With the Microsoft Ignite conference over, IT admins have had time to evaluate the future of Exchange, and the early feedback is encouraging.
Scheduled for release later this year, Microsoft discussed Exchange Server 2016's features and capabilities, many of which were already introduced in Office 365. We asked two experts which Exchange 2016 features they were most interested in.
A move back to a single role
Microsoft aimed for a simplified architecture in Exchange 2016 and combined the mailbox and Client Access Server (CAS) roles. Admins can use this combined role as a building block to deploy Exchange in the data center, said Karim Batthish, group program manager at Microsoft, during the Exchange 2016 introduction session.
"Combining those roles makes designs more straightforward and simple," said Dave Stork, an Exchange MVP and architect for OGD ICT Diensten in the Netherlands.
Prior to this, Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 had three mandatory roles while Exchange 2013 had two, Stork added. Since Exchange 2010, Microsoft recommended deploying those roles on one server, which led to many bad designs that separated these roles without good reason, he said.
Roles have been a point of contention since at least the launch of Exchange 2010, said John Cook, a senior architect for Intellisystems, Inc. in Chicago. Customers insisted on separate roles such as CAS, even when the product team's preferred architecture was multiple roles, he said.
"I am glad organizations that are still on-premises now have no choice but to use multi-role with [Exchange] 2016," Cook said. "They will be better off for it down the line."
Modern Attachments in OWA 2016
Even though other versions of Exchange have a Web-based preview of Office documents, this new attachment style should make it easier to collaborate on documents, said Kip Fern, a senior program manager lead at Microsoft during the Exchange 2016 introduction session.
Organizations have two options to collaborate on attached documents: one fully on-premises option with document storage on SharePoint 2016 and one hybrid option with SharePoint documents stored in the cloud. When recipients receive a message with a SharePoint link, they'll edit a single version on SharePoint and won't have to merge multiple documents.
The upside is that it's possible to edit attachments within Outlook Web App (OWA) when replying to a specific message, Stork said.
"No more [downloading] docs, editing them locally and then uploading them again in a reply [email]," he said.
Improvements to existing Exchange features
Microsoft improved many of the features and capabilities that appear in Exchange 2016, Stork said, pointing to a faster database availability group failover time, which dropped from about 30 seconds to about 18 seconds. Exchange 2016 also features 22% lower input/output operations per second from Exchange 2013. These improvements are "a further evolution of the Exchange product," he said.
Office Web App Server for Outlook Web Access
The ability to use OWA Server is a good thing, even though the concept can be confusing and "will be sure to be made worse by having 'OWAOWA' now a thing," Cook said. He works more with Lync, now known as Skype for Business, than with Exchange, and this server has been a core part of his Lync deployments for a while.
This role is still a pain point in Lync/Skype for Business because it's difficult to communicate to management why the role is necessary and what it does, he said.
"Now that Exchange  must use it, it will finally be acknowledged as a shared service for Lync, SharePoint and Exchange," he said.
Toni Boger is an associate site editor at TechTarget. She can be reached at [email protected].
Admins get a sneak peek of Exchange 2016
Exchange expert predictions for Microsoft Ignite