Every Microsoft Corp.-based corporation has heard about the challenges of deploying Active Directory. And the challenge only gets deeper when coupled with Exchange 2000, which must have the directory in order to operate.
Software developer J.D. Edwards & Co. took on the challenge before both products were released and will soon flip the switch on its internal network for the first set of live users on Exchange 2000. The project is part of a company mandate to stay on the leading edge of Microsoft technology because it benefits the development of J.D. Edwards’ software.
The Exchange upgrade is the culmination of an infrastructure upgrade project begun nearly two years ago that combined Active Directory, which has been live on the network for a year, and Exchange 2000.
“Exchange and Active Directory were considered at the same time because our Exchange infrastructure is the Active Directory infrastructure,” says Jeff Andersen, collaborative services manager for the company. That attitude reflects how intertwined the two are, and it was key to the success of the rollout.
Currently the company has a mixed environment of Exchange 5.5 and 2000, but when the switch is made to Exchange 2000 it will increase the reliability of the Exchange network, improve remote access and ease maintenance chores.
However, to get to that point Andersen and the IT staff had to learn a new set of tools and administrative processes. They spent hours in the lab devising replication models and studying bandwidth usage on their global network.
Their diligence has paid off in that Exchange 2000 presents a new set of possible applications from collaboration to instant messaging.
But J.D. Edwards knows the reality of just getting Active Directory and Exchange onto a production network.
“The single biggest operational challenge was teamwork,” says Casey Winkel, senior infrastructure engineer, who is in charge of the Exchange rollout. “Active Directory, Exchange, Internet Information Server administrators all had to work together.”
Winkel says the tool set was another big challenge, including new methods to administer users and accounts. With 5.5 it was done on each server, now it is done centrally in Active Directory.
“Practices from [Exchange] 5.5 don’t work the same, such as account termination and deletion,” Winkel says. Along the way, J.D. Edwards had to help develop its own training courses because that material was not yet available.
The Exchange environment will be paired down from 19 servers to 15 Compaq servers, all with at least 2G bytes of RAM. The server reduction was done mainly by eliminating separate servers for Outlook Web Access, which is now core to Exchange 2000.
The three J.D. Edwards Exchange sites – North America in Denver, Asia in Singapore and Euro/Middle East in the U.K. – will be brought under one Active Directory infrastructure. Also, Winkel will be able to eliminate the maintenance of nearly 20 connectors – the software that enables connectivity between the applications – that run between the three sites linking Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000. Once in native Exchange 2000 mode, these connectors are not needed.
However, to get to the threshold of an Exchange 2000 environment wasn’t trivial technically.
The challenges started as soon as Exchange 2000 was connected in the lab to Active Directory, which went live in October 2000.
Bill Akin, the company’s Active Directory architect, had to study bandwidth usage at remote sites once Exchange and Active Directory were running in tandem. “We had to understand how much overhead we added with Active Directory’s global catalog and Exchange running at a remote site,” Akin says. He also had to deal with the explosion in directory size, which nearly tripled once Exchange information was added.
Also, Exchange 2000 lacked tools for mailbox cleanup, which meant Winkel could not adhere to the company policy of deleting mail more than 60 days old. Microsoft delivered the tool in June. Winkel also had to wait for Exchange 2000-compatible virus-scanning tools.
Another obstacle was mergers. The firm has acquired three companies in the past year, the latest being customer relationship management vendor YouCentric.
“That’s why we delayed the full Exchange 2000 rollout and stayed mostly on [Exchange] 5.5,” Winkel says. “There are advantages to staying on 5.5 because it has a lot of connection tools that are not available in Exchange 2000.”
But staying on 5.5 brought another set of problems that forced more lab work.
“There are replication issues between 5.5 and Active Directory and between Active Directory and 5.5,” Winkel says. “The issues can cause replication storms that can cripple your network. You have to keep everything properly synchronized.”
Also, connectors between the directory and Exchange can lead to deleted accounts.
“If you don’t understand the replication deletion process you can cause real problems,” Andersen says.
But those issues will disappear once Exchange 5.5 is shut down.
With those bumps in the road behind them, the benefits of Exchange 2000 are coming into focus as J.D. Edwards readies to move 5,500 users to Exchange 2000.
Winkel says a feature called Storage Groups, which in essence are like minidatabases, will make maintenance easier, allowing a subset of users instead of a whole server to be taken offline. With maintenance easier, he can consider increasing mailbox size from 20M to 50M bytes per user.
Another benefit will be better mobile support with the new Outlook Web access service in Exchange 2000, which supports more users per box than Version 5.5.
“We expect that Exchange will be a dial-tone server, and we will look to build some add-ons,” Andersen says.
He and Winkel will look at wireless support through Mobile Information Server 2001 and collaboration services with SharePoint Portal Server or Content Management Server. The two are also investigating instant messaging.
It is exactly those types of add-ons that J.D Edwards hopes will lead it to its next groundbreaking project.