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Setting up remote users for MS Exchange (XP clients using MS Outlook)

My company has evolved a truly haphazard system for giving remote users access to their e-mails.  With new staff joining in the next few weeks, I'd like to clean up how we provide access to e-mail for remote users.

At present we have a Windows 2000 server, running MS Exchange 5.5 and this serves all of our local users very well.
We also have a small number of remote users who have been provided with a number of schemes to access their e-mails.
Some have stand-alone POP3 mail accounts to which company e-mails are automatically copied using MS Exchange.
Others connect to local PCs using VPN/remote desktop in order to have remote access to their e-mails.
Others still connect to our Exchange server via VPN and synchronise their local copies of e-mail.

Using what we have, (remote XP clients running MS Outlook, a working VPN, a Windows 2000 domain with MS Exchange 5.5), how should our system be best reconfigured to provide the most reasonable centralised mail service?  I am aware of Outlook Web Access (which publishes the user's mailboxes as a web application to be used via a web browser).  If this is my best option, so be it, however, I'd prefer for my remote users to be able to access their mail via the MS Outlook mail client (either the version with Office 2000 or Office XP) - ideally with offline access to their mailstore.

One limitation which may or may not affect this: for compatibility reasons, we are currently not able to run the SMTP service on the MS Exchange server (it's presence on the server crashes a business-critical legacy system).  If this service is part of the best solution, I'll reinvestigate this.

Any suggestions?
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Beamson
Asked:
Beamson
1 Solution
 
Chris StauntonCommented:
It sounds as though you've pretty much done what you can with Exchange 5.5, with the latest version of Exchange 2003 and the newer 2007 version coming soon there are many more features that you could utilize to give your users a better Outlook experience.  There is the ability to access you server via HTTP which tunnels the exchange connection.  You might also want to look at upgrading to Outlook 2003 as there are many ways for it to work in "Offline" mode using a cached copy of the users mailbox on the local machine.

As MS has already phazed out Exchannge 5.5 from its supported applications it would be wise to upgrade to the latest and greatest, you might also look at doing a dedicated Exchange server so you don't run into the SMTP problem that you're currently experiencing.


Cheers,


Shoota
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BeamsonAuthor Commented:
Thanks Shoota,

I think that confirms pretty much what I was expecting.  Was worried that there might be a more obvious way around the problem that I was missing but probably not.

At present, I'm trialing the use of a VPN-based solution and it seems reasonably good.  I've set my home router to have an always-on VPN connection to the office.  With this active, I can boot my remote PC and get authenticated by the works domain servers.  That done, I can use a local Outlook client, pretty much the same as if I was at the office.

Synchronising an offline copy seems a bit haphazard (40mins of watching a progress bar first time - hopefully will improve).   That done, it still seems to want to use the server based copy when online and opening mail or attachments.

I don't know how scalable it is going to be to have 4 more remote workers with always on VPNs to our office.  Will have to experiment.  They don't need to be always on but asking them to connect/disconnect the VPN each time they want to perform a mail-related task is not ideal, though they would have to manually instigate a VPN connection when away from home or office.

As you say, a seperate mail server would untie some of our constraints and upgrades to latest versions are not unthinkable (though I suspect our small business' management would prefer otherwise!).

I'll keep this post open a little longer in case more wisdom comes my way, otherwsise will award the points.
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