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Microsoft to delay SMTP relay software

The software company will not release Exchange Edge Services in 2005 as previously planned. Instead, sources say, the technology will be folded into the next version of Exchange Server, where it will be tasked with more than fighting spam.

Microsoft's ever-changing messaging and collaboration roadmap is about to get another makeover, as the anticipated Exchange Edge Services platform, originally due out in 2005, is pushed

… we will keep a close eye on what Microsoft is doing and implement it only if it has more value than what we have today.

Andy Bergen, IT manager,

Pella Corp.

to 2006 and is given a bigger mission.

On the heels of fleshing out its antispyware strategy with the acquisition of Giant Company Software Inc. on Thursday, Microsoft next Wednesday will attempt to clear up some of the murkiness surrounding its plans about how it will fight spam.

Specifically, Microsoft plans to expand the intelligent messaging transfer agent technology of Exchange Edge Services beyond spam and more closely align the product with the next version of Exchange, which is now expected to be released in 2006, according to sources close to the company.

There will be no version of Exchange Edge Services in 2005 as discussed by the software maker last summer. But in 2005, Microsoft will update its Intelligent Message Filter, a spam-fighting tool released last summer. Later in 2005, the company will release Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2, which will include the spam-fighting Sender ID technology. These technologies are included with current Exchange licenses and not priced separately.

Edge Services to take on greater role

Microsoft will now make the SMTP relay software a part of the larger Exchange product and its gateway role will include more than just spam-fighting features. Microsoft plans to detail its future designs for Exchange in January, company officials have previously said. Microsoft

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declined to comment on the future of Exchange Edge Services for this article.

"It looks like what they are doing is obviating the need for a messaging transfer gateway," said one expert, who declined to be identified.

Exchange Edge Services was first introduced earlier this year. In May, Microsoft offered a roadmap for Exchange that took a new direction. At that time it said it would pull the plug on its next-generation version of Exchange -- code-named Kodiak -- which was to use the message store of SQL Server 2005. Instead, the company said it would begin a string of incremental releases for Exchange, beginning with Edge Services, in 2005.

Edge Services was expected to perform several functions involving security and e-mail hygiene. It was to be an SMTP relay, acting as a gatekeeper while relaying e-mail to and from the Internet. It was also to include Sender ID, an initiative championed by Microsoft and several other vendors. And Edge Services was supposed to provide routing features, and an extensibility infrastructure for third-parties to help block junk e-mail and run antivirus software.

Many gateway providers already exist

Whether customers want or need Microsoft to provide additional gateway functions is unclear at this point. There are plenty of third-party providers that do the job today, such as Sendmail Inc., IronPort Systems Inc., and Tumbleweed Communications Corp.

"We have a third-party product that provides edge services, antivirus and spam filtering, and it does a good job," said Andy Bergen, an IT manager at Pella Corp., a Pella, Iowa-based manufacturer of windows and doors. "But we will keep a close eye on what Microsoft is doing and implement it only if it has more value than what we have today."

Now, instead of incremental releases, it looks like Microsoft may be heading back to one big-bang release, sources said.

No major architecture shifts for Exchange

"I think Microsoft is still trying to figure it all out," said another expert familiar with the company's plans. "They are announcing another roadmap nine months after releasing a roadmap. They are struggling with what they think are the right features.

"This makes me wonder if they really have a clear idea about where they want to take this product, and it's an important, strategic product," the expert said.

Exchange experts said they think a new version of the messaging platform is unlikely to be a major shift in architecture at this point. "I'll be curious to see if the next version is big and new or an upgrade to the existing technology," said Lee Benjamin, a consultant and chairman of the Boston Area Exchange Server User Group.

"My guess is that it's not a fundamental shift in architecture because we've been told it's not going to be based on SQL Server 2005, and they've been knocked off the track by the undeliverability of WinFS," Benjamin said.

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