Exchange Server 2007 Beta 2 Review

Paul Thurrott reviews Exchange Server 2007 Beta 2…

Developed in tandem with Office 2007/Outlook 2007 and a future version of Windows Mobile, Exchange Server 2007 will be the biggest upgrade to Microsoft’s email and messaging server yet. At a basic level, Exchange has been rearchitected to be more componentized, like Longhorn Server and Windows Vista, and Exchange 2007 deployments will be roles-based as a result, and more secure thanks to role interdependency minimization. It will manage PBX voice mail, VoIP phone calls, and fax messages in addition to email. It will include pervasive security features and technologies, and integrate with a new line of ForeFront security products. It will feature a brand new management interface in which the graphical tools are built on top of a Monad-derived command line environment, like a UNIX server. And it will require 64-bit x64-based server hardware, a break with the 32-bit past that has riled some Exchange customers. Nope, this isn’t your father’s Exchange. And I like what I see, very much so.

How we got here

The march to Exchange 2007–previously known by the code name Exchange 12, or Exchange 2007–was somewhat complex. You might recall that Microsoft originally intended to replace Exchange 2003 (the current Exchange version) with a product that was originally codenamed Kodiak and was based on the SQL Server database engine. In 2004, Microsoft dumped Kodiak when it discovered that the next generation Exchange store that was based on SQL Server just wasn’t work. David Thompson, the Microsoft corporate vice president in charge of Exchange, told me that the SQL Server data engine simply wasn’t tuned for the types of tasks required by Exchange. So Exchange 2007, like previous Exchange versions, will rely on an enhanced version of the Jet database engine codenamed Jet Blue, thank you very much.

That step back from the original vision of a unified data store notwithstanding, Exchange 2007 will benefit from a variety of updates that have occurred since Exchange 2003. The most important, perhaps, is Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which added Direct Push technologies for automated email, appointment, contacts, and task delivery to devices, better compression for faster client/server synchronization, and, perhaps most important, a dramatic increase in the size of the storage limit in Exchange Standard Edition from 16 GB to 75 GB.

As for Exchange 2007, the software make shipped the first beta version in December 2005, and then followed that up by a Community Technical Preview (CTP) release in March 2006 and the Beta 2 release we’re examining here in July 2006. Exchange 2007 Beta 2 is virtually feature-complete, Microsoft tells me, and it builds on the wellspring of new features that the company added over the previous two major prerelease milestones.

So, what’s new in Exchange 2007? Lots, and since this is just Beta 2, I won’t be getting to all of these features until the final release. Exchange 2007 supports rights management technologies to ensure that communications are secure both inside and outside of your environment. Improved anti-spam and antivirus are built-in. It offers better support for mobile devices than ever before, with improved policy support and manageability. Unified messaging capabilities will let Exchange function as a universal inbox for email, voice mail, and fax. And integrated speech recognition capabilities–with no Speech Server purchase requirement–mean that users will be able to interact with email and appointments via phone, perfect for those “running late” scenarios. New searching capabilities run deeply through Exchange 2007, as you’d expect given the information overload we experience with email today. On and on it goes.

As I noted above, this is just Beta 2, so let’s discuss some of the features I’ve been able to examine so far.

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