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What's On Your Servers?

Whatever you think about Apple Computer, you can't deny that the company has done a superb job of marketing the iPod, in part by making the device seem hip, cool, and desirable. One way Apple has accomplished this is by asking celebrities, "What's on your iPod?" The company then publishes the results in ads and on the Apple iTunes Music Store Web site. Exchange isn't a consumer product, but it occurred to me that we could use a similar method to discuss what's on your Exchange servers. To that end, I'm going to lay out some broad categories of products, tools, and odds and ends and ask you to tell me which of them you've installed on your Exchange servers. After I get a suitable number of responses, I'll post the results to provide a picture of which products you use.

I have to list the obvious category first: antispam and antivirus tools. An ongoing debate concerns whether these tools are more properly installed on the Exchange server (where they can scan and access items in the Exchange Store in addition to messages that are being delivered) or on separate perimeter or front-end servers (where they can scan inbound items before they ever get to the Store). Each approach has its merits; in both cases, having separate scanning tools on the perimeter servers and on the Exchange servers can provide a welcome improvement in filtering.

What about backup tools? There's no substitute for regular, verified backups of your Exchange server, although you can use several different methods to perform these backups. Everyone has Ntbackup because it comes with Windows. Some administrators prefer to use local backup software and locally attached tape drives. Others put a backup agent on each Exchange server and back up the servers to a central location. And a growing percentage of administrators do away with tapes altogether and use their preferred backup product to back up to disk first, then move those backups to tape or to another location on the Storage Area Network (SAN). (In this role, Microsoft Data Protection Server offers some cool capabilities that I'll talk about in a future column.)

Of course, we also have the ever-popular "forbidden fruit" category, which includes software that Microsoft says you shouldn't install on your Exchange server. This software includes, but isn't limited to, any version of Microsoft Office Outlook, Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, and Microsoft SQL Server. In general, Microsoft recommends that you don't install any software on an Exchange server other than Exchange and related products. I'm curious to know how many people are running products that Microsoft doesn't officially support and why, so don't be shy.

That leaves everything else: monitoring and management tools, gateways for fax or unified messaging systems, games ... you get the idea. What other products do you find useful enough to put on your servers, and why? Let me know, and I'll share the findings in a column later this month.

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