Exchange Server 4.0 is this thing. It's packed with so much function and so many features that you wonder whether all things will be possible with it, or--because of all the functions and features--whether anything will be possible. Exchange is a powerful Windows NT client/server email application. It combines scheduling, folders (the basis of information sharing), and custom forms with database access and connectors to Exchange and non-Exchange systems.

So, Exchange allows mission-critical email capability and much more on an NT Server. When did email become mission critical? At our company, it happened on the first day we used email as the primary line of communication with customers (I think it was a Tuesday). "Exchange's Core Components" gives a basic picture of it. Because Exchange runs on NT, you also get the benefit of NT's native reliability. Exchange's client/server architecture provides an extensible platform that lets you easily add Exchange servers when your message traffic begins to strain your hardware. You can also readily add people--and, more important, groups of people--to your Exchange-based system.

Several features, such as Exchange's transaction log files and its link and server monitors, make it a good choice for mission-critical applications. Exchange logs transactions to the databases in separate transaction log files for each database. This feature means you can use a combination of the database backup and the incremental log files to perform database recovery. Transaction logging also improves overall system performance, because Exchange writes database activity to the sequential log file and then updates the database from the log. Additionally, transaction logs allow for hot, or online, database backups, a requirement for 24 X 7 operation.

SQL Server's implementation of transaction logging makes sizing and locating transaction log files part of database creation. In contrast, Exchange's implementation runs an optimization program during installation and determines the best location (database path) and size for the database and transaction log files, based on your answers to the questions about users, number of messages, and so on. You can change the database paths as necessary. An NT backup removes the transaction logs, or if you activate circular logging (in the Advanced Properties dialog accessible in the Servers menu of the Exchange Administrator), Exchange can write over previous transaction logs as necessary.

Exchange's link monitor lets you monitor external connections, such as your connection to the Internet. The link and server monitors show the status of your entire email network and can send email to report problems on the network. This capability lets you repair such problems before your email users call you. And don't forget the message tracking feature, which lets you follow a message to its recipient. This feature is good for those support calls that start, "I sent a message to Elmer in Duluth, and he says he didn't get it."

Add to these features data replication, dynamic server failover, and least-cost routing, and you have a system that supports a high-traffic email environment. Microsoft internally stores about 5GB of message data per day on its Exchange system.

Getting Started
So this thing, Exchange, makes a lot possible. The problem is getting started with it. And if you already have an email system, the hardest part about starting is answering the question, "How can I use Exchange without disrupting my existing system?" Without having to know the product inside out and backwards, you can get results from Exchange as soon as you install it ("Installation Tips," page 118, offers some help). In fact, I'll show you seven useful tasks you can do immediately: convert selected email accounts to post to the Exchange server, post information to a folder, use Inbox Assistant to organize your email, take folders on a road trip, create a conference registration form to post information to a public folder, track an email message, and monitor your connection to the Internet and to other Exchange servers.

Convert Selected Email Accounts
You can begin to send and receive email via Exchange without changing the rest of the company's email system--meaning you can test and learn Exchange without affecting day-to-day business operations. Here are two ways to accomplish this feat. The first is to configure an Internet Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) service on the client. To do so, you open the Exchange client, select Services from the Tools menu, add the Internet Mail service to the services list, and enter the personal and mailbox information as you see in Screen 1. When you restart the Exchange client, your SMTP and Internet email will post to it. This method will move the mail directly to your client, not to the Exchange Server.

The second approach is to forward your Internet mail from an existing Internet post office to the Exchange server (most post office software has forwarding capability). Be sure to set up an SMTP address in the recipient properties email address page that matches the forwarded address. When you're ready to convert your entire organization to Exchange, alter the Domain Name System (DNS) entries to point all Internet email to an individual DNS entry to the Exchange server. If an Internet Service Provider (ISP) handles your DNS services, make sure the ISP clearly understands the DNS changes.

Post Information to a Folder
Posting information to a folder is how you store, share, and retrieve information in Exchange. To create a public folder, you click the plus sign next to the Public Folders icon. Then highlight All Public Folders, select New Folder from the File menu, and enter a new folder name. You'll see the new folder on the right side of the screen.

To post information to the folder, select an existing document from your system and drag it to the new folder. Keeping the same folder open, select Compose from the Exchange client menu, and then select New Post in This Folder. Fill out the keywords and subject. You can add text to the message box on the form or paste text from a document into the message box. Click Post when you finish. You'll see the document you posted and the message you added in the new folder. If you use Microsoft Office 95 7.0 applications, you'll notice that Exchange adds the Post to Exchange Folder option to their File menus. This option lets you post your documents directly to an Exchange folder.

Use Inbox Assistant
Inbox Assistant automatically organizes incoming email for you based on criteria you specify. You can have Inbox Assistant copy a message to a folder, move a message to a folder (leaving the original message in the inbox), forward a message to another user, reply to the sender, or create an automatic response to a message.

For example, I want Inbox Assistant to copy all my email from Linda at Duke Communications to a folder called News400. Here's how I set it up: I Select Inbox Assistant from the Tools menu and choose Add Rule to create a new rule. Screen 2 shows the Edit Rule dialog, which is for editing and adding rules. In the From field, I enter the address (lindah@duke.com). I want only mail that is sent to me, so I enter my name in the Sent To field. To have Inbox Assistant alert me when I get messages that meet these criteria, I click the Alert with check box (you can customize the alert you want to receive by clicking Action). To tell Inbox Assistant to copy the message to my News400 folder, I click the Copy to check box and enter the folder name. Then I click OK, and Inbox Assistant presents a screen showing the rule I just set up.

Inbox Assistant is especially handy for organizing email you receive regularly. For instance, if you subscribe to an electronic newsletter, you can have one copy delivered to a special email address and use Inbox Assistant to put the newsletter in a public folder so everyone can read it.

Take Folders on a Road Trip
When you travel, you can take Exchange folders along on your laptop computer and change or update their contents while you're offline. When you get back, Exchange will automatically synchronize the folders from the offline system with the same folders on the Exchange server. An offline folder must reside in your mailbox or be a public folder that you designate as a Favorite folder.

Let's step through taking a folder, let's say the Exchange Conference Ideas folder, on the road. On the client computer, select the folder from the Favorite folder. Right click to select Properties (or choose Properties from the File menu). Screen 3 shows the Exchange Conference Ideas Properties box that pops up. Click the Synchronization tab, and select the option to make the folder available when you're offline or online. Exchange creates a new physical file to store offline folders on the computer that will be offline. Before you go offline, however, you must put the items you want to work on in the folder. When the folder has the necessary objects in it, select Synchronize from the Tools menu to update the offline copy of the folder.

Next you must configure Exchange for offline use. Select Options from the Tools menu. Then click the Services tab. Select Microsoft Exchange Server, and then click Properties. Click the General tab on the pop-up dialog you see in Screen 4, and then click the check box to activate the option, Choose the connection type when starting. Then click OK.

Now, each time Exchange starts, it will ask whether you want to work offline. Screen 5 shows the Conference Ideas folder with a new offline entry. The next time you connect to the Exchange server, Exchange will synchronize folder data and update the synchronization log.

What happens if someone changes a folder entry while you're on the road? Not to worry. The Permissions tab in the Exchange Conference Ideas Properties box in Screen 6, offers options to control access to all the objects in a folder. For example, I set up the Exchange Conference Ideas folder to let a colleague edit the objects in the folder, and he made a change to exchidea.doc. When I synchronized my offline folder with the Exchange server, Exchange generated a conflict message in my mailbox. Screen 7 shows the conflict message and the options to resolve the conflict.

Create a Conference Registration Form
Exchange can distribute custom forms from a central data store to valid, requesting clients anywhere in your organization. This capability is useful for posting messages in a consistent columnar format. The fields you create in your form will be stored in columns in the Exchange database, and you can search, group, and sort these columns. The Microsoft Exchange Forms Designer (EFD) lets you create forms. Screen 8 shows the EFD screen.

The EFD is on the Exchange client CD, and you install it on the workstation. You can start the EFD from an icon on the desktop or by selecting Application Design from the Tools menu in the Exchange client. The EFD lets you choose either the Form Template Wizard or just a form template to create a form. The wizard works like all standard Microsoft wizards, asking questions about the form you want to design, letting you fill in your choices, and finally providing a finished form. The EFD offers a Visual Basic (VB) interface to let you add text boxes, pulldown menus, list boxes, and so on to your forms.

When you finish the form, you must install it to a forms library or a folder forms library. Select Install from the EFD menu bar. The VB compiler generates Microsoft VB Project Code, starts VB for Microsoft Exchange Server, and starts Exchange (if it's not already running).

That's the work. The fun is using the form. Let's use an example form, a conference registration, to enter information and then to organize the information in a view. To activate the conference registration form, in the Exchange client, you highlight the Conference Registration folder and select New Conference Registration from the Compose menu, as in Screen 9. The first time an Exchange client activates a form, you see the message, "Installing the form on your machine," meaning that Exchange has determined that the form doesn't exist on the client machine and is copying it from the Exchange server folder to the client.

When you finish entering information on the form, click the Tack icon in the upper right corner of the screen in Screen 10 to post the information to a folder. The last task is to create a view to organize the messages in the Conference Registration folder. Select Columns from the View menu. A dialog containing all form columns pops up as in Screen 11. You can organize the message columns to show the data in any column order, logically group the messages, and search the contents of a form column.

Track an Email Message
Email happens. And sometimes it doesn't. Tracking email messages with Exchange is a great way to solve problems with email delivery and receipt. Exchange lets you track both internal and external messages. To track internal Exchange messages, in the Exchange Administrator, enable tracking in the Information Store Site Configuration dialog. As you see in Screen 12, you get to it by clicking the Site Configuration icon in the Exchange Administrator. Then click the General tab, and make sure the Enable message tracking box is checked. To track external Exchange messages, enable the message tracking check box on both the MTA Site Configuration and the Connector Properties dialogs for the connectors you want to track (Exchange uses connectors to communicate with other Exchange and non-Exchange systems). I recommend tracking all messages until you're comfortable with Exchange's message delivery and receipt performance.

To use message tracking, select Tools from the Main menu on the Exchange Administrator and then select Track Message. The Select Message to Track dialog pops up as in Screen 13. From there, you can specify the criteria for your message search. The results of your search show in the same dialog. In Screen 13, you can see the results of finding all messages sent from David Geiger. The icon in the Time column shows whether the message was a local Exchange message or was received through a connector. The Message Tracking Center box in Screen 14 appears after the main message tracking screen. The Advanced Search option lets you search for messages Exchange sends, search for messages transferred into your site, or search for messages by message ID. The Transferred to this Site option lets you search for messages transferred to Exchange from a connector. The Track option shows the complete message tracking history.

Monitor Your Connections
Why be the last person in your organization to know that the Internet connection is down? You can have Exchange monitor your connection to the Internet, to any other installed connectors, and to other Exchange Servers. You can easily configure the monitor to test your connections at specified intervals and to send warnings and alerts to the people using Exchange's messaging system.

Let's step through setting up the monitor to ping an Internet/SMTP address at a predetermined interval and evaluate the connection based on receipt of a response to the ping. To set up a monitor for the Internet/SMTP connection, in the Exchange Administrator, select New Other from the File menu. Then select Link Monitor for the properties for a link monitor. Click the General tab, and fill in the information to name the monitor. Set the polling intervals for warnings and alerts, and set up a log file if necessary. Next, click the Notification tab and fill in the information. Exchange monitors offer three notification types: Launch a Process, Mail a Message, and Windows NT Alert. (When you select Mail a Message, you must fill in the Users List on the Notifications tab to specify who gets the mail message.) Click the Servers tab, and you can select a server to include on this monitor (not required). Next, use the Recipients tab to tell Exchange the address of the foreign site to monitor.

You can create a new custom recipient or choose an existing one to receive the ping to test the connection. To create a custom recipient, select New Custom Recipient from the File menu in the Exchange Administrator. Choose a test recipient that you know doesn't exist on the foreign site, because an invalid email address message from the foreign site is a valid response to the ping. Next, go to the Bounce tab and set the bounce duration--the longest acceptable round-trip time for a message to travel from the Exchange Server to the foreign system. When you first set up the monitor, select large bounce times. The monitor will tell you the return time, and you can refine your bounce times as you go. You can set different intervals for warnings and alerts.

Once the monitor is configured, you have to start it. In the Exchange Administrator, double-click Monitors. Next, highlight the monitor you want, select Tools from the Administrator menu, and click Start Monitor. The monitor status is a question mark while the monitor waits for the first ping to return. A green up arrow means the monitor is running and has no warning state. A red exclamation mark denotes a warning state, and a red down arrow means the monitor is down.

Yes, It's Big
Exchange is indeed a colossus--and a strong product that you can learn as you go. Just install it, and start using it as I outline here. "More Information About Exchange," below, lists resources to help you delve deeper into Exchange.


More Information About Exchange

Windows NT Magazine articles
"Migrating MS Mail to Exchange," Spyros Sakellariadis, April 1996.
"On the Road with Exchange," Tim Daniels, May 1996.
After-market Exchange Books
Microsoft Exchange in Business
Author: Russell Borland
Publisher: Microsoft Press, Redmond, WA, 1996
ISBN 1-572-31218-1
490 pages
Mastering Microsoft Exchange Server
Author: Barry Gerber
Publisher: Sybex, San Francisco, 1996
ISBN 0-782-11867-4
659 pages
Introducing Microsoft Exchange
Author: Bill Kilcullen
Publisher: Microsoft Press, Redmond, WA, 1996
ISBN 1-556-15941-2
344 pages
At least six more Exchange books from Microsoft Press and from Duke Press will be on the market by early fall. Other resources include Microsoft Training Partners Exchange courses, the BackOffice certification program, and Internet newsgroups at www.microsoft.com/exchange.