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Microsoft forgoes radical for familiar with next Exchange

A top Microsoft executive has outlined plans for E12, the working name for the successor to Exchange Server 2003. Experts say customers aren't likely to be startled by changes to the messaging platform.

Microsoft's latest plan for Exchange Server is to offer customers some substantive new features, but no major

David Thompson, corporate VP, Microsoft
David Thompson, corporate VP, Microsoft

architectural changes, as had been part of earlier plans for the messaging platform.

The next version of Exchange Server, dubbed "E12," will contain database replication features that will let customers have two synched copies of the Exchange database for better backup, 64-bit support for improved scalability, support for unified messaging and the ability to more clearly define the roles of various Exchange elements. Microsoft also plans to add a set of Web services APIs to improve the programmability of business applications to Exchange Server, according to David Thompson, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Exchange Server product group.

Exchange will retain the Jet data store, which has been improved over the years and is custom designed for messaging. The E12 version of Jet will be 64 bits, and scalability will be improved by the larger address space, Thompson said. "And 64-bit hardware will be the commodity server hardware," he said. "It will go in places where it makes a difference, and this is where it will make a difference."

There is no formal timetable set for E12, but sources have pegged it as likely to come in the latter part of 2006, or around the same time Office 12 ships.

Moving to a new data store was the largest element in the previous Exchange roadmap, code-named Kodiak. In fact, Microsoft had built a prototype of Exchange running on the upcoming version of SQL Server database, code-named Yukon. But Thompson said customers had expressed concern that the move to a new database implied a big database migration, which would have been too disruptive.

New data store not a 'must-have'

Some customers also said they believed that improvements in Exchange Server 2003 covered a lot of

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gaps, which means that not having a common data store is less of an issue for them. "At one point, I was very interested [in a new data store], but [Microsoft] has given me enough tools, so for now, I'm comfortable," said Jim Thomas, senior business systems manager at Pella Corp., a Pella, Iowa-based window and door manufacturer.

Thomas said improvements to message hygiene and to data replication may be enough of an incentive to upgrade from Exchange Server 2003 when the time comes.

Experts said they believe Microsoft will benefit from giving customers an easy migration to a new version of Exchange rather than presenting them with a more radical shift in architecture.

"The pain of moving to a new store would lead people to reflect on their entire messaging strategy," said Yankee Group analyst Dana Gardner, who expects E12's features to appeal to "rock-solid Exchange administrators."

Migration path should be easier

Lee Benjamin, a messaging expert and principal with Exchange Guy Consulting Services, said that by basing E12 on the same architecture as Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft extends

… 64-bit hardware will be the commodity server hardware.  

David Thompson,

the life of its product, and he agrees that it makes the transition less of a hassle for its customers.

"Without beating a dead horse, at some point there are technical reasons to move to a new database design," Benjamin said. "But with 10 years of track record with the existing database, customers are happy and it's working for them."

Benjamin said the realistic size of an Exchange Server database is between 30 GB and 50 GB, but the number is not hard and fast and depends on how long an administrator wants to take to do a backup. Microsoft provides a range as unlimited or 16 TB, Benjamin said. Locally, the practical limitation for Exchange Server 2003 is roughly 20 GB, he said.

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