Microsoft Exchange set; SharePoint, OCS to follow
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Microsoft has shipped the final release of Exchange 2010, ushering in not so much the latest version of its messaging server but the first updated piece of its unified communications and collaboration platform.
The release was no surprise, given the fact that last month Microsoft released the software to manufacturing — the so-called RTM — and said it would ship it on Monday as part of the agenda at its annual TechEd Europe conference, in Berlin.
Next year, Microsoft will update SharePoint Server and Office Communications Server (OCS) to the 2010 moniker. The server duo along with Exchange forms a foundation for Microsoft's unified communication platform. SharePoint 2010 and OCS 2010 are expected to ship in May or June of next year, although Microsoft has not released an official ship date.
The Exchange, OCS, SharePoint trio of servers also forms the core of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite, a set of hosted services, including LiveMeeting, that can be used separately or together.
One user, Subaru Canada, runs a laundry list of Microsoft products — including Exchange 2010, OCS, SharePoint and Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager — for ease of integration.
George Hamin, director of e-business and information systems for Subaru Canada, says he's tried in the past to integrate third-party products.
"Our previous phone system had it but their concept of unified messaging was unified to the Outlook client and not to the Exchange server. So voice mail did not come through to your cell phone, voice mail was not available on the Outlook Web Access portal. So it was not true unified messaging. There was no concept of presence.”
In the long run, Hamin like others sees email not so much as a separate entity but part of a larger platform.
At yesterday's launch, Microsoft focused on email, but three weeks ago the focus was on SharePoint 2010 during the annual conference around that server software. And next week, as part of its annual Professional Developer's Conference, developers will be brought into the equation.
One of the points Microsoft emphasises with Exchange is that its architecture supports both online and on-premises deployments, and company officials say that Exchange 2010 is available as the foundation of its Exchange Online service with some limitations.
"We won't have flexibility to run custom code for a single tenant," says Rajesh Jha, senior vice president for Exchange. "We have a flavour of Exchange Online services called Exchange Dedicated service and it is a single tenant model and you can have custom code."
The Exchange 2010 server released yesterday is a 64-bit only server that includes new storage and deployment options, enhanced in-box management capabilities, built-in email archiving, new database clustering, additional hardware options and a revamped Outlook Web Access client.
The suite also has a set of companion security tools as part of the Forefront lineup. On Monday, Microsoft released Forefront Protection 2010 for Exchange Server, an online messaging security service. SharePoint and OCS will get similar tools.
With Exchange 2010, Microsoft is trying to entice CIOs in a tough economic environment to upgrade, contending that Exchange 2010's new features lets companies buy cheaper storage systems, eliminate their voice-mail systems and drop licences for separate email archiving software.
Although enterprise email changes and deployments can take much time, Microsoft expects Exchange 2010 to be "quite aggressively deployed", said Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's business division, which oversees products such as the Office suite.
As part of its case to customers, Microsoft is citing a study it commissioned from research analyst Forrester. The study says that companies can expect to recoup their costs of deploying Exchange 2010 within six months through savings in other areas.
Exchange 2010 can now be used with less expensive attached storage devices rather than SANs (storage area networks), Elop said. Another money-saving feature is Exchange's ability to take voice mail messages. A speech-to-text feature let users read rather than listen to the messages. Microsoft has also added an e-mail archiving feature, which Elop said eliminates the need for companies to purchase other archiving software.
While promoting the new software release as an economizing measure, Microsoft did acknowledge there will be a "slight" price increase over previous versions of Exchange for advanced features such as archiving and voice mail.
The new version has other features to make email more manageable, such as conversation threading, the ability to ignore ongoing conversations between co-workers, and protections to ensure that email with sensitive information isn't released.