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Microsoft looks beyond 2007 as Exchange release nears

As Exchange 2007 preps for release next month, the Microsoft messaging team has plans for Exchange 14 that should please IT managers.

As Microsoft prepares to release Exchange Server 2007 to its IT customers in just a few weeks, the company is already looking beyond to a version of Exchange that won't be available for several years.

Once dubbed Exchange 12, Exchange Server 2007 will skip unlucky number 13 in its next iteration, so the next version will be code-named Exchange 14. Microsoft, which has been making SharePoint Server the focal point of all collaboration activities, will offer customers a choice by not removing public folders from the release.

Public folders -- or shared folders that can be used by several users to collaborate -- were once expected to be dropped in Exchange 14, but now they are likely to remain.

Customers can choose to migrate from public folders to SharePoint when they want to, said Terry Myerson, general manager of the Exchange Server team at Microsoft. "Microsoft will no longer invest in public folders, but it will invest in SharePoint."

The sentiment is the same for the unified messaging features in Exchange Server 2007. IT managers who buy the Enterprise Client Access License will automatically get unified messaging. They can install it when they are ready. And IT managers can choose to use the new PowerShell command line scripting or stick to the old graphical user interface.

Some of Microsoft partners were recently told that the next version of Exchange will have a data store that uses SQL technology, though it will not be a SQL Server database. After promising this for a long time, Microsoft had originally planned to develop a version of Exchange using a SQL Server data store for Exchange Server 2007. The company backed off of the idea several years ago when it looked like it would become too formidable of a task to complete.

"We've been told [Microsoft] is trying to design Exchange so it does not have to use the Extensible Storage Engine [ESE] that is used by the current version of Exchange," said one Exchange Microsoft Most Valuable Professional who is familiar with MIcrosoft's plans. "What they've been telling us is they absolutely won't have it for Exchange 14. There will be a core store, fine-tuned for Exchange, that can be tweaked and manipulated."

"The community was a bit let down when they kept the old store," the partner said. "Having said that, the [ESE] is much better than it was, but it's a unique database structure for Microsoft and doesn't mix well with the other database technologies."

But Microsoft's Myerson said, "We continue to invest in both our ESE-based storage platform and migrating our application to SQL Server. At this time we have not concluded which platform we will base the next version of Exchange upon."

A new data store would be welcomed in many IT shops. "If they do move to a new store, it will make it much easier to recover [the Exchange database]," said Scott Saunders, director of MIS at Ion Media Networks Inc., a broadcast media company based in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Most IT shops today are still evaluating features in Exchange Server 2007, which is shipping at the same time as Vista and Office 2007. Myerson said Microsoft will be releasing 30 new white papers and other documentation to help administrators deploy Exchange Server 2007.

The documentation is specialized. Some of it focuses on providing assistance to companies in particular vertical markets or with a lot of branch offices to cite two examples.

One of Microsoft's more controversial decisions on Exchange Server 2007 was requiring 64-bit hardware, but Myerson defends that decision. When customers move to the new servers, the cost savings and the reliability will accrue, Myerson said. "The math is there to support the savings by our customers."

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