Ask the Expert

Deciding between a front-end and a back-end Exchange server

I need to deploy a second Exchange 2003 server in my domain. Do I have to set up a front-end server plus two back-end servers, or can I just have two Exchange server boxes next to each other?

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Physical location of Microsoft Exchange boxes is fairly irrelevant, ensuring network connectivity and software minimums are more important.

In addition, you talked about deploying a new machine in your infrastructure. Deciding between a front-end and a back-end server has more to do with the objectives you are attempting to accomplish.

Back-end servers are inside the corporate firewall, and provide a platform to house mailboxes. These servers are used through storage groups and databases.

Front-end servers are on the perimeter of the network, and optimize the configuration of Exchange by offering:

  1. Single External Namespace
  2. Offloads Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption and decryption for Outlook Web Access
  3. Enhanced security
  4. Improved public folder access and features
  5. Increased IMAP access to public folders
  6. Multiple protocol support
More detailed information is available from Microsoft in the Front-end and back-end server topology guide for Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange 2000 Server.


Do you have comments on this Ask the Expert Q&A? Let us know.
Related information from SearchExchange.com:

  • Step-by-Step Guide: How to spec your Exchange hardware needs
  • Expert Advice: Is it possible to set up a clustered front-end Exchange server?
  • Resource Center: Exchange 2003 tips and resources
  • Primer: Server roles and Exchange hardware

  • This was first published in December 2005

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