Active Directory -- compares to what?


I'm going to be installing and configuring Exchange Server 2003. I have been doing some reading first though as I have no experience in Exchange (and to be honest, Microsofts ideas of logic and intuitiveness leave me shaking my head).
I do however have a lot of experience in Linux/Qmail as well as  Unix/Sendmail.  Everything thing I read is telling me I will need to install Active Directory. I'm getting a lot of definitions in books of AD but I'm still having a hard time understanding exactly what it is.  
So, my question is this: to what in the Unix/Sendmail or Linux/Qmail world does Active directory compare? Is it basically just a hash structure?
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MrLonandBConnect With a Mentor Commented:
So your question in plain simple terms: What is the purpose of Active Directory...?

You have a store that has apples, oranges, bananas and grapes in it. Someone moves the grapes to a room in the back and they don't tell you. Now you have no idea where the grapes are.

Microsoft comes along and calls all your fruit: "objects". They create "Active Directory". Active Directory maintains an up-to-date real-time listing of where your fruit (objects) are at all times.

Exchange no longer has to wait for someone to update the user properties in Exchange -- for Exchange to function properly. Exchange knows where the grapes, apples and oranges...are at all times -- because it is now (since 2000) "Active-Directory integrated".

Well, it's the end of the day -- thought I would have some silly fun with it!
Active Directory is Microsoft's implementation of an x.500 directory service, analagous to openLDAP or SunOne. Exchange is exceedingly reliant on Active Directory in order to function properly, so you will need a firm understanding of both AD and Exchange in order to successfully deploy the latter.

A good starting point:
Active Directory is an LDAP database. There are no end of LDAP sources you can lay your hands on in *nix.
Sendmail is a transport, not a mail server so sendmail translates to SMTP in Exchange - which is exactly what it is in *nix anyway so it's not really a translation, but I digress.
Here is your next step:
Abandon all Exchange thoughts and see if Active Directory is the thing you need. If you have to have AD because of whatever reason (your new company is running it already?) then that's great, but you need to pause any thought of running Exchange for six months because you need to be experienced and competent in AD before you go near Exchange. This is because all the configuration for Exchange is in AD.
Making Bulk Changes to Active Directory

Watch this video to see how easy it is to make mass changes to Active Directory from an external text file without using complicated scripts.

Young Laura is too generous.
Exchange cannot live without AD. Without AD you have no Exchange, no email, no receiving or sending of mail. That's why you really need to know what you're doing with AD before thinking about Exchange.
I concur with the above, however you need remember that when you install AD and Exchange that in order for your users to utilize Exchange they will need Domain membership.  IOW, you will need to join the user and their workstations to the AD Domain that you set up.

AD is a world of its own, but as the above stated there is virtually no limit to the LDAP resources that abound in the IT world.  

We have used it for years and compared to the many others we have used such as Lotus Notes, GroupWise and other simpler email systems, there is no comparison for ease of management and collaboration. At least in my opinion.
Exchange is the best messaging and calendaring platform around.

Notes is very much the better collaboration platform but LCS(OCS)/Exchange/SharePoint are snapping at its heels. Microsoft is a couple of years behind but whether it's catching up or just staying the same distance behind is a job for one of Gartner's analysts.

GroupWise. What's that? Does anyone still use that? Thought not.
I'll have a pint (or ten) of what you're having.
michaelshavelAuthor Commented:
Hi Everyone,

Thanks for your comments.  From what I gather I should shut myself up in a room with AD  for a few months and learn it. Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of time. Is it honestly not possible to just "install" AD, put my users in and then install Exchange; say in the space of a few weeks after reading a book or two?
If the above answer is no, how about I get hold of a copy of Exchange 5.5 and run that, I don't believe that relies on AD? Then again, is it even possible to run 5.5 on server 2003? I'm half kidding about 5.5, but hey why not ask. What do you all think?

You can't install 5.5 on W2K3.  You can install it on Windows 2000 server or Windows NT 4.  Forget 5.5, you'll be dealing with stull that everyone has forgotten and there is no support on from MS anymore.  

You've got a lot of work to do to get Exchange running in your environment.  I would suggest reading alot and seek outside help - a good consulting service, or a bartender who listens!  AD and Exchange are not products that you want to throw out there and see what happens, and there's lots of gotchas if not planned properly.
Well, you certainly can throw windows on a box, run dcpromo, reboot the box, stick the exchange cd into it and run setup.exe and away you go.
Of course, it'll be a configuration nightmare but by all means go for it. Do it in a virtual server environment the first time and then see how you get on.
The answer to that also depends on the scope and business criticality of the deployment.  If you're talking about setting it up as a test box, or as a lab environment specifically so that you can get comfy with Exchange and AD, grab some books and knock yourself out - use virtuals, as czdct recommends.  If, on the other hand, you're talking about deploying an unfamiliar application running on an unfamiliar operating system as a business-critical application for dozens/hundreds/thousands of users in your company...well, do I really need to spell out how badly things could go wrong in that case?
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