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Will replication in Exchange Server 2007 SP1 woo IT?

Due out before the end of 2007, Exchange Server 2007 SP1 adds standby continuous replication, which could help IT managers with disaster recovery planning.

With the first service pack for Exchange Server 2007 due out at any time, the question is whether or not some of its new replication features will get IT managers to jumpstart their migrations from older Exchange platforms onto the new messaging server.

Microsoft has promised Exchange Server 2007 SP1 for the fourth quarter of this year. The big new feature will be standby continuous replication, or SCR, which lets IT managers replicate an Exchange Server to another location, which could then be activated if there were a disaster at the company's main location.

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Exchange Server 2007 came with local continuous replication and cluster continuous replication. The LCR copies the Exchange Server onto another location on the same server, while CCR gives IT managers instant failover to another server at the same location. The addition of SCR means IT managers will have a third copy of the Exchange Server at a remote location, although it has to be activated manually.

Although the replication features, as well as other additional features, are "nice evolutionary enhancements," IT managers are not likely to migrate from an older Exchange platform just to take advantage of them, according to Christopher Voce, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

While the Exchange platforms in the past didn't have a lot of technology to help with disaster recovery and high availability, which is the availability of a computer's system resources if different components fail, Voce said, Exchange Server 2007 has begun adding capabilities that help with both issues.

In the past, third-party software vendors provided technology for disaster recovery and high availability for older Exchange platform customers. But with Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft is giving customers relatively inexpensive replication technologies so they have better insulation against disasters, Voce said.

This technology is also an alternative to more expensive and complex storage area network, or SAN, technology that connects remote storage hardware to the operating system so it seems it is locally connected.

At least one IT manager expressed interest in the new backup capabilities.

"It's going to help us back up what we have locally and then replicate it offsite," said Shannon Fitzpatrick, vice president of distributed systems for Community Bancshares of Mississippi Inc., a Jackson, Miss.-based common holding company for a group of separately chartered community banks "If we have a disaster, all I'll have to do is go to the new site and turn it on, and we'll have our entire Exchange Server ready to go."

This service pack also includes more features for the Outlook Web Access (OWA) client, which many mobile workers use to connect remotely via a Web browser to get their email, including calendars, contacts and tasks. Among the improvements are being able to see a month of a calendar instead of just a day and the ability to create and edit personal distribution lists, which wasn't available before this.

These new OWA features in the service pack will benefit mobile workers who are frustrated with the calendar limitations and the inability to make distribution lists for email from the road.

Exchange Server 2007 SP1 will also provide confirmation that data on a lost or stolen phone or PDA has been wiped clean, another feature that benefits IT, Fitzpatrick said. The server will confirm that an IT manager has sent a wipe to the device, he said, but there isn't confirmation that it has been received and completed the data wipe. Although his company has only had to deal with one portable device that was stolen, it would have been very useful to know that the data had definitely been removed, he said.

There are a number of other added features including support for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista; added integration with other applications, such as the Office Communications Server 2007 and Forefront Security Server SP1; security features, such as more secure email access and more support for encrypted emails, an improved GUI and an Office 2007 document converter.

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