Microsoft Exchange stumbles on Army's tactical networks

The Army has experienced serious problems sending Microsoft Exchange messages over its Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) Tactical Packet Network (TPN) during recent exercises in Europe.

Lt. Col. John Ylinen, chief of automation for V Corps before his transfer to the Pentagon last month, complained strongly about these problems in an e-mail he sent to Microsoft in late May, a copy of which was obtained by FCW. Ylinen said the Message Transfer Agent (MTA)/mailer daemon in MSE node centers has difficulty forwarding Exchange messages to the correct address, with the messages ultimately returned to the sender. If the message contains an attachment larger than 20K, it is immediately returned to the sender.

Ylinen added that this situation occurred "only with Microsoft products" and that he could not "recommend Exchange if it will not work in a tactical environment."

Microsoft, which has worked feverishly to correct the problem since May, said the problem lies with MSE and not Exchange.

Bruce Weber, the Exchange marketing manager for Microsoft Federal, said the problem stems from the fact that the Army is "taking commercial off-the-shelf products and trying to run them over the proprietary MSE system. This is a networking issue and not an Exchange issue."

Microsoft has been writing "hot code" to resolve the problem at its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Weber said. He added that he expects to incorporate that code into the next release of the Windows NT server software pack.

Weber said the delivery of Exchange messages over MSE results from a problem with the Tactical Name Server (TNS), which functions much like a phone book or directory assistance. When an Exchange message goes into a TNS looking for an address, it ends up with the address of the TNS and not the ultimate addressee.

Weber said the fix Microsoft has written will allow Exchange to work over MSE by ensuring that addresses are valid. The company plans to test this fix soon during an exercise at Fort Hood, Texas.

Ylinen said in his message to Microsoft that such problems did not occur in the Unix environment or with Frontier Technologies' Super TCP servers. Weber said he believes all e-mail systems experience similar problems working over MSE, unless a "hack" has been written to work around the problem.

MSE vendor GTE Corp. did not respond to FCW inquiries by press time.

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