Microsoft Talks Cloud and Compliance at Exchange Conference

Microsoft on Monday kicked off the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) in Orlando, Fla. by talking up the forthcoming Exchange 2013 and the next version of Exchange Online.

Microsoft brought back MEC this year after a 10-year hiatus that even Microsoft's Exchange team blog described as puzzling. What isn't a mystery is Microsoft's messaging about its next-generation e-mail server.

Company officials have been hammering home certain themes about Exchange 2013 and the next Exchange Online. The product has a new architecture and offers management perks, plus electronic-discovery capabilities for policy compliance. Developers can build apps that work across Outlook or Outlook Web apps, and those apps can be run separately from Exchange Server 2013, supporting greater application stability. E-mail users get integration with social networking feeds and improved touch controls in the Outlook client, so there are some usability improvements.

After giving the keynote address on Monday, Michael Atalla, director of product management at Microsoft on the Exchange team, summed up some of the highlights.

"First and foremost, from an IT perspective, is we've made huge leaps forward in helping organizations manage their transition to the cloud or manage their cloud services infrastructure, whether it is something that they decide to move holistically into or whether it is something they move carefully into," Atalla said in a phone interview. "Our recent customer survey that we fielded with Harris is we have about 64 percent of customers that actually already describe themselves as in a cloud services environment. In most cases, what we find is that those are things like, perhaps even in an on-premises Exchange environment they're using cloud-based anti-virus or anti-spam against that, or perhaps they are using cloud-based archiving capabilities. We think those are some of the most interesting workloads to take to cloud service environments first."

The Harris poll surveyed 450 IT professionals in the United States from September 6 through 12, finding that 64 percent were using a hybrid combination of cloud-based and on-premises solutions in their computing environments, according to a Microsoft announcement. The poll apparently did not break down what workloads were being cloud enabled and what were left on premises. Just 34 percent of respondents were using pure on-premises solutions and three percent were using cloud-only solutions, according to the poll results.

Security and Compliance
The poll touched on some of Microsoft's themes with the new Exchange. For instance, security and compliance are top e-mail server management concerns of IT pros. Two thirds of the respondents indicated that they were "extremely or very concerned about their organizations losing sensitive data without knowing about it."

Atalla pointed to the new e-discovery capabilities in Exchange 2013 and Exchange Online. It's easier to put a litigation hold on documents and e-mail with the new Exchange. Previously, IT shops typically had to use "journaling," or sending e-mail to a separate archive, in order to put a hold on traffic, according to an Office Next blog post. However, the new Exchange has an "eDiscovery Center" that lets IT pros put a hold on "a group, a user, a mailbox, or even individual items." The e-discovery capabilities work across core Microsoft and non-Microsoft infrastructure, according to Atalla.

Microsoft also added improvements to Exchange 2013's data loss prevention (DLP) technology, which can be used to support the data compliance policies of an organization, such as restricting the release of "personally identifiable information" or company credit card information. Exchange 2013 supports various policies out of the box by default, such as the U.S. HIPPA or the Australian Health and Records Act, Atalla said. Organizations can quickly apply their policies and can set up warnings for end users that will point out what those policies are prior to blocking a message. The warnings pop up in the client as "Outlook policy tips," which is a new feature that works with Exchange 2013's DLP technology.

Migration Tools
For those looking to move to Exchange 2013, Microsoft provides various tools, such as the migration and setup wizard, Atalla added.

"In an on-premises environment with Exchange Server, we've actually developed a unified migration toolset for Exchange Server 2013 that is all about helping facilitate that migration, whether it is from Exchange Server 2010 to Exchange Server 2013 or from Exchange Server 2010 to Exchange Online."

Microsoft has improved the situation with mailbox moves, he added. It's possible to migrate mailboxes between legacy versions of Exchange to Exchange 2013 without disconnecting Outlook from the server, Atalla explained.

"We've created an architectural approach that actually allows end users to have Outlook stay connected, to actually have an Outlook user never see a blip on the radar screen," he said. "Or maybe simply see a few seconds where an Outlook is redirected to another server. But they can continue to read their e-mail, send new mail and check their calendar in an uninterrupted fashion."

Ultimately, he pointed to Microsoft's cloud-based Exchange Online, part of Microsoft's Office 365 hosted offerings, as a way for organizations to escape typical upgrade and migration challenges.

"One of the most exciting things about Office 365 is the fact that we can help our customers remain always up to date," Atalla said. "For customers that are in Office 365 today, they can look forward to, in the near future, getting all of these great new capabilities, without having to do any migration. And that includes -- going outside of Exchange a bit -- the new offer for a subscription Office client service where we keep the Office client up to date in the same model."

Atalla wouldn't say when Microsoft planned to release Exchange Server 2013, but he did say that Microsoft is committed to releasing it and associated Office product-line solutions at about the same time frame. Currently, the next Exchange and Office solutions are available for testing as "customer preview" beta releases.


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