First Look at Exchange 12
In much of corporate America, e-mail is now the most important means of communication. But each corporate citizen views e-mail differently. Workers want access to corporate e-mail at home and on the go. Managers are concerned about uptime, security, and lost productivity from junk e-mail and viruses. The IT staff has to accommodate new and emerging requirements for document and e-mail retention, deletion, journaling, and other policies as required by regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and Sarbanes-Oxley. The challenge, then, is delivering the messaging capabilities administrators and end users want while helping IT reduce cost and complexity.
Three key areas when considering your messaging infrastructure are administration, end user experience, and security. Administrators care deeply about system reliability and flexibility in how that system is deployed and managed. End users want an easy-to-use messaging environment at work but also want the tools and information they use at work to be available from anywhere, at any time. Security and messaging protection involve numerous concerns spread across many aspects of the organization, from the board room to the messaging administrator to the information worker. Viruses, spam, regulatory compliance, internal corporate policies, and general confidentiality are all areas that must be considered as the messaging infrastructure is evaluated.
The next major release of Microsoft® Exchange Server, code-named "Exchange 12," is designed to address these issues, with built-in capabilities that allow administrators to deliver a secure, compliant, and reliable way for users to get access to their corporate messaging, anytime and anywhere. We’ll look at each of these areas—administrative control, end user access, and messaging protection—and explore how Exchange 12 will address each of them. Note that like all unreleased software, any and all features described here may change in the final product.
Messaging administrators deal with many complex requirements and expectations. E-mail is mission critical, but most e-mail systems are too complex and expensive. Resources—time, employee hours, and budgets—are limited. And as more and more of a company’s business is managed in e-mail, the messaging administrator must strategize to better manage those assets.
Everyone expects 24/7 availability, but setting up and managing a high-availability environment can be difficult and costly, often requiring special hardware or software and unique expertise. Management tasks can be tedious and are often not automated. Whether dealing with an employee in the field or the CEO making a request for a new feature in the messaging infrastructure, the messaging administrator’s goal is to make wise choices that meet their needs while controlling cost and complexity. This can be particularly hard if multiple messaging clients are used in an organization’s information infrastructure.
To simplify deployment and management, Exchange 12 offers new server role-based setup, a new console interface, a scriptable command-line interface, and automatic client configuration.
Flexible Server Roles
The next release of Exchange is being designed as a distributed system of five server roles (see Figure 1). These roles—Mailbox, Hub Transport, Edge Transport, Client Access, and Unified Messaging—allow Exchange 12 systems to be installed with exactly the components organizations need, aiding performance and reducing the surface area for attacks. Server roles are deployed within the corporate network, with Active Directory® access, and can also be deployed on a single server if needed. The only exception to this is Edge Transport, which is deployed in the perimeter network with no Active Directory access.
Figure 1 Server Roles in Exchange 12
The Mailbox Server Role provides the mailbox database services for Personal Information Management (PIM) storage, store-based message policy, calendaring, and public folders. Content indexing for search functionality is also performed by the server.
The Hub Transport Server Role acts as a bridgehead, routing messages between Exchange servers within an environment, as well as providing messaging policy and secure messaging functionality.
The Edge Transport Server Role acts as a gateway to encrypt and decrypt messages and clean the inbound and outbound message stream of spam, viruses, and sensitive attachments.
The Client Access Server Role is known as the "Front End" in Exchange Server 2003 environments. Client Access Services enables the Web browser experience, the mobile phone experience, the Web services API, POP, IMAP, and the Microsoft Outlook® Anywhere capability (formerly known as RPC over HTTP).
The Unified Messaging Server Role enables an integrated inbox of e-mail, voicemail, and fax. It also enables access to e-mail, calendar, and contact data from any phone using either speech recognition or touch-tone commands.
Console and Command-Line Interfaces
Once the system is up and running, your staff can choose to monitor Exchange servers from a Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) console, and use the new Exchange System Manager (ESM) console to fix problems quickly (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 Exchange System Manager
In Exchange Server 2003, the ESM is easy to use, but limited. Administrators frequently need to change just one object among many, or automate operations such as mail-enabling users or resetting quotas. Today this can be tedious, and may even require writing custom code. With Exchange 12, you can manage the environment from the new ESM graphical console or from the Exchange Management Shell—a command-line interface with comprehensive scripting support that lets you automate and batch operations.
Automatic Client Configuration
Today, configuring the Outlook desktop or mobile clients prior to first use is complicated, requiring users to enter confusing technical information. Exchange 12 includes a new automatic discovery and configuration feature that Outlook 12 and next generation mobile devices will use to configure themselves completely, including all appropriate corporate policies. End users will not be required to enter Exchange server names or other technical information. This capability will spare the IT staff from having to create complicated deployment or configuration scripts that help users set up Outlook to connect to Exchange. Additionally, mailbox moves will not require manual reconfiguration of clients, and if a disaster occurs, clients will automatically connect to moved or failed-over mailboxes on different Exchange servers with no manual editing of Outlook or device connection settings required.
Users already rely on their mailboxes as repositories for every work message they’ve ever received and even for actual deliverables. As mailbox sizes have grown to accommodate user needs, the costs associated with backup, restore, and migration have skyrocketed. Users need larger mailboxes to handle this workload, but IT is hesitant to supply more space because of the time and cost associated with managing a large mailbox. As a native 64-bit application (compatible with x64 servers), Exchange 12 lets an organization keep all of its users’ mail and calendar data on the server where it can be reliably secured, backed up, and made available on a range of devices. The 64-bit performance allows Exchange to address more memory, it increases cache sizes, and it helps reduce disk I/O operations. As a result, Exchange 12 makes more efficient use of each spindle (physical disk drive) in existing Storage Area Network (SAN) systems while also enabling inexpensive high-capacity disk drives to be used.
To address the high cost of backup associated with most messaging systems, Exchange 12 introduces continuous replication features that use log file shipping to keep a "rolling backup" of a mailbox database either on a local disk set or on a disk set attached to a second, clustered server. In the event of a disaster, a replica can be brought online and attached to any Exchange 12 server in the network. These capabilities will allow many organizations to move from expensive nightly tape backup procedures to less-frequent tape or archival backups.
Users aren’t just worried about e-mail, of course; they have to deal with e-mail, faxes, voicemail, and documents—all of which have to be checked constantly. But most users don’t have the level of access they need away from the office. Exchange 12 will provide a new unified messaging (UM) solution that will enable end users to receive e-mail messages, faxes, and voicemails in one Inbox (see Figure 3). Because in some cases the telephone may be available when other clients are not, UM will support PIM access over the phone. Users will be able to access their Inbox from any touch-tone phone using either touch-tone commands or speech recognition. And via text-to-speech translation, users can listen to their main Inbox items (including e-mail, calendar, tasks, and contacts) read back to them. Users can also interact with messages (reply, forward, and so on) and call other users when appropriate. Corporate directory access will also be supported.
Figure 3 Exchange System Manager
Exchange 12 will provide the familiar Outlook experience on Windows Mobile® devices and other handhelds, and also via the Web using Outlook Web Access (OWA) and a Web browser. With Exchange 12, this type of anywhere access is easy to provision and manage and doesn’t require third-party middleware servers or an expensive recurring network operations service charge.
Whether collaborating with other individuals or other teams, users need to be able to easily review and share documents, schedule meetings and let others know where they are. Exchange 12 will enable remote access to SharePoint® documents from OWA and mobile devices, making it easy to share and collaborate on documents from anywhere. And in both Exchange 12 and Outlook 12, the out-of-office message infrastructure is being improved. For example, users will be able to send different out-of-office messages internally and externally.
Many people spend considerable amounts of money and time customizing OWA and trying to achieve Outlook interoperability for standalone line-of-business and portal applications. There is no single good application access method for Exchange that can be run remotely or from managed code. Developers must choose from several APIs and it is hard to tell which API is best for which use.
Exchange 12 will provide a single, well-documented Web service API to achieve Outlook interoperability for all clients on all platforms. This means you’ll be able to access the same well-tested, managed code that Exchange uses internally from any server, on any platform, using whatever programming language suits your organization best. This also allows custom application code to run under its own processes and be maintained and scaled independently. As an added benefit, OWA customizations will not be written over when new service packs are deployed.
Those of you building SharePoint-based sites will also be able to use OWA Web parts to provide the latest OWA functionality from within Web portal systems, giving portal site users a familiar experience as they access e-mail, contacts, calendar info, and tasks.
Active Messaging Protection
Since protecting your organization from the threats posed by e-mail viruses and spam is a top priority, Exchange 12 includes built-in features to help protect your systems and users against the latest threats. Spam consumes valuable IT resources, disrupts e-mail communication, and saps worker productivity. The anti-spam technologies in Exchange 12 use a multi-prong approach: connection, sender, recipient, and content info are all filtered with SmartScreen® technology, which is updated automatically. With new spam identification methods and easier management of servers that block and filter spam, IT administrators will be able to optimize their resources and reduce the cost associated with fighting spam, spoofing, and phishing.
Exchange 12 will also enable antivirus solutions to be integrated much more deeply into the Exchange infrastructure, and will provide greater access to MIME, TNEF, and iCalendar/vCard parsing and composing. Exchange will also stamp e-mail with information on when it was scanned for viruses, what engine did the scanning, and what signature update was used. This will allow for more selective scanning of stored e-mail in the event of a virus outbreak. Exchange will also provide a central antivirus quarantine, enabling suspicious mail to be held and rescanned once antivirus signatures have been updated. Filters for inbound/outbound traffic (including attachment filters), and filters for scanning e-mail sent between mailboxes (even if they’re on the same server) are provided.
Exchange 12 will also help ensure messages are secure both internally and in-transit, using built-in trusted e-mail flow and automatic encryption capabilities. Enterprise-wide, governmental, and legal compliancy requirements can also be enforced through a sophisticated policy engine and using journaling functionality.
Architectural changes to Exchange 12 will help software vendors expand their offerings. For example, management vendors can take advantage of the scriptable interfaces to incorporate more management operations and tasks into their tools. Compliance consultants and system integrators will be able to provide policy (rule) sets and extensions to tailor Exchange 12 for specific regulations. And third-party antivirus and anti-spam vendors will be able to plug their filters directly into Exchange 12 transport.
With a focus on Web services in Exchange 12, independent software vendors (ISVs) will get guaranteed Outlook interoperability. And the Web services can be consumed from managed code, over the Internet, by various devices with cross-platform support, adding to the flexibility ISVs have in extending Exchange 12. Exchange Server ActiveSync protocol licensing will continue and should be supported by many popular mobile devices when Exchange 12 is released.
You will see improved reliability from the add-ons and extensions for Exchange 12 since the application code can easily be run on a separate system where it can be maintained and scaled independently and where a fault or error is less likely to affect the availability of the server.
This gives just a taste of what’s coming in Exchange 12, which will be released later in 2006 or early 2007. Given the breadth of new capabilities around enterprise reliability, anywhere access for end users, and built-in messaging protection, Exchange 12 will be a significant advancement in allowing IT departments to deliver a premier messaging solution.
Prerelease info in this article is subject to change.
Laura Euler runs the universe from an underground fortress in an undisclosed location. Contact her at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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