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At work we use a Windows Server 2008 domain with over 80 computers and 60 users. We are a branch of a larger organisation and, although we manage most of our computing infrastructures, our corporate email services are provided by the "mothership" central IT department. This means that they store our email in their servers, they allocate email addresses, etc. We only need to configure our Outlook clients and use IMAP to check the email.

So far so good. Since email services are provided for us, we never had the need to deploy Exchange or anything like that. However, we are starting to feel a couple of needs that I believe could be nicely addressed by Exchange, namely:

  • Organising distribution lists so that people can send mail to pre-defined sets of users.
  • Sharing calendars, tasks and busy/free times among users.

I have very little experience with Exchange, but I assume that it can do these things. My question is twofold:

  1. Do you think that deploying Exchange in our organisation would be overkill just for those two requirements?
  2. If we decide to deploy Exchange, would that mean that we have to store email locally (on our Exchange server) rather than on our central corporate server (as it is now)? Or is there a way to use some feature of Exchange but keep email storage remote?

Edit: Please note that our central IT department, the one providing us with corporate email services, does not currently use Exchange. As far as I understand, they use a Unix-based email solution.

Many thanks.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

You could drop in an exchange server and have your users use that for local (cal/addressbook) things but keep the IMAP accounts in Outlook which would work.

That way you would have your email stored on their servers but your other information stored on your local exchange server.

The biggest hurdle will be the management of your local domain, if it is any way subservient to the Mothership then their IT will notice and likely complain if you install it as the AD schema is modified on install.

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Would that mean that every user in our organisation would need two accounts: a corporate one for email, plus a "private" one for calendaring? Also, how would they work together? For example, how would you send an appointment request by email? – CesarGon Jan 13 '10 at 14:48
Exchange functions with SSO on their domain login; if they are authenticated on the domain server for their workstation then they are authenticated to the exchange server (assuming your desktops are connected to the windows 2008 server) so no "second" account there. The calendaring would only work internally and I would guess that Outlook would default to using exchange to transport those messages. However if an external appointment request came in via imap it would end up on the exchange calendar as it's the default. – Antitribu Jan 13 '10 at 14:54
IMHO if you can drop exchange onto the AD controller (not best practice I know but assuming you don't can't run up another machine to take the role) set up 2 or 3 users and test. What you want is possible (but not as clean as an all out exchange enviro). User testing is the only thing that will tell you if your users are ok with the way it works. Alternatively you could go full exchange and use a tool to download all mail from their IMAP boxes to the exchange server and leave a copy on the mothership's server. – Antitribu Jan 13 '10 at 14:57
That last option that you mention sounds interesting: setting up a full-blown Exchange server using it as a "bridge" to download email from the central mothership server whenever a user connects. Is that possible? – CesarGon Jan 13 '10 at 15:12
Oh yeh, thats probably the easiest; just set up the server; create your user accounts and then use a program like fetchmail running on a a linux box to pull down mail, I know exchange used to have a tool inbuilt but i'm unsure as to its status. Google "Exchange IMAP connector" should start you down the right path. – Antitribu Jan 13 '10 at 16:22

Without getting into all the gory details about answering your specific questions:

  1. What you're considering is a waste of resources and a duplication of effort and fraught with unneeded complexity.

  2. the corporate Exchange server has the ability to do what you need it to do without any additional servers.

  3. The reason you don't have access to the features you're looking for is because you're using IMAP to connect to the server instead of using MAPI or RPC over HTTPS. My recommendation would be to talk to corporate IT about configuring your Outlook clients to connect via MAPI or RPC over HTTPS so that you can make better use of Exchange's features (shared calendars, distibution groups, public folders, etc.).

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Doesn't indicate the "mothership" uses exchange, they may well not. – Antitribu Jan 13 '10 at 14:40
@joeqwerty: Thanks for your reply. But, as Antitribu points out, our corporate IT department do not use Exchange. They use a Unix-based email solution, as far as I understand. In any case, I will check this with them. If they happen to be using Exchange, then I'll explore the solution that you suggest (using MAPI or RPC over HTTPS). – CesarGon Jan 13 '10 at 14:40
Oh sorry, because you were asking about implementing Exchange I just assumed that the corporate office was already using it. – joeqwerty Jan 13 '10 at 14:48
@joeqwerty: No problem. :-) I will make an edit to the original post to clarify this. – CesarGon Jan 13 '10 at 14:49

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