A first look at Microsoft Exchange Server 12

New version improves management, integration, and brings a souped-up Web client

The basic questions of when the next version of exchange will arrive and how much it will cost remain vague. Answers can be summed up as “end of 2006/early 2007” and “in line with current Exchange pricing.” Still, while many of the details remain confidential, Microsoft did consent to give InfoWorld a look at some of the goodies that the forthcoming edition, currently code-named Exchange 12, will bring us.

The new version’s scripting capability is going to be a favorite new feature among overworked IT managers. Exchange 12 administration makes extensive use of MSH (Microsoft Shell, code-named Monad), Microsoft’s new command shell for the WinFX platform, making all the functionality of the GUI management console available to Exchange managers on the command line for the first time. This allows unprecedented custom automation; mailbox moves, restores, re-provisioning, and custom monitoring and alerts are only a few things that Monad-savvy admins can automate.

Integration with other server platforms will be handled through SharePoint, which will receive much of Exchange’s public folder functionality (although Microsoft didn’t go so far as to say that public folders would actually be removed from Exchange 12). Other supported platforms include Internet Security and Acceleration Server and Microsoft Operations Manager, both of which will gain performance and management features specific to managing Exchange.

All this may sound like managing Exchange 12 will be more involved than managing previous versions, but Microsoft’s intent is the opposite. It put much thought into easing the learning curve and work burden of Exchange admins.

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For example, Exchange-specific server roles allow admins to configure Exchange out of the box for any of five basic roles (edge transport, hub transport, client access, mailbox, and unified messaging). This not only speeds installation, but it also cuts down on the server’s software footprint by disabling features unnecessary to that role.

And, while Monad may become an important underlying management tool, Microsoft hasn’t ignored the GUI console. Exchange 12 will include an updated version of Exchange System Manager that includes intuitive improvements, such as task organization via tree views.

On the client side, Exchange 12 will bring an updated version of Outlook Web Access that includes a number of goodies in its AJAX-heavy (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML interface). This includes voicemail and auto-attendant features for IP-capable PBXes out of the box, as well as smarter calendaring, including shared resource and scheduling management. It’ll also make even more use of the WAN optimization and smart transfer technologies that Microsoft released in Exchange Server 2003 SP2.

Hardware requirements could be a downside for some environments, however. Exchange 12 will require 64-bit CPUs, a decision Microsoft justifies as a long-term performance move that may be slightly burdensome at the moment, but will quickly fade into obscurity as 64-bit CPUs become pervasive.

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