What’s new in Exchange 2003

Microsoft will cease support of its Exchange 5.5 messaging server software this year, making it all but inevitable that agencies will need to upgrade to Microsoft’s latest—Exchange 2003.

The good news is that Exchange offers many additional features even the most reluctant shop will enjoy.

“There are a lot of advantages to Exchange 2003,” said Bill Gray, deputy commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration, which is executing an agencywide upgrade of the software. “It’s a little bit faster. It uses a little less bandwidth. You can compress data. You can run multiple databases per server, which allows us to back up and recover more quickly.”

Exchange 2003 also offers remote access, a feature that was introduced in Exchange 2000 but did not exist in Exchange 5.5. Deploying a Web browser, users can access their contacts, e-mails and calendar items almost exactly as they do from their office PCs. Exchange 2003 also features support for handheld clients, permitting users to access their Outlook information from a personal digital assistant.

SSA is testing Outlook Web access. “It is very popular with the pilot users,” Gray said, adding that the agency is evaluating that feature for security.

Exchange also has new levels of scalability, which helps tremendously in increasing reliability. Exchange 2003 can run on eight-node cluster servers. An eight-node cluster runs one node as an active server while the others are in passive mode, taking on requests when the first node reaches a certain threshold or fails entirely.

Exchange 2000 offered only four-node clustering, and setting up those configurations required considerable work, said Quazi Zaman, platform technology specialist manager of Microsoft’s federal division.

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