Many software solutions exist for monitoring your Microsoft Exchange Server environment. This Buyer’s Guide will help Exchange administrators evaluate the available products and select the right monitoring solution for their environment.

As an Exchange Server administrator, you need to keep your organization running at peak performance, and you probably don’t have the necessary staff or budget. You certainly don’t have time for email failure or downtime. Using a software solution can help you monitor your Exchange environment. Many products exist to fill this role, and they come with a variety of capabilities.

What Do You Expect It to Do?
You might start your search for a monitoring solution by asking yourself what you really need it to do. At the most basic level, you need a tool that tracks the health and performance of your system. If something is causing a traffic bottleneck for messages traversing your network, you’ll want to know where it is and what’s causing it. Many products can probe the system and report email transit times, but that doesn’t mean they can actually pinpoint a problem. Some products, such as Permessa’s Email CONTROL! for Exchange (ECX), can analyze message routing within the environment to ensure efficiency.

Another important consideration is whether the management software operates proactively or reactively. Ideally, you probably want to find a solution that will identify developing situations and send you an alert before the problem can affect your network, giving you the chance to take preventive action. However, in some environments, it might be enough that you can manually pull a report to show the system status. The goal, of course, is to avoid network downtime and thereby enable optimum user productivity. In fact, some Exchange management software products include the ability to take corrective action. For example, Argent Exchange Monitor can restart services for you and even reboot failed servers, all based on criteria you set up.

How Easy Is It to Use?
Your Exchange monitoring solution is intended to save you time and effort, so be sure to select software that is itself easy to manage. The big question is whether the product requires an agent to be installed. In some organizations, installing an agent might not be an option because of security or bandwidth concerns. Plenty of agentless or agent-optional products are available, so you should be able to find something that meets your needs. Some products, such as Heroix Longitude, can auto-discover your system’s elements on installation, making configuration easier. Certain Exchange monitoring solutions are provided as modules of larger system management products. For example, NimBUS works only with the separate NimBUS service level management application. If you’re already using the overarching product, then choosing the module for Exchange management might be an easy decision, letting you combine management functions into a single interface.

The solution you choose should be customizable to meet your needs. You might want to schedule data collection from the Exchange network for nonpeak hours, for instance. Do you have a choice of alerting options that makes sense for your operations? Does the solution provide the reports you need, or does it feature a custom reporting tool that will let you create them? These could be the critical considerations for your environment.

Will It Continue to Meet Your Goals?
When you choose a management solution, you want to be sure it’s right not only for today but also as your organization grows and changes. Choose a product that’s scalable to your needs: If you plan on your organization doubling in size over the next three years, you’ll need to be sure your management solution is ready for that challenge. Something that a lot of organizations are contemplating— if they’re not already committed to it—is the upgrade to Exchange Server 2007. This might be something you’ll need to keep in the forefront of your mind as you investigate management solutions. You don’t want to install software that works only with Exchange Server 2003 if you think you’ll be migrating in the foreseeable future. Many companies have added support for Exchange 2007 to their management products over the past year, and others have it in the works. Keep in mind that Exchange 2007 has a new role-based architecture and new management based on Windows PowerShell. “Support” for Exchange 2007 doesn’t necessarily mean a product will help you with new challenges arising from these changes.

The Bottom Line
Every organization is different, and every administrator has different needs—and budgets. The tool that’s right for you and your business is a choice you have to make according to your preferences and the demands your organization places on you. Choosing an Exchange monitoring solution shouldn’t add stress to your busy day. Use these guidelines and the product table to get your search started in a positive direction.

See the associated Buyer's Guide Table.