Earlier today, the Microsoft PR machine started the public build up to the release of a new version of Microsoft’s messaging product – Microsoft Exchange 2010 (formerly known as Exchange 14). Exchange 2010 is the first Microsoft product built both as a software product (Exchange Server) and as a service offering (Microsoft Exchange Online) – allowing for hybrid on-premise and cloud-based software plus services.
Microsoft’s marketing of this product is broken into three areas and I’ll stick with these as I highlight some of the new features and improvements in Exchange 2010:
- Protection and compliance.
- Anywhere access.
- Flexibility and reliability.
Protection and compliance
Exchange Server 2007 brought new protection and compliance features including Exchange Hosted Services for virus and spam protection, message journalling, managed folders and mobile device security through Outlook Web Access (OWA). Exchange 2010 takes a step forward with new e-mail archiving capabilities, more powerful retention policies, automated rights management and a multi-mailbox search user interface.
Looking specifically at e-mail archival, Exchange 2010 allows current and historical mailbox data to be managed along with personal folders (.PSTs). PSTs can be dragged and dropped into the archive, retention policies can be applied (at both folder and item level – by an individual at the desktop or managed centrally using transport rules) and folders can be set to archive automatically. No longer do personal archives need to be spread around the enterprise on file shares, local hard disks or using third party archival products – personal archives are stored on the server whilst compliance and backup issues are addressed but users don’t need to learn about a new product.
There’s also a new legal hold feature which effectively marks existing mailbox data as read only but still allows a user to access their mailbox with any attempted modifications audited. Meanwhile, the role-based access control functionality in Exchange 2010 allows the creation of a compliance officer role with delegated access to a multi-mailbox search user interface, allowing human resources (HR) and legal access to data for e-discovery purposes, without IT administrator involvement – all within a familiar Outlook and OWA user interface.
In an increasingly connected society, organisations are looking to protect their intellectual property but the problem with many rights management solutions (including Windows Rights Management Services with Outlook 2007) is that they rely on users to mark information accordingly. Exchange 2010 includes automatic content-based protection with transport rules so that the hub transport server can apply RMS policies to e-mail and voicemail based on attributes, including scanning and indexing attachments. As well as the existing “do not forward” template there is a new “Internet confidential” template, to encrypt e-mail over the wire but still allow local saving and printing when it reaches the recipient.
Accidental leaks (for example, sending e-mail to the wrong person because Outlook’s nickname cache has identified the wrong recipient) can be mitigated with a new feature in Exchange 2010 known as MailTips, which will warn that e-mail is about to be sent to an external recipient.
Security remains important to the Exchange Server infrastructure and Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server offers multiple anti-virus scan engines as well as tight integration with the hub transport, mailbox and client access server roles. In addition there is the option of a hosted filtering service in the cloud via Forefront Online Security for Exchange.
Exchange Server 2007 improved access from multiple devices (PC, web and phone) with a single Inbox for e-mail and voicemail, as well as an improved calendar experience. Exchange 2010 is intended to provide simplified Inbox navigation, enhanced voicemail with text preview and the ability to share calendar information across organisational boundaries.
Most users feel overloaded with e-mail and Exchange 2010’s conversation view is intended to consolidate individual e-mail items into conversations, regardless of the folders that messages were in (similar to the approach that Google takes in GMail). Filtering based on attributes without resorting e-mail allows for easier management – moving entire conversation threads, or even marking them to ignore the conversation going forward (e.g. in a mail storm caused by over-use of the Reply All feature).
MailTips can also be used to reducing unnecessary and undeliverable e-mail, flagging that a user does not have permission to send to a particular group, warning that they are sending information to a large distribution, that a recipient is out of the office, or that a contact group is moderated and message delivery may be delayed.
Building on the universal Inbox in Exchange Server 2007, Exchange 2010’s unified messaging functionality includes text transcription for voicemail – providing a preview in the message body. In addition, Outlook and OWA will also allow context-sensitive actions to be taken from the voicemail preview for faster e-mail triage – e.g. a phone number becomes an actionable link (right-click to call), where there is integration with other unified communications products.
In Exchange 2010, individual users can creating customised voicemail menus using a personalised auto-attendant to route calls accordingly and ensure that messages never go unanswered (just as we can manage e-mail with inbox rules).
From a client support perspective, Exchange 2010 is intended to support users running on a variety of devices whether they are desktop, web and mobile:
- On the desktop, Outlook (2003 or later) and Entourage continue to be supported for Windows and Mac users respectively.
- For the web, in Exchange 2010, OWA now offers full support for the major non-Microsoft browsers (Firefox and Safari).
- Meanwhile, Exchange ActiveSync is becoming a de facto standard for mobile e-mail access with support from a broad number of partners, including Windows Mobile, Nokia, and even the Apple iPhone.
Windows Mobile (6.5) users gain additional functionality from Exchange 2010 with auto-completion of e-mail addresses, using a server-side cache, along with conversation view and voicemail preview.
Not only does the universal inbox in Exchange 2010 include e-mail, voicemail and SMS text messages but now it integrates with OCS to display presence information and allow the initiation of instant message conversations from within OWA.
Exchange 2010 also allows calendars to be shared with individuals outside the organisation, which is often critical to working with partners. Access is controlled by policy, managed centrally or defined by individual users through Outlook or OWA.
Flexibility and reliability
Exchange Server 2007 brought: improved installation and deployment with new Exchange Server roles; high availability improvements with various forms of continuous replication; and management improvements with a simplified management console and new PowerShell support for task automation. Exchange 2010 builds on this to allow organisations to use both on-premise and hosted services, with a single high availability and disaster recovery platform, together with role-based administration and end-user self service functionality.
In what will be a massive shift of for many organisations, Microsoft is encouraging Exchange 2010 customers to store mailbox data on inexpensive local disks and to replicate databases between servers rather than using SAN-based replication. The idea is that on-site (CCR) and off-site (SCR) replication technologies are combined into a single database availability group (DAG) framework, handling all clustering activities internally so there is no need to manage failover clustering separately with Windows Server. Up to 16 copies of each database may be provided and Exchange will switch between database copies automatically as required to maintain availability. In addition, clustered mailbox servers can also host other Exchange Server roles (client access or hub transport) so that full redundancy of Exchange services and data is available with two servers.
The advantage of this approach is simplified recoverability from a variety of failures – at disk, server, or datacentre level. It also allows for the limiting of end user disruption during mailbox moves and routine maintenance (important with larger mailboxes and longer move times) – users can remain online and connected whilst their mailbox is being moved.
Administration is simplified with the ability to delegate specific tasks to specific users based on a role-based access control system – for example compliance officer (for e-discovery), telephony specialist, human resources (e.g. update contact details), or service desk. This delegation also extends to end users and common tasks relating to distribution group management, message tracking and changes to contact information can be delegated to users through the new Exchange Control Panel (ECP) in Outlook and OWA, reducing support costs.
Storage options are also enhanced in Exchange 2010 as, whilst Exchange Server 2003 only supported SAN-based clusters for high availability and Exchange Server 2007 added direct attached (SAS) storage for clusters, Exchange 2010 includes support for direct attached (SATA) and JBOD (RAID-less) storage. Microsoft says this is possible due to a 70% reduction in input-output operations per second (IOPS) compared with Exchange Server 2007 (which itself was 70% down on 2003), meaning that more disks now reach the minimum performance requirements for Exchange Server. Because IO patterns are optimised to reduce bursts of disk writes and Exchange Server 2010 is more resilient to minor faults (it can automatically repair corrupted database pages using one of the database copies stored for HA purposes) desktop-class disks can be used. In addition, when at least 3 replicated database are in use, RAID can also be dispensed with (although I canâ€™t see many organisations taking up this option as RAID is a standard server feature offering minimal server downtime and is not exactly expensive either).
According to Microsoft, Gartner has reported that 20% of all e-mail mailboxes will move to the cloud by 2012. In reality, there will be a mix between on-site and cloud-based services and Exchange 2010 is designed to allow on-premise, hosted, or hybrid deployment scenarios.
Conclusions and roadmap
For me, it seems that Exchange 2010 is not a major upgrade – just as 2003 was an incremental change built on 2000, 2010 builds on 2007 but, nevertheless, the improvements are significant. In a few weeks time it seems that the “dogfood” Exchange Server 2007 system I use for work will be switched off and I will revert to a corporate solution based on Exchange Server 2003. If I had just a few of the features in Exchange 2010, then my day would be more productive and the e-mail overload with which I and many colleagues struggle can be addressed (Microsoft claims that 25% of an information worker’s day is spent processing e-mail – and that would seem to match my personal experience). Exchange Server is now about far more than just e-mail – it’s the messaging infrastructure at the heart of many enterprises’ collaborative efforts and Exchange 2010 is shaping up to be a major step forward for end-user productivity.
So, when can we get this? Well, Exchange 2010 was announced earlier today (although the Exchange Server team leaked its own secret last night). The final release of Exchange Server 2010 is expected in the second half of 2009 (and it will only run on 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2008 and later) and Exchange Online Services will move to Exchange 2010 in due course. In the meantime, the beta is available for download now.