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Relocating an Exchange organization

Here's some advice on how to approach a geographical relocation of your Exchange environment.

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If your company is growing, sooner or later you will probably get to a point where your current facility is too small to accommodate all your employees and equipment. When that happens, you've got a choice to make: branch out into satellite offices or move your entire operation to a new location.

Either solution involves a lot of headaches. If you choose to create satellite offices, you have to deal with issues such as WAN link congestion and problems that occur if a link fails. If you move your entire operation, you will have to deal with an extended period of down time.

Since I have written a lot about issues involved in branching out into satellite offices in the past, this time I thought I would write about some of the issues you will face if you move your entire organization. Obviously, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of details involved in moving an entire company from one location to another. Since I can't possibly talk about all of these issues in one article, I am focusing this discussion solely on aspects of a move that relate to Exchange server.

The first consideration you need to make is how far away you are moving and how quickly you expect to be back online. If you are just moving across the street, you can probably just run a quick backup, plug in the server across the street and be done with it. But if you expect to be down for days, the move will require a lot more planning because of the way you will have to handle inbound e-mail during the move.

Remember that your server will be offline. Therefore, any messages sent to mailboxes residing on that server will bounce. This isn't a huge deal if you've let everyone know ahead of time that you're moving and your server is only going to be down for a few hours. A week's worth of bounced e-mails can be a big problem for your business though.

One option is to have an Internet Service Provider handle your mail during the move. This approach isn't practical for large companies, but it works great for smaller companies.

  1. Just prior to the move, you create mailboxes for each employee on an ISP's server.

  2. You then change your DNS server so all mail is routed to your ISP. Messages are then delivered into the temporary mailboxes instead of your Exchange mailboxes.

    If your ISP supports Outlook Web Access, your employees might even be able to check their mail during the move.

  3. Once mail has been rerouted, it's time to prepare things on your end. Since your server is no longer receiving mail, run a final backup and then shut the server down. The backup is crucial in case the server becomes unforeseeably damaged during the move.

  4. When you get to the new location, your first task will be to figure out your new IP addresses. IP addresses are geographic in nature, so if you move very far, there is a good chance that your address range will change.

  5. After you know your new IP addresses, make any necessary changes to your firewall to allow Exchange traffic to flow through it (You may have to update the firewall's local address table or change the port forwarding or DMZ addresses).

  6. Now that the firewall has been prepared, modify your DNS entry to direct mail back to your Exchange organization. Any messages sent to your users from this point forward should arrive in their Exchange mailbox.

  7. The last detail that you will have to take care of is all of those messages that have been accumulating on your ISP's server for the last week. To bring those messages into your Exchange environment, you will have to use a POP client for Exchange.

    The idea behind a POP client is that Exchange acts as a normal mail client. It opens the remote mailboxes and downloads the contents. It then places that mail into the appropriate mailbox. It is typically a lot of work configuring a POP client for Exchange though. You will have to specify the login name and password for each user as well as specifying each user's Exchange mailbox. This shouldn't be a huge deal for smaller companies though.

    Exchange doesn't ship with a POP client. There are several to choose from on the Internet though. For my recent move, I used the POP client that's built into my antispam software (GFI MailEssentials).

  8. Once all messages have been downloaded from the ISP, you just have to do a little clean-up work. Remove the POP client from your Exchange server, make a current backup of your Exchange server, and inform your ISP that you no longer need the mailboxes that you created for the move.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.


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This was last published in January 2005

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