Most Microsoft customers are still migrating slowly to a popular version of Windows released two years ago, but Microsoft is about to kick-start a campaign to convince customers that they need to upgrade to .NET-era server software platforms.
Exchange 2000 and the next version of Exchange, code-named Titanium, will have central roles at the Microsoft Enterprise Conference (MEC) next week in Anaheim, Calif., but the event will cover more than just the Exchange Server. Microsoft executives will expand on what Microsoft has already said about including better integration with mobile clients and with Outlook e-mail.
At MEC, Microsoft will play up the theme of reduced total cost of ownership on Exchange. Part of that story involves touting Titanium's volume shadow copy feature, which is a disk mirroring capability that increases the reliability of backup and restore operations.
The feature, which is also part of the .NET platform, lets customers have a second copy of their Exchange database on a separate physical hard disk in case their first disk fails. The feature cuts the time it takes for IT managers to do nightly backups, said Jim Bernardo, product manager for Exchange.
One new feature is MAPI over HTTP, which reduces the number of bytes of data that traverse a network, thereby giving networks a boost in performance. This feature lets a user in a remote office gain access to a corporate Exchange server using a MAPI connection. "It's not necessary for a user to use a VPN," Bernardo said.
MAPI, which makes remote procedure calls for conversation between Outlook and Exchange, runs inside of HTTP securely, encrypted by S/MIME (Secure Multi-Purpose E-mail Extensions). Bernardo estimates that the MAPI feature can compress data by 50%.
Titanium will have a feature called cookie authentication, which deletes cookies if the user logs off, or "times out" the cookie if the user walks away.
Titanium will be based on the same code as Exchange 2000 -- not .NET code. That's one reason why experts tout this version of Exchange as a "minor" release. Kodiak is the future release of Exchange that will be based on the .NET code base, according to Microsoft.
The company is also expected to discuss the next release of its SharePoint services and its real-time communication server, code-named Greenwich, and will reveal more specific release information about Yukon, the data storage technology that underlies the next release of the SQL Server database and Kodiak, said some sources.
Analysts said the combination of Greenwich, Office 11 and Titanium, all due to ship in 2003, will give customers some interesting capabilities, but the real collaboration won't come until Kodiak is released, in either 2004 or 2005.
"People have been waiting five years for the collaboration story on Exchange," said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston. "If you can use Office 11, the new benefits of mobile and Outlook Web access, and the [Session Initiation Protocol] support in Greenwich, you are getting the key ingredients to do contextual collaboration," Gardner said.
Meanwhile, down on Earth, most Microsoft enterprise customers are still grappling with the job of upgrading from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000, moving off NT and up to Windows 2000, and migrating to Active Directory. Some don't expect to consider .NET Server 2003 or Titanium for several years.
"We are just starting down the path to Exchange 2000, so anything else will be four years out," said Paul Edwards, a Windows administrator at Cendant Corp., a New York-based, multinational travel, real estate and hotel company, which owns such diverse properties as Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Days Inn.
Casey Family Program, a social services agency with about 30 offices nationwide, is also midway through a migration to Windows 2000. "We are content with what Windows 2000 is doing for us," said Tim Koeppe, the company's messaging administrator.
It's well understood that the tight economy has drastically impacted IT spending. Corporate customers are only funding critical projects, said Chris Williams, a consulting analyst at Ferris Research in San Francisco and director of messaging and security applications at NetIQ Corp. "No company is changing its plans because of the release of Titanium or of .NET Server," Williams said.
IT administrators also said that their shops, which used to drive technology, no longer have the same influence in their organizations as they had just a few years ago.