Message management

Electronic design automation firm Mentor Graphics Inc. has 65 offices spread among 22 countries, and they’re all tied together via 25 servers running Microsoft Corp. Exchange 5.5. Tending to such a far-flung network without a comprehensive messaging management tool would be all but impossible.

“I don’t know that we’ve got an office in every time zone, but it’s pretty close,” says Robert Klohr, Mentor’s messaging engineer in Wilsonville, Ore. “Messaging management is critical for us.”

Fortunately for Mentor, there are a variety of tools devoted to taming the e-mail beast. While their costs and capabilities vary dramatically, each is geared toward ensuring that traffic moves smoothly and efficiently, whether companies have a single mail server or one in every country.

Messaging management tools monitor the performance of e-mail applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Development Corp. Notes/Domino. Features range from alerts that notify managers of bottlenecks before they cause system breakdowns to trend reporting and capacity planning.

While BMC Software and a handful of companies offer products that can be tailored to Exchange and Notes/Domino, most of the roughly two dozen firms in the market concentrate on a single application. The tools are generally priced per seat.

Klohr chose to deploy Quest Software’s 2MA, formerly known as MessageWise, which gathers performance monitoring information from Exchange and Notes/Domino servers. 2MA queries Mentor Graphics’ Exchange servers from a central location rather than loading monitoring agents on individual servers, which sometimes can drag down performance.

The agentless architecture was the biggest draw for Klohr. “There is no client install on any of the machines,” he says. “That was a big plus for us. Limiting the applications that run on that server greatly reduces chances of conflicts or of something breaking something else.”

Key considerations

There are a host of issues to consider before selecting a messaging management tool. First and foremost is the depth of information and management capability needed. For some IT managers, the Exchange 2000 management console will provide more than enough information about flow rates and queue length, among other things.

“As more organizations implement Exchange 2000 and Notes R5, they may re-evaluate whether they need all these tools,” says David Nelson, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group.

In some instances, scalability is a limiting factor. Bank of America hired a systems integrator two years ago to build an e-mail performance monitoring application for a handful of business units with the idea that it might later be expanded to serve the whole firm. The sprawling bank has more than 130,000 users served by a complex web of servers mostly hosting Exchange. But despite spending US$50,000 on the system and related labor, the application proved difficult to maintain and ultimately couldn’t scale beyond about 3,000 users.

“At one point it wasn’t working for seven months,” says Marc David, messaging engineer for Bank of America in New York. “It was an expensive and hard lesson to learn.”

The bank eventually turned to NetIQ, the San Jose, Calif.-based firm considered the market leader on the Exchange side. David says the company chose NetIQ because it offers AppAnalyzer, an e-mail management tool currently in beta release, and AppManager, an enterprise management suite.

Bank America is beta-testing AppAnalyzer. While the Exchange console might provide detailed event logs, David says AppAnalyzer extracts the event log information and can display it in graphical formats that are easier for upper management to understand.

“We’ve got a whole subset of managers that want to know high-level things like message flow and message volume so they can do capacity planning,” he says. “With this they can get graphs and pie charts that they can take to a meeting with their bosses and say, ‘We need X amount of money for Exchange servers and here’s why.'”

The question of whether to deploy a messaging management tool versus an enterprise management product isn’t always an either/or proposition.

Mentor’s Klohr says his firm was evaluating enterprise management products, but he still went ahead with purchasing a point product for his e-mail servers.

“The cost was small enough that even if we don’t use it for the next five years, it’s OK,” Klohr says. “I couldn’t wait for a year-long assessment.”

Duffy is a freelance writer in Haydenville, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected].

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