TechEd: Microsoft announces RC1 of Exchange Server 2003

Microsoft has rolled out a first release candidate of Exchange Server 2003, along with a toolbox full of goodies to make your move from 5.5 easier. Meanwhile, third-party vendors are looking to ride the coattails of Redmond's new release.

DALLAS –- Microsoft Corp. has delivered the first release candidate of its upgraded messaging server. A raft of tools to help customers still on Exchange 5.5 migrate accompanies this new version of the software.

At its TechEd conference, which kicked off today, Microsoft said that Release Candidate 1 of Exchange Server 2003 will be available this week for download. The software is expected to ship sometime this summer. RC1 is available in two editions: Standard Edition, which is geared to small and medium-sized enterprises, and Enterprise Edition, which is for large enterprises.

To help ease the transition to Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft is also releasing several tools, including one that analyzes existing NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5 servers. It takes an inventory of an existing topology and makes sure all the prerequisites are in place before the customer makes a move, said Missy Stern, an Exchange product manager.

Another tool makes sure that Active Directory schema extensions are working properly. A third set of tools sets up connection agreements between Exchange 5.5 and Exchange Server 2003 and validates that they are set up properly.

A fourth tool makes sure that network connectivity exists and that DNS is functioning properly on new Exchange servers. And, finally, Microsoft has a new tool to help move mailboxes. The tool lets customers move a batch of mailboxes at once -- the Exchange 2000 tool, in comparison, only lets customers move mailboxes sequentially.

"Customers can set up a cutoff time when they want the last mailbox moved during a day," Stern said.

Customers have long complained of the difficulties in moving to Active Directory and Exchange 2000. In fact, many are just making that transition today. Norstan Communications, a telecom service provider based in Minnetonka, Minn., is midway through its rollout of Exchange 2000.

Paul Michaelis, a messaging analyst at the company, said that, from an administrative standpoint, the transition is a nightmare, but his company has developed some in-house migration tools and is also using migration tools from Aelita Software Corp. of Columbus, Ohio.

"Microsoft needed to offer more tools," he said. "If the transition from Exchange 5.5 to Active Directory had been smoother, we would have done it long ago."

In fact, a large number of customers are still on Exchange 5.5 and, just as Microsoft is encouraging customers on NT 4.0 to leapfrog Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003, it is telling customers on Exchange 5.5 to zip right up to Exchange Server 2003.

Exchange Server 2003 does not offer a huge number of major new features, but analysts said that most of the enhancements are designed to provide efficiencies for wide scale server deployment, and the enhancements will therefore make Exchange Server 2003 more attractive to large companies, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at the Yankee Group, a Boston consulting firm.

Also, many of the benefits of Exchange Server 2003 need to be enjoyed with Outlook 2003, which also won't be available until later this summer.

One early beta user gave the software a thumbs up for stability, though he said his organization is too small to check out the software's added scalability.

"We're using it in production, and we've liked it," said Scott Hill, director of the solutions group at Delta Solutions, a Houston integrator. "The Outlook Web Access is much faster and more secure. I'd say that's the big plus."

Third-party companies also will be out in force during the TechEd conference, many of them hawking Exchange and Active Directory products. Group Technologies AG, a software company based in Germany, will release software for Exchange that offers antispam protection, content filtering, automatic e-mail signatures and SMTP support.

Symantec Corp. also has released mail security software for Exchange. The Cupertino, Calif.-based firm says its product also has content filtering, spam prevention and antivirus protection.

Aelita released improved search and retrieval software to help Exchange administrators restore specific data from a bulk backup. The company also enhanced its Active Directory management software to include some improved administrative features.

The new features include better group policy management, including modeling and analysis capabilities, rules-based automated management of distribution lists, and security groups. The software was also enhanced to support Windows Server 2003.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Redmond rushing to finish Exchange 2003

Interview: Microsoft talks Exchange Server upgrade and deployment options

Dig deeper on Windows Operating System Management

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