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Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 contains a slew of new performance and security features that improve mobile messaging. Users can receive richer content on the go, and administrators get stronger password management and access control features. The best news though -- a new, nearly constant HTTP connection between Exchange and mobile devices offers better performance.
Mobile messaging performance
Pre-SP2, the most common way messages were transmitted to mobile devices involved the server sending a Short Message Service (SMS) message to the mobile device notifying it that new e-mail had arrived in the user's inbox. The mobile device would then connect to the Exchange server and download the messages. Although this process worked fairly well, users did not receive new e-mail as quickly as they could from their desktops.
With SP2, there is no longer a reliance on SMS. Instead, a mobile device maintains an HTTP connection to the Exchange server. That connection makes it possible for Exchange to push messages to the device as they come in. Contacts, calendar entries and task notifications can be pushed to mobile devices as well. Users can even view pictures connected to their contacts.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to users, though, is that they can now search the Exchange Global Address List from their PDAs or cell phones.
Mobile messaging security
Because mobile devices run a watered down Windows operating system, they completely ignore group policies. So, until now, administrators were limited in what they could do to secure them, unless they used third-party security software.
With Exchange 2003 SP2, administrators can force the use of passwords to unlock mobile devices. This is a huge step forward. Previously, administrators were at the mercy of their users, who could easily disable any device password requirements.
Another new SP2 security feature is what I like to call a "self destruct mechanism." It's basically a safeguard against brute force password-cracking attempts. If someone enters an incorrect password a specific number of times over a given period, the device "self destructs" -- i.e., the device blanks its memory and resets itself to factory defaults. Even better, "remote wipe" allows an administrator to initiate the self-destruct sequence by remote control if necessary.
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 the 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, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.
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