Microsoft paid a visit last week; not the entire company,

mind you, but a couple of disciples to spread the good faith. They worked in a pre-sales capacity and one

had the ominous title of Messaging Specialist.

Messenger, disciple – what’s the difference, right? Anyway, you’ve probably guessed they were

here to tout the coming of Exchange 2007, explain the added benefits, and get a

pulse for our readiness to upgrade.

Given the fact we are just completing the final stages of an upgrade

from Exchange 5.5 to 2003, I explained that this discussion was a bit

premature. Then they offered us some

water to drink, which we accepted, but discovered it tasted strangely similar

to Kool-Aid.

Exchange 2007 should arrive sometime in the first quarter of

‘07, not by the end of this year like you may have heard but didn’t quite believe

anyway. I’d like to know when Service Pack

1 will be available because that is more likely the first time we will begin to

consider another upgrade of our messaging system. Let someone else discover the problems usually

found in the release of a new software version.

The meeting was brief and not filled with much “meat” as it

was largely meant to answer questions about Exchange 2007 and build excitement

about its impending release. The latest

version will continue Microsoft’s trend of attempting to be your one source

solution provider. And while I can’t

dive into much technical detail in a short blog entry, I can opine my thoughts

on some of the new features being hyped.

Unified Messaging.

Much is being made about the UM integration in the next Exchange

system. I have to admit that I like what

I’ve read and heard to this point about integrating voice and fax access with

my email (pause as I sip my drink).

Sure, aspects of UM have been available before now thanks to third party

vendors who filled in functionality gaps left by previous Microsoft releases. Companies like GFI

or Castelle offer unified fax solutions,

and there are many companies like Adomo

that offer unified voice mail solutions.

But now (through various company acquisitions, of course) Microsoft can

offer the total solution. Their vision

is to have total voice and data collaboration.

Couple Exchange with Microsoft Live Communications Server and you also

can include VoIP to make your unified messaging experience complete (sip).

Security. Microsoft

has rightfully taken a public beating in recent years about the security holes

and deficiencies in their OS releases and other core products. This is a good thing. They are making huge strides to improve

security, and Exchange 2007 is another step in the right direction. If you take a look at the latest published feature

list, the first and largest section displayed is the one listing numerous

built-in security enhancements. A

significant number include ant-spam and antivirus capabilities. And there is now a new Exchange component

called the Edge Transport server which sets in your company’s DMZ and acts as

the first line of defense for outside facing mail flow. By default, all intra-organizational mail

flow is encrypted. Regulatory compliance

is even addressed through support for Information Rights Management and message

transport and storage rules-based encryption and retention (sip).

Management. Microsoft

is well known for “wizardizing” every common IT task that can be

automated. Maybe it “dumbs” down the

average IT pro, but I tend to appreciate a good wizard tool to make my job

easier and faster. Have you ever

suffered through a horribly long and complicated math homework problem only to

be told by your teacher the next day that there was a two-step shortcut? Sure you have. Microsoft sympathizes with your plight (sip)

and has made managing Exchange (almost) entirely possible via the new Exchange

Management Console which happens to be based on the new MMC 3.0. And for those that need to manage from the

command line, there is the Exchange Management Shell. Everything that can be done from the

Management Console, and more, can now be done within a script.

There are many more new features and enhancements (sip)

bundled with the next Exchange release, and I don’t have room to cover them

all. For instance, it is a native 64-bit

application which will increase memory and processor efficiencies and improve

disk I/O. It also offers improved data

replication and search capabilities (sip).

But I digress. From what I’ve

seen so far, Exchange 2007 has much to offer.

Whether it has enough to warrant another upgrade in the near future may

be a different story. My cup is now

empty. I’m done.