Exchange 2013 Preview: An MVP’s first look

Exchange 2013 Preview is out and includes a raft of new features. Here is what our Exchange MVP thinks of Microsoft’s first pass on the upcoming product.

Microsoft recently made the Exchange Server 2013 Preview available for download. I’ve been writing about and working with Exchange Server for a long time, so I thought it would be helpful to share some quick initial impressions on some important features and functionalities. Remember, the product is still in Preview mode, so some features could change by the time Exchange Server 2013 is released.

Exchange 2013 modern public folders
I find the new “modern public folders” both interesting and amusing. Ever since Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft has told us that public folders would disappear. Even so, Exchange organizations kept using them. I don’t use public folders personally, but I thought it was nice that Microsoft finally accepted the fact that public folders are very important to a large portion of its customers.

Public folders in Exchange 2013 are more than a rehash of the public folders we’ve had since Exchange 4.0. Public folders are now finally a first-class feature. For the first time, public folders can be made highly available.

Exchange 2013 server roles
One thing that surprised me was that Exchange server roles have been simplified. Rather than the five distinct server roles in Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 (hub transport server, edge transport server, client access server, unified messaging server and mailbox server), there will only be two roles: the mailbox server and client access server.

Compliance and e-discovery in Exchange 2013
The new dynamic access control feature in Windows Server 2012 makes it possible to classify data on a file server and applies policies based on data classification. When I first heard about this feature, I wondered if Microsoft would build something similar into Exchange 2013.

I’m happy to say that Exchange 2013 uses a somewhat similar security model, called data loss prevention (DLP). DLP uses content analysis to identify, monitor and protect an organization’s data.

Not only does Exchange 2013 include this feature, but Microsoft has gone the extra mile with how it decided to implement it. The Policy Tips feature will be DLP-aware in Outlook 2013. Outlook 2013 will not only inform users of policy violations, but also tell them what they need to do to remain in compliance.

Microsoft also completely rebuilt Exchange Server’s e-discovery feature. In Exchange 2013, you can perform e-discovery across multiple products through a single interface. A single search can query Exchange Server, SharePoint and Lync.

But what really surprised me about the new e-discovery feature was that Microsoft chose to include it in Exchange. Sure, Exchange 2010 had built-in e-discovery capabilities, but I felt the engine was very lightweight. Most organizations turned to third-party products to perform any sort of serious e-discovery.

I’ve been expecting Microsoft to release a more powerful, cross-product e-discovery application for a long time, but I expected it to be introduced as a brand new product within the System Center line. I’m pleasantly surprised that e-discovery remains an Exchange feature as opposed to being built into a separately licensed product.

Contact aggregation in Exchange 2013
One of the biggest problems users face today is that contacts are spread all over the place. For example, I have an Outlook contact list, but I also have contacts stored in Facebook and LinkedIn.

Windows Phone 7 natively connects to Exchange Server as well as various social networking sites. Since many contacts exist in more than one location, the phone combines duplicates into a single contact, resulting in a single contact list that contains all contacts from the various sources, without duplicates.

Microsoft seems to have brought a similar concept to Exchange 2013. Not only will Exchange 2013 aggregate contacts, but the new People Search feature lets you search all contacts at once. There’s currently contradictory information about how these features will be implemented. Some sites indicate that the new contact-related features will only be available to Office 365 customers, while others imply the new features will apply to on-premises Exchange deployments as well. Only time will tell who is correct.

Final thoughts on Exchange 2013 Preview
Exchange 2013 appears to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. I don’t think there are any new, groundbreaking, must-have features, but I do think Microsoft has done a good job with what I’ve seen so far. The new features seem to specifically address the shortcomings of Exchange 2010 and should make life easier for administrators and users alike.

Brien Posey
is an eight-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

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DLP stands for Data Leakage Protection