Exchange 2007 Reaching Evaluation Stage

With Exchange Server 2007 expected later this month in a feature-complete Beta 2 version, it's time to get serious about evaluating the server.

Microsoft is concentrating on three main themes in marketing the next version of its mature messaging server, which is currently slated to release to manufacturing in late 2006 or early 2007. They are Anywhere Access, Built-in Protection and Operational Efficiency.

Unified Communications

One of the most interesting new features in Exchange 2007 is unified communications, which falls under the Anywhere Access theme. Microsoft provided its definition of unified communications in late June during its Unified Messaging Strategy Day. "You are one person, but you end up having multiple identities because of the devices, and that leads to communications islands. Some research that we reviewed indicated that the average organization has 6.4 different types of communications devices and 4.8 different communications applications per user. And this leads to one of the key problems, communication is inconvenient, it's not connected," said Jeff Raikes, Microsoft Business Solutions president.

Microsoft plans to build unified communications into Exchange Server 2007, along with several other products, to make this long nascent technology more mainstream. In Exchange, Microsoft will combine voice mail and fax into e-mail inboxes to give users a single location to check all messages. The server will also feature speech-based auto attendant capabilities, so users can phone their Exchange server to have e-mail and calendar items read to them or have voice mail played.

Megan Kidd, group product manager for Exchange, says there will be only one main requirement beyond Exchange for those capabilities. "If you have an IP-PBX, it would hook directly to your server. If you have just a PBX, you'll have to buy one of the third-party gateways that are being developed for Exchange 2007," Kidd says.

Microsoft plans to expand its unified communications stack beyond Exchange Server 2007 with integrated features in Office Communications Server 2007, the Office Communicator 2007 client, Office Live Meeting and Office RoundTable, a collaboration device with a 360-degree camera.

Remote & Mobile Access

Another Anywhere Access feature of Exchange Server 2007 concerns remote and mobile access. Microsoft updated the list of enhancements at its TechEd show in June. One will be the ability for users of handheld devices to search for messages that they have deleted from the handheld, but that still reside on the server. Another will be improved meeting handling, self-service remote device wipe through Outlook Web Access, support for HTML e-mail and the ability to flag messages.

Exchange 2007 will also allow improved collaboration through a feature called Calendar Concierge and out-of-office improvements, which depend on Office 2007, as well.

Message Protection

Several of Microsoft's recent security moves are converging on Exchange Server 2007. Two recent acquisitions will show up in Exchange. One is the FrontBridge technology, which shows up as Exchange Hosted Filtering. Another is the Sybari technology for running several anti-virus engines against incoming messages, which will be billed as Antigen for Exchange. Other security-minded improvements include intra-organization e-mail getting encrypted by default, enhanced support for information rights management and some compliance related features, such as rules about which departments can e-mail each other and which employees have their e-mail automatically journaled and archived.

Another brand new message protection feature is called Cluster Continuous Replication. The technology, coming in Exchange 2007 Enterprise Server, requires three nodes – an active/password configuration and a voting node.

"CCR is important because it eliminates the requirement for a shared storage subsystem for your Exchange cluster. Using CCR you can build a geographically distributed cluster, provided you have enough bandwidth between the nodes," Ferris Research analyst Bob Spurzem said in a recent note. "CCR will be important for organizations that desire more disaster recovery flexibility for Exchange."

64-Bit

You'll be able to test the Exchange 2007 beta on a 32-bit machine, but expect to buy new hardware once the final version rolls around. Microsoft made the controversial decision to support Exchange 2007 only on 64-bit servers, giving the server loads of headroom but zero backwards compatibility with older hardware.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.