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Microsoft keeping next Exchange data store on layaway

Microsoft is releasing few details about the future of Exchange, but the software giant revealed that it's working to add storage flexibility to the messaging platform.

REDMOND, Wash. -- Just months after rejiggering its road map for Exchange, a top Microsoft Exchange executive said the company in late October will reveal more explicit information for the messaging platform's next generation data store.

Though tight-lipped about specifics, Dave Thompson, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Exchange Server Product Group, said the company is looking to "abstract the storage layer" so it can build more storage flexibility into Exchange.

Thompson said the next-generation messaging platform might run on the next iteration of SQL Server, code-named Yukon, or on WinFS, which is the underlying storage technology designed to support the next major Windows release, code-named Longhorn. He stressed that plans are not ironclad except for one point: The next version of Exchange will be lined up with the next Office release.

Up until three months ago, Microsoft was on track to release a significant new version of Exchange to be built on the SQL Server 2005, or Yukon, data store. This release was expected in 2006. At Tech Ed 2004, the company said it had altered its course and killed the platform, code-named Kodiak. Executives said Microsoft was opting to deliver a stream of releases that delivered messaging features in incremental waves.

The first of those releases will come in September when Microsoft releases its Best Practices Analyzer for Exchange. This tool captures information about various server parameters, including some details of third-party tools. It is beneficial to customers in that it helps ensure that their Exchange networks are set up in the recommended ways, Thompson said.

The second release will be Exchange Edge Services, which is due out in 2005. This release will be an SMTP relay, which also provides some antivirus, antispam features at the edge of the enterprise.

For more information

Read our best practices for managing Exchange messaging data.

Get Mark Minasi's take on what's in store for Longhorn.

Many customers -- the majority of whom are just moving off of Exchange 5.5 -- are content to bide their time on current releases of Exchange while Microsoft continues to hash out its messaging plans. At this point, the data store underpinnings of Exchange really don't matter much to Andy Bergen, an IT manager at Pella Corp., a Pella, Iowa, manufacturer of windows and doors.

"It's going to be driven by our business requirements," he said. "What we have today meets our needs, and, if our requirements didn't change, we'd be good forever."

In addition to the move away from Kodiak, Exchange was the center of another strategic shift in recent years that had resulted in some release delays.

Only a few years ago, Microsoft's messaging platform was to be the centerpiece of the company's collaboration strategy. Two years ago, the company reversed its position by divvying up its collaboration features between its SharePoint platform and the Office Live Communications Server, which delivers enterprise instant messaging features.

Thompson, who spent many years leading the Windows Server team and is new to Exchange this year, said he is more concerned about delivering solid products than in delays because of changes in product strategy. However, he said he is mindful that the schedule changes may impact some customers who are working on specific projects.

"Everyone agrees that it's the right thing to do to ship the product when it's ready and no sooner," he said.

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