Microsoft Exchange Server 12 to retain existing Data Store

March 14, 2005

Last month we featured an article on the benefits of Microsoft Exchange Server and Hosted/Managed Exchange Services, focused primarily around Exchange 2003, the current version of Exchange Server, released in late 2003. However, much was expected to change with the next version of Exchange - there has been speculation that the next version of Exchange, due in 2006, known internally as Exchange 12 (E12), would depart radically from Exchange 2003.

Fortunately, in January this year (2005), Microsoft announced that they would be retaining the existing Jet database engine for E12. This is a significant announcement, because there had been plans to change the data store, possibly merging it with SQL Server 2005, or using the much touted Windows Future Storage (WinFS). In 2003 Microsoft announced plans to ship a version of Exchange Server, code-named Kodiak, which featured a new "universal data store" that would support collaborative applications built using Exchange technologies like public folders and forms. This may have created porting issues for those millions of users and developers who have made significant investments in applications based on the existing Outlook Object Model and Public Folders store. With this latest announcement, Microsoft seemed to have allayed those fears. Instead of any dramatic changes to the product, Microsoft will just continue to build on the many improvements made to Exchange 2003.

For end users, Microsoft will develop E12 in tandem with the next version of Microsoft Office Outlook, code-named Outlook 12, and an upcoming version of the Windows Mobile platform, which powers Pocket PC and smart phone devices. The fact that Exchange and Office have the same version number, namely 12, indicates that they will have significantly improved integration. These products are planned to be released simultaneously in 2006, providing a much better experience with each product.

Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA), which was significantly improved in Exchange 2003, will also be broadly updated. Enhancements to Outlook Web Access will include the ability to access other servers, such as SharePoint, when coming into Exchange through a firewall. E12 will add unified messaging capabilities, consolidating new messaging types, namely fax, Voice over IP (VOIP), and voicemail into Exchange.

With Exchange 12, Microsoft has positioned the messaging server as a component in a complete set of servers, clients and services that Microsoft is piecing together for collaboration including e-mail, online workspaces, real-time communication and document management. According to David Thompson, corporate vice president in charge of the Exchange Server Group, Exchange is the "integrated communications backbone", which is a clear indication of Exchange's standing.

"Exchange is not self-contained. We made a conscious decision to change strategy there," says Thompson. "We are aligning the development of Exchange 12 with our broader collaboration vision." Thompson says this includes such technologies as Office, Windows Server, SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services, Outlook, Live Communications Server and mobile devices.

He also said "With E12, we're making major investments in IT professionals, security, and information workers. Email is mission critical, and we want to manage the cost and complexity out of the system, provide a secure environment in which administrators can protect corporate assets and comply with regulations and policy, and enable end users to get more from email both at work and away from the office."

Before E12 ships next year, Microsoft will ship various mobility and antispam enhancements and an improved management interface for public folders in Exchange 2003 SP2. Again this signifies continued support for Public Folders, not a move away from this storage mechanism. In addition, Exchange customers are advised to check out the many post-release to manufacturing (RTM) Exchange 2003 Web release tools that Microsoft has shipped, including the excellent Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer. Functionality from that product will be rolled into E12.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Microsoft plans to release Web services APIs for access to Exchange objects and data, which will enable a huge range of customizations and applications that are currently difficult to develop.

In Exchange 12, Microsoft is also improving management with new scripting and user interface upgrades, improving the search feature, and adding Web services APIs and 64-bit support. Also new will be continuous backup, which is a new replication feature that copies data from an active-mode server to a passive-mode server.

All of this is good news for users and developers alike, who can continue to invest in Exchange without the fear that Microsoft will make a radical change to the product direction, at least for the next few years.

Please refer to the following articles for additional information and different perspectives on the announcement:

WindowsITPro, January 27, 2005: The Exchange Roadmap

WindowsITPro, January 19, 2005: Microsoft Plots the Next Exchange Server Version

ARnet, January 21, 2005: Microsoft revives Exchange Roadmap