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I've been running a departmental Exchange server since early 1996, and recently became indirectly responsible for the Exchange network for an entire health system -- 15 servers, 5500 users, and still growing. Tending a farm of Exchange servers is strongly reminiscent of caring for premature infants (my "other" career). Both have a lot of potential, but both are complex organisms based on a large number of loosely coupled, immature systems, both are fragile and unpredictable, and both can go from a state of good health to death's door in a matter of minutes.
Every Exchange administrator learns quickly that, in order to survive, one must regard Exchange updates and service packs as a game of Russian Roulette, subscribe to Exchange mailing lists, search the Microsoft knowledge bases on TechNet on a regular basis, examine each successive Exchange Resource Kit diligently for the tools and capabilities that should have been included in the base system, and exhibit the patience and persistence of Job when wrangling with Microsoft phone support. Only a monopoly like Microsoft could dominate the email market with such a flaky product!
In the course of my own efforts to keep Exchange from falling over (or getting it back on its feet afterwards), I've looked through a lot of different books on Exchange administration. From my own experience, I've developed a short checklist of things to look for that tell me whether the author's objectivity and depth of experience make the book worth buying:
- A clear description of the management of public folders, including the procedure to "re-home" a public folder, and an explanation of the differences between "affinity" and "replication" and their impact on user access to public folders within sites and across site boundaries.
- How to create a standard Exchange site connector between two sites when there is no trust relationship between the underlying NT domains, including the obscure fact that at least one of the machines involved in the site connector must be a PDC.
- The benefits, pitfalls, and chronic stability problems of Outlook Web Access (OWA) -- the Active Server Page interface to Exchange mailboxes, public folders, and the global address list -- and the crucial fixes for OWA in Exchange version 5.5 Service Pack 2.
- The features and problems of the Exchange, Schedule+, and Outlook clients on the various supported platforms, how to set up each of the clients for off-line use and automatic or on-demand synchronization, and the server-side control of the contents of the off-line address book (OAB), scheduling of OAB generation, and forcing OAB compatibility with Exchange 4.0/5.0 clients.
- Moving mailboxes and servers from one site to another, safely de-installing the first server in a site, a systematic approach to disaster recovery, and how to change the organization name for an Exchange network (you can't).
- The perils of using Microsoft's NT clustering solution ("Wolfpack") for Exchange versus NT high-availability solutions from other vendors -- specifically the notorious problems with Wolfpack's performance, reliability of failover, efficient use of resources, and Microsoft phone support.
It's a sad commentary on technical trade book publishing that, until now, all of the Exchange administration books I've seen have failed the above checklist miserably, even though these are issues that are faced by every Exchange administrator. Why? Because most of the books are simply rehashes of Microsoft's own Exchange documentation, which also fails to provide accurate or complete information on the above topics (and many others).
Paul Robichaux's new book Managing Microsoft Exchange Server, on the other hand, passes nearly item on my checklist with flying colors, coming up short only on the Exchange-on-NT clustering topic (Paul discusses it briefly, but does not warn potential users away from it strongly enough, and omits the crucial fact that Microsoft does not officially support Exchange on their own clustering solution). The short excerpt below alone contains several pearls that almost every Exchange administrator has learned the hard way, but can't be found in any Microsoft Exchange manual.
True to form for O'Reilly and Associates, Managing Microsoft Exchange Server is eminently practical and accurate, well structured, carefully edited, and a pleasure to read. Every Exchange administrator will want to have a copy of this book readily available at home and at work. Highly recommended.
— Electronic Review of Computer Books