Exchange 2010 beta

Flexibility, reliability, client-side improvements, and ease of administration mark this major upgrade

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Microsoft Exchange 2010 beta
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Pros

  • OWA (Outlook Web Access) support for IE 7 and 8, Firefox 3, and Safari 3; improved storage reliability; MailTips; conversation view

Cons

  • Windows Server 2008 minimum platform may be problematic for some people

Bottom Line

Although pricing has yet to be announced, based on operational and usability improvements, Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 will be a major step up from Exchange Server 2007. A potential hurdle: Support for Windows Server 2003 is dropped in favour of Windows Server 2008 only.

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Flexibility, reliability, client-side improvements, and ease of administration mark this major upgrade

The last big release of Microsoft Exchange, Exchange Server 2007, marked a major change from the previous edition. Exchange 2007 introduced unified messaging, a completely new management client, and improvements to almost every aspect of the mail server, but at the cost of a whopping learning curve for administrators. Admins will have an easier go of it this time around.

Due the latter half of 2009, Exchange Server 2010 is light on wholesale changes and heavy on refinements. On top of noteworthy enhancements for Outlook users, new features also make the operator's life easier -- without introducing entirely new ways of doing things. So if the standby continuous replication feature in Exchange 2007 SP1 improved your operations, or you've been migrating your contractors' e-mail accounts from in-house Exchange 2007 servers to Exchange Online to reduce costs, you'll find much to like in Exchange 2010 as well.

The improvements in Exchange 2010 fall into three "pillars," as they are described in Microsoft marketing-speak: flexibility and reliability, anywhere access, and protection and compliance. While I've listed all the new features of Exchange 2010 in the table below, there are a few that stand out, at least in my mind.

Top new Exchange 2010 features

My No. 1 pick is a small thing with a high impact on users: OWA (Outlook Web Access) support for Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and 8, Firefox 3, and Safari 3. When I was involved in administering an Exchange server for a client, the most frequent issue to come up had to do with the requirement to use Internet Explorer for OWA. Users typically ran OWA rather than an Outlook client when they were at home or on the road. Users with Macs wanted to go with Safari or Firefox, and only reluctantly accepted the need to run IE in a Windows VM. Users with Linux wanted to Firefox, as did Windows users, because IE didn't have multiple page tabs at the time, only multiple windows.

My No. 2 pick is the improved storage reliability. This lumps together several discrete enhancements, but the short story is that you can now run Exchange reliably without dealing with Windows clustering, RAID arrays, or fancy Enterprise-class disks. It'll be cheaper to store mailbox databases and faster to recover mailboxes in the event of failures.

My No. 3 pick is MailTips. Are you about to accidentally send a personal e-mail to the whole company? A a time-sensitive e-mail to someone who is on maternity leave for six months? A 30MB attachment to people who have 20MB attachment size limits on their mailboxes? MailTips tells you before you send the message.

And my No. 4 pick is conversation view. Have the arrangements for a company party Friday night cluttered up your mailbox to the point where you can't find the approval e-mail for the urgent customer visit that you need to book today? Switch to conversation view, and collapse those 50 party discussions into one expandable node. This isn't a new idea; we were doing threaded conversations on bulletin board systems 25 years ago. But it is new to Outlook and OWA, and it's more than welcome.

Smoother ops

Reliability has improved in Exchange 2010, while opening up the possibility of reducing costs, through a number of different enhancements. Database availability groups give you redundant mail stores with continuous replication; database-level failover gives you automatic recovery. I/O optimisations make Exchange less "bursty" and better suited to desktop-class SATA drives; JBOD support lets you concatenate disks rather than stripe them into a redundant array. Automatic page patching repairs corrupted database pages from copies.

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