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Microsoft blames old software for House e-mail slowdown

December 17, 1998
Web posted at: 11:46 AM PT

by Sandra Gittlen


(IDG) -- Microsoft says a three-year-old version of its e-mail server software, called Microsoft Exchange, was the cause of a slowdown in the U.S. House of Representatives e-mail delivery system earlier this week. The bug surfaced just as House members were preparing their vote on the articles of impeachment of President Clinton.

Microsoft Exchange 4.0 has a limitation of 16 gigabytes of data per server, a ceiling that was broken on Tuesday when more than 1 million messages flowed through the servers, according to Microsoft. Normally, the House has a daily e-mail count of 80,000 messages. Once the software's limit was surpassed, messages on two of the House's 14 servers were thrown into a loop. This slowed down delivery of all messages on the network.

"The possibility of message looping in Exchange 4.0 in particular network configurations has been known for some time," says Doug Stumberger, Microsoft's product manager for Exchange. However, Microsoft says the problem has been corrected in versions released after 4.0, which debuted three years ago.

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Exchange 5.5, which the House is upgrading to next month, has no limit on the messages that can be managed, Stumberger said. "So it is all but impossible for this situation to occur with Exchange 5.5."

The message backlog that House members are experiencing is "a normal side effect of the server being offline for a number of hours," he said. "But mail should now be flowing through the system."

A critical system

The House has a centralized e-mail facility that funnels e-mail to and from more than 10,000 people, including representatives and their support staffs. The servers are maintained by House Information Services, a technical support team for all 435 representatives.

Each House member has a small server at his or her office that retrieves the e-mail from the central House servers. A House spokesman said a slowdown could be occurring there, as well.

Sandra Gittlen is a senior online reporter for Network World Fusion.

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