SmartDL automatically updates the appropriate distribution lists. SmartDL creates and updates Exchange distribution lists and AD groups through user-defined LDAP queries.

Additionally, administrators can assign a dynamic membership to a distribution list. For example, you could create a distribution list that contains everyone on a particular Exchange server or everyone in a particular department or business unit. SmartDL will then keep this information current, so the right people receive the right information. A scheduling feature allows you to have SmartDL update Dynasties on a regular basis; you never have to doubt the precision of your group’s membership again.

The new edition includes features that allow the transfer of ownership of all groups owned by one user to another. Large groups can be configured to automatically break into smaller groups, and groups can be created using imported “foreign” directories.

Thinking ahead, SmartDL provides an easier-to-use Query Designer with more options for use with Exchange 2003’s Query-based Distribution Lists (QBDL), as well as an updated query designer. The program will, like nearly everything else these days, notify IT when a new version is available and download it immediately—even coming with a roll-back option.

SmartDL automates the creation and maintenance of Exchange and AD distribution lists and security groups. In addition to increasing efficiency company-wide, the use of Smart DL significantly reduces support calls to systems administrators and help desk personnel by automating many of today’s manual, redundant administrative tasks.

SmartDL requires NT 4.0 or above. In addition, directory services can be handled by Exchange Server 5.5 (SP4), Exchange Server 2000 or AD. You also need Internet Explorer 5.x or above. Help documentation is adequate, and online help is also available.

There’s little question SmartDL is a worthwhile product and lives up to the expectations it creates. Adding it to a large or complex enterprise is an excellent idea, and one that can easily be supported from an ROI and overall business perspective.

About the Author

David W. Tschanz, Ph.D., MCSE, is author of the recent "Exchange Server 2007 Infrastructure Design: A Service-Oriented Approach" (Wiley, 2008), as well as co-author of "Mastering Microsoft SQL Server 2005" (Sybex, 2006). Tschanz is a regular contributor to Redmond magazine and operates a small IT consulting firm specializing in business-oriented infrastructure development.

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