Keep your finger on email's pulse with 5 Exchange reporting tools
If communications is modern business's circulatory system, then email has become its heart. Most Microsoft Exchange Server administrators find they need more than Exchange's built-in tools to truly keep tabs on their messaging system's pulse. I tested five Exchange Server 2003 reporting tools—BindView bv-Control for Microsoft Exchange 8.0, eIQnetworks Mail-Analyzer 3.6, e-nspect2000, PROMODAG Reports for Microsoft Exchange Server 7.0, and Quest Software MessageStats 5.6—to help you find the one that can best help you keep your Exchange organization alive and kicking. (I was unable to include Hypersoft OmniAnalyser in this review. You can find more information about that product at http://www.hypersoft.com.)
I evaluated the products based on the types of data they can collect and analyze, the reporting options they offer, their ease of use, and the time involved in running them. All tools but one gather data from Exchange's message-tracking logs but produce more complex reports than the Exchange Message Tracking Center can. (Table 1 provides a limited but illustrative list of the types of reports that each product offers.) Some of the tools also use other techniques, such as Active Directory (AD) or Messaging API (MAPI) queries or Collaboration Data Objects (CDO), to collect Exchange data. A few of the products let you search your Exchange organization for messages according to a keyword in the message subject or body. Most of the products I tested let you sort, filter, and group data into meaningful presentations and export reports to a variety of formats for viewing, printing, or additional processing. All except one let you schedule report delivery by email or other means. Table 2 provides a feature comparison. Read on to discover which of these products will best fit your messaging environment.
BindView bv-Control for Microsoft Exchange 8.0
bv-Control for Exchange (which Figure 1 shows) can collect almost any Exchange-related detail you can think of. For example, a custom query let me find the answers to questions such as "What's the average delivery time for multiprocessor Exchange servers that have at least 2GB of memory?" The price for such flexibility is speed and simplicity. Producing a report was more complicated and took noticeably longer than with any of the other products. bv-Control for Exchange retrieves data by using AD and MAPI queries, among other means. The product stores data in a Microsoft SQL Server database. bv-Control imports Exchange message-tracking logs according to a schedule but can also import logs ( including incomplete logs from the current day) on the fly. Running certain reports also causes the product to query Exchange servers for data. This variety of data sources gives bv-Control for Exchange an edge in the depth of information it reports.
The product is a module of the BindView RMS suite and uses the BindView RMS Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in that provides a common interface and functionality for BindView's products. BindView RMS let me securely store the credentials to access Exchange and let me assign granular levels of bv-Control for Exchange access to any Windows user. This method of operation lets you delegate access to bv-Control for Exchange without giving every user elevated privileges to Exchange, but it also might make the tool a bit too complex for the average user. You'll probably find yourself creating reports for users, then scheduling the reports for regular delivery.
bv-Control for Exchange offers an extensive list of predefined reports but also lets you create reports based on your queries, which you define by using the product's built-in graphical tool (rather than by writing SQL statements). The number of fields available in this tool is simply amazing. Examples of data I could find only in bv-Control include full message body, calendar items, phone numbers and other directory data about Exchange users, Exchange server hardware details, and details about the Exchange services running on each server. I couldn't find a chargeback report, but exporting query results to Microsoft Excel and creating your own chargeback report would be a simple enough task. I was also unable to summarize attachments by type or get information about Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) usage, but bv-Control was still the champion in terms of number of available reporting fields. If you're a full-time Exchange administrator who needs maximum flexibility in a reporting tool, you'll likely love bv-Control. But be prepared to spend some time learning the ins and out of the product before running your first report, especially if you want to get the most out of the tool's rich feature set.
PROS: Extremely customizable reports across a broad array of Exchange data
CONS: Complicated and time-consuming; no automated chargeback report; slow report generation; doesn't report across multiple Exchange organizations
RATING: 3 out of 5
PRICE: $15 per mailbox
RECOMMENDATION: Probably your best bet if you need extremely detailed data, but if another product's reports can meet your needs, this tool's complexity might be more trouble than it's worth.
CONTACT: BindView * 713-561-4000 * http://www.bindview.com
eIQnetworks MailAnalyzer 3.6
eIQnetworks MailAnalyzer works with Exchange, Lotus Domino, and Sendmail. This tool offers a respectable set of reports about email traffic but is much weaker than the other candidates when it comes to reporting about storage or Exchange-specific data.
MailAnalyzer collects message-tracking logs from Exchange by using an agent that you install on each Exchange server. The agent imports logs every 30 minutes, so MailAnalyzer reports fairly current data. The agent is optional, but if you choose not to use it, you must manually import logs through the product's Web-based interface.
This Web-based UI is CGI-based and runs on Microsoft IIS. The product stores data in a MySQL database and lets you run reports from the Web-based UI, as Figure 2 shows. Mail-Analyzer has its own account database, so you'll need to create accounts and passwords for each user. You can choose from three levels of account access. The access level determines which administrative functions a user can access but doesn't let you limit which reports the user can run.
MailAnalyzer provides good traffic-analysis data but limited storage or Exchange-specific data. For example, the product reports mailbox sizes but not the size of Exchange stores or how close they are to filling up the disk. It reports chargeback calculations according to the number of messages sent or received and even summarizes the data according to department or connector but doesn't calculate chargebacks according to mailbox size. The traffic data wasn't lacking, but neither was it spectacular. MailAnalyzer can report data regarding common keywords in the subject line of messages sent to the Internet but doesn't let you specify a custom keyword for which to search.
MailAnalyzer is best suited for email administrators who need a traffic-reporting tool that works with multiple email server platforms. If you run an Exchange-only shop, you'll likely be happier with one of the other tools.
PROS: Supports Exchange, Lotus Domino, and Sendmail
CONS: Limited Exchange-specific reporting; requires agent on Exchange server to automatically import logs
RATING: 2 out of 5
PRICE: $795 per server
RECOMMENDATION: A good choice if you need consolidated reporting across multiple email systems, but not if you're interested only in Exchange-specific reporting.
CONTACT: eIQnetworks * 877-564-7787 * http://www.eiqnetworks.com
e-nspect2000 takes a different approach to reporting than do the other tools I reviewed. The product collects a more limited variety of data than the other products and does a limited amount of processing, but it collects data continuously rather than on a schedule, so you always see the most up-to-date information. e-nspect2000 developer Mike Dilworth told me that many of his larger customers use the product primarily to collect data about email sent to and from Exchange, then write their own queries against the product's database to develop custom reports.
e-nspect2000 operates as an agent on each Exchange server. The agent sends data about sent and received messages to a SQL Server repository. The product provides access to message data through an MMC snap-in called Client Tools. This snap-in (which Figure 3 shows), displays the date and time, subject, sender, recipient, size, and number of attachments for each message. The product also provides summaries of various data, such as messages sent to external domains or the number of attachments according to file extension.
Client Tools organizes messages in various ways. You can view messages by individual user, or you can view summaries by Exchange server or SMTP virtual server. In addition to listings of messages, e-nspect-2000 provides graphs of traffic by the number and size of messages and the number and size of attachments over various predefined periods of time (e.g., the past month, the past 24 hours). You can print each view or save it as HTML, comma-separated value (CSV), or tab-separated value (TSV).
e-nspect2000 was too limited in its data-view options for me to recommend it over more-robust alternatives. However, this tool shines at reporting current data (and didn't even require slow MAPI queries to do so). If you're looking for a real-time Exchange traffic-monitoring tool or a way to collect Exchange data for a custom reporting solution, take a look at e-nspect2000.
PROS: Provides current data without requiring the use of MAPI queries; great attachment reporting
CONS: Limited selection of reports; installs software on the Exchange server
RATING: 1.5 out of 5
PRICE: $1100 per server
RECOMMENDATION: Better suited to monitor the traffic of live servers for import into custom reporting solutions rather than to report historical data or as a stand-alone reporting tool.
CONTACT: e-nspect * http://www.e-nspect.co.uk
PROMODAG Reports 7.0
PROMODAG Reports, which Figure 4 shows, is a mature Exchange-reporting solution with a set of highly customizable reports. Although it has no security model to let non-administrative users produce reports themselves, it can automate delivery of reports to such users.
PROMODAG Reports works in a similar manner to bv-Control for Exchange: It imports Exchange message-tracking logs (along with other data such as directory, mailbox size, and store size). Some data is imported on a schedule, other data is collected when you run a report. PROMODAG stores data in a Microsoft Access or SQL Server database.
The tool uses a standard Windows GUI rather than a Web-based UI or MMC snap-in. Administrators can share the database from multiple consoles, but PROMODAG has no ability to limit which reports users see, so all users need elevated access to Exchange (such as access to all mailboxes) to run many of its reports. This makes PROMODAG a tool for administrators only. You can schedule reports for delivery to non-administrative users, but those users can't customize reports for themselves or set up report delivery without administrator intervention.
PROMODAG doesn't give you quite the level of access to detail that bv-Control for Exchange does, but PROMODAG alone let me report OWA usage and was one of only two tools (e-nspect2000 being the other) that let me run reports according to attachment type. PROMODAG also had the richest chargeback reporting: It can calculate chargebacks according to megabytes of messages sent, received, or stored and can calculate different rates for messages to and from Exchange, Internet Mail, CC:Mail, X.400, and other messaging systems. If you don't need multiple-user access, I recommend PROMODAG. The tool's extensive list of parameterized reports is easy to find and use, it can report more extensive data than MessageStats can, and it's much easier to use than bv-Control.
PROS: Detailed selection of easy-to-find reports
CONS: Administrators must generate and schedule reports for other users
RATING: 3.5 out of 5
PRICE: Contact vendor for pricing
RECOMMENDATION: An excellent compromise between ease of use and rich Exchange data, as long as you don't need to give end users direct access to the tool.
CONTACT: PROMODAG * 33 1 53 27 66 60 * http://www.promodag.com
Quest MessageStats 5.6
MessageStats, which Figure 5 shows, can provide valuable email data to administrators and end users alike. The tool's prebuilt reports are intuitive to generate, quick to load, and easy to read. MessageStats had a good selection of reports. One notable omission was attachment reporting; neither can it report the current day's data. Still, it was my favorite tool overall.
MessageStats gets most of its data from Exchange message-tracking logs and collects data on a schedule that you specify. All reports are generated from data stored in a Microsoft SQL Server (or MSDE) database, as opposed to queries against your live Exchange servers, keeping the tool's impact on Exchange to a bare minimum. This fact might provide important peace of mind for administrators of busy Exchange servers, but my Exchange server's processor utilization didn't spike much with either bv-Control's or PROMODAG's MAPI-based reports, so don't let this point be your only criteria. Other tools' MAPI-based reporting did have a noticeable effect on my reporting server, however. Not only does MessageStats avoid contacting the Exchange server, it processes message-tracking logs as they are imported rather than when you run a report. These two factors made generating reports noticeably faster than with the other tools.
MessageStats' Web-based UI uses IIS's integrated Windows authentication for security, so you can grant access to any domain user. By default, all users have access to the predefined reports and can save customized versions of reports for themselves or schedule such reports for regular delivery. You can further control users' access to individual reports by adding user accounts to the local security group and by setting file-system permissions on the Web server. This security scheme was sufficient to lock a test user out of reports I considered sensitive, making MessageStats an excellent choice if you want to let users create and run their own reports rather than doing so on their behalf.
The product provides a substantial number of predefined reports. The biggest area of deficiency was attachment reporting. You can't, for example, find all the .mp3 files that users store in Exchange mailboxes. (Quest representatives informed me that the next major release will include such reports.) MessageStats supports chargeback reporting on both storage use and volume (in megabytes) of messages sent and can summarize data across multiple Exchange organizations. (PROMODAG and e-nspect2000 can report across multiple Exchange organizations as well, but the data in those products' reports isn't as consolidated as it is in MessageStats' reports.)
For those concerned with compliance, MessageStats can search for messages that contain specific keywords in the subject or that have been sent to specific external domains. However, you have to specify the keywords and domains you want to search for before importing the logs. You can get around this limitation by reimporting logs, but this auditing capability isn't quite as useful as the message-searching capability in bv-Control for Exchange or PROMODAG.
Windows IT Pro EDITOR'S CHOICE
PROS: Simple enough for non-administrative users; great multiple-user support; reports across multiple Exchange organizations
CONS: Can't report current day's data
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: $7.50 per mailbox
RECOMMENDATION: Simplicity and ease of use make this an ideal tool for administrators who need to easily provide Exchange reports to other users.
CONTACT: Quest Software * 949-754-8000 * http://www.quest.com
Monitor Your Messaging Pulse
Considering that an email reporting tool is most valuable when more people use it, I chose Quest MessageStats as Editor's Choice. The tool's rich set of reports overshadows the few that are lacking and most are easy enough for an average user but detailed enough to answer an administrator's Exchange questions. The product can provide easy-to-use reports to the entire company—for a reasonable price. Consider PROMODAG if you don't need multiple-user access, bv-Control if you need the most detailed reports possible, MailAnalyzer if you support multiple email platforms, and e-nspect2000 if the most current Exchange data is your priority.
Adam Carheden is a former product and technology editor for Windows IT Pro. You can reach him by sending an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org.