Microsoft reveals Exchange road map

Company slims down vision; gives glimpse of next version

Microsoft last week sketched out the future of its Exchange messaging server, revealing a road map vastly changed from the company's sweeping collaboration vision of a few years ago.

Enhancements coming to Exchange this year include improved public folder management, SMTP configuration diagnosis, and better mobility support. Further out, the next version of Exchange, code-named Exchange 12, will aim to cut costs, bolster security, and improve end-user messaging.

The road map for Exchange 12, however, bears little resemblance to Microsoft's ambitious Kodiak server plan of a few years ago, which was formally abandoned in name and in much of its substance this past spring. With Kodiak, Microsoft had promised a universal data store that would incorporate technology from SQL Server 2005 or the still forthcoming WinFS (Windows File System).

Exchange 12 will stick with the Jet database, which was designed for messaging, said Dave Thompson, corporate vice president at Microsoft. "We concluded that the best choice -- to allow the easiest upgrade and address the issues that [customers] have -- is to use Jet for this release. That may change in a future release," he said.

Dana Gardner, senior analyst at The Yankee Group, said Exchange 12 "is quite a different tune than they were singing a couple years ago."

By staying with the Jet repository, Microsoft is shooting more for administrative TCO benefits and is putting off the productivity benefits that would come from a unified data store.

"E-mail administrators will be pleased, but I think it does open up opportunities for other vendors to offer some of these unified data-store benefits quite a bit sooner than Microsoft," Gardner said.

One major improvement to Exchange 12 will be its role-based architecture, which will simplify deployment and help trim costs, Thompson said.

The server roles include edge server, bridgehead server, unified messaging server, client access server, mailbox server, and public folder server.

Microsoft is aligning development of Exchange 12 with the next version of Windows SharePoint Services, SharePoint Portal Server, LCS (Live Communications Server), Outlook, and Windows Mobile. New or updated versions of these products will be released around the same time that Microsoft releases Exchange 12.

"All have points of integration that deliver on [our] collaboration vision," Thompson said.

Developing Exchange 12 in concert with other products adds development risks but also demonstrates that Microsoft has now clearly dropped its ambition to turn Exchange into a single collaboration platform, said Peter Pawlak, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"They have decided that Exchange is not the big platform for collaboration that they were initially touting it as," Pawlak said.

Other improvements in Exchange 12 include a continuous backup feature, designed to improve replication.

Improved management is also a key development goal, which Microsoft says is attainable through a restructured console, scriptable administration, and a set of Exchange servers.

Microsoft did not reveal availability details for Exchange 12 but said it would follow its three-to-four-year release cycle, which would mean either 2006 or 2007. Thompson said parts of Microsoft's Exchange team are already using some of Exchange 12.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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