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ACS AD Sync Alpha testing Project

ACSAs mentioned in the previous post, we have been Alpha testing a AD Sync tool to synchronize contact information from the ACS database into Outlook contacts.

Over the past 6 months we have been working with Dean Lisenby and the team at ACS thru the concepts as well as logistics of a tool to make contact info from ACS accessible thru Outlook Contacts.  Dean and his staff have developed a utility that will push the contact list from our AccessACS site into contacts in an Active Directory Container.  Each person is imported with telephone, email and address.  Because the contact information is now in AD, it also makes these contacts available to your Exchange/Outlook users via the Global Address Book.  You can find contact information or email individuals from within the Global Address book in Outlook without any external lookup or .CSV import.

We have been Alpha testing this tool, in our lab environment (read below for the details of the setup), and the proof of concept works, now the question is it something that other ACS customers would use and should ACS put resources into developing it.

The major benefit I see in this tool is being able to to have your users keep contact info in the ACS database not in the local contact lists, where by the nature of a local contact list is not accessible to other users. Updating that information in the ChMS your users have the most up to date information in a common data store (ACS) AND it becomes available to them in Outlook in the Global Address book.

Details of our Lab and Testing:

We have been Alpha testing this product in our test lab which consists of a P2v (Physical to Virtual) of our Exchange server, our first Domain controller and an XP workstation with Outlook installed.  We put this test lab in on its one VLan and routed it to its own private interface on our firewall.

The VLand and private interface allowed us to use VMware server in NATed mode and have two mirror environments (production and testing) that have identical Domain, and Exchange configurations.

Before our testing, Dean had only tested the tool on a Small Business Server and we wanted to confirm that there were no variables in our environment.

Currently the tool will pull all the contact information from the ACS dataset and push them into a AD Container called AccessACS.  If there is anything in the container it overwrites the contents with the new import as this isn’t a Sync tool yet.

From Outlook the user can browse the Global Address book and you can see all your “contacts” from ACS.

Some items we noted in our testing that we would like to see addressed before the product would be publicly available would include:

  • Could this container appear in a sub section of the GAL?  Currently the Items import right into the root of the GAL it would be nice when browsing from Outlook that you have all your Domain Users listed with a “folder of sorts” that houses the ACS list (in our case its over 24k names)
  • The formatting of our AD domain is: lastname, First name it would be helpful if the import could be customized to match the formatting of display names.  This would allow for the GAL to be an alphabetical by last name list.
  • We already have 2-3 dozen of these people in as AD contacts, because they are Board of Directors, Board of Elders etc.. and on global distribution lists… if the sync didn’t overwrite the contacts that were existing in the Access ACS list then those distribution groups could be pointed to the contacts that come from ACS and we wouldn’t have to mange those individually.
  • A flag on each record at import would be needed since when each contact is added they need to be an Exchange contact for Outlook to be able to email them.  This is great, except we don’t want non domain  users to email any contact in our database because they know you could send an email to firstnamelastname@domain.com If the import would flag the recipient as only allowed to receive messages from a Domain security group that problem would be a non issue.
    • The solution needs to be part of the import because you cannot in AD choose multiple contacts and configure the restriction that limits the senders to these contacts.
  • I really like the fact that if a change is made in ACS then those changes would be made in Outlook
  • If this were in production, I won’t get any emails more emails from attendees saying “I have told you to update my email but staff continue to email my old email address”.

I think this could be a great ACS tool, but we need to know if others besides NWCC would use it so we can make a business case to ACS to develop the tool.  If you are interested please leave a comment or email me at jasonlee {at} jasonmlee {dot} net.


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