Microsoft Exchange insider tips: Cut help desk headaches with MailTips

by James Gaskin - Microsoft Exchange is the 900 pound gorilla of e-mail servers. Many love it and many hate it -- often in the same afternoon. Michael Atalla, Microsoft's Group Product Manager for Exchange, offers up these insider tips.

Surprisingly, Atalla's first tip is to use less hardware on-premise. Why? Because Microsoft is serious about Exchange Online, their version of hosted Exchange services. Microsoft, more often than others offering hosted Exchange, works to preserve the "parity of experience" across on-premise and hosted Exchange administration.

Exchange federation between on-premise and hosted Exchange allows companies to provide the same e-mail experience for users no matter where the server sits, in your building or Microsoft's data center. With Exchange federation, all users remain in the same Exchange "pool" and use e-mail as if they were all still on the same physical server.

Reaching capacity on your hardware? Move users to a federated hosted service, and the users won't know the difference. Great for seasonal or project e-mail users, the federated hosted option lets you maintain a constant Exchange hardware profile even as your user community roller coasters. Medium sized businesses are a hot target for Exchange Online.

MailTips, often derided as a toy, help some companies cut the support load on help desks. What's the top support call, after forgotten passwords? Mail problems. Use the Mail Tips scripting to answer support calls before they happen.

Script a tip that pops up when an attachment is too large, and offer alternatives like FTP (ha! users with FTP!) or YouSendIt or shared public folders. Pop up a warning if the user tries to reply to a message they received via BCC in case they want to keep their involvement on the message distribution list a secret. Warn users that the CEO is on the message list (cut unearned excessive bonus jokes). Message to a big customer? Pop up a warning to check the mail contents carefully. Message to a competitor with an attached resume? Pop up an order to clear their desk and go directly to Human Resources. Everyone will thank you if you warn, in big letters, that a user is about to send a "me too" message to the entire company.

Surprisingly, Exchange gets no special technical advantages when using Hyper-V beyond standard virtualization. If you use the Unified Messaging Stack, running your voice mail with Exchange, you can save money by eliminating voice mail support on your PBX or through your third party service. The upgrade to Exchange 2010 will add new voice call features.

Your programmers should dive into EWS (Exchange Web Services) to mine all the data that flows through, and gets stuck in, corporate e-mail. API documentation from Microsoft won accolades, and Atalla swears there are no hidden APIs for Microsoft use only. EWS is a SOAP-based XML Web service that can be accessed remotely from any operating system and programming language that can use HTTPS. Communicating with Exchange has become much easier with EWS tools such as Autodiscover, which will provide the settings an application should use to communicate with Exchange. Tip off your .NET programmers to dig into EWS now, because it will become much more useful in Exchange 2010, but is available now in Exchange 2007 SP1.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon