Will Exchange 12 be par for the Redmond course?

Von Oliver Rist

Why is it that geeks don"t much golf? I seem to be largely alone amongst my geek colleagues in my unexplained need to spend five or six hours a weekend beating the tar out of a little white ball. Nevertheless, golf has its own life lessons, not the least of which is that life simply won"t conform to expectations. One week you"re swinging smoothly and shooting an 87; the next week, it"s 102 and you"re looking to bury your loft wedge in the forehead of a giggling cart buddy.

Birdies and bogeys. Ups and downs. A fact of life, especially for those of us bound not only to the links but also to Redmond. Each new iteration of a popular platform brings the expectation that all our problems will be solved, but instead, Microsoft usually solves only some of our problems while releasing features aimed at problems we didn"t even know we had.

Exchange 12 is this week"s object lesson.

Microsoft has been leaking quite a bit of the feature particulars around the new Exchange, some good and some disappointing. On the upside, we find that log shipping will be supported. For SQL administrators, this is a familiar term, but not so for Exchange administrators. Log shipping is the capability to drop log and database transaction files from a primary server onto a standby server. SQL has long supported this, but for Exchange, it"s been a long time coming.

Additionally, Microsoft has promised a slew of new administrator-oriented utility-style features in Exchange 12. For one, you"ll find an auto-discovery service designed to go out, find Exchange clients and configure them with centrally managed policy templates. There"ll be a new script-capable command line interface as well, though Exchange has always been one platform where I"ve managed to stay graphical. Moreover, it looks like primary message store limits are going from 16GB to 75GB. It"s about time.

And, of course, Microsoft is making big promises on Exchange 12"s ability to connect to a VOIP-capable PBX. This kind of integration makes possible voicemail and faxes inside users" Outlook clients, as well as phones that give full access to Exchange accounts. Sure, you can do most of this today, but Microsoft is happily proposing making it all part of Exchange"s core feature set.

That may kill a bunch of smaller VOIP PBX companies, but for those that stay on the ball, there are still plenty of ways to trump VOIP Exchange or even to use it as a platform for further innovation. Interactive voice recognition (IVR) systems and the integration of the IVR into CRM applications is one good example. Smart call tracking, employee tracking and forwarding technology are a few others.

All this paints a pretty rosy picture for Exchange 12. But there are disappointments. For one, there"s a rumor going round that public folders will be phased out in Exchange 12, with Microsoft pushing you toward SharePoint. Naturally, Exchange will be able to communicate with SharePoint on this level, but it does mean two administration points instead of one.

A more serious disappointment is the clustering question. Microsoft has always discouraged the practice of active-to-active Exchange clustering, preferring instead an active Exchange server talking to a passive standby server in the background. But you were welcome to try active-to-active if you had the technical know-how and some patience. Apparently, a few too many of you went this route, so Microsoft may be taking the option out of Exchange 12 altogether. Again, this is just a rumor so far, and Microsoft"s release schedule for Exchange 12 is so far out that the powers-that-be could change their minds about all of this. Nonetheless, it"s a disturbing development.

Then again, maybe those companies forced out of business by Redmond integrating VOIP with Exchange 12 can instead come up with a third-party mechanism to do active-to-active server clustering. Or they could just bury their loft wedges into their cubemates" foreheads. Birdies and bogeys.