Exchange Data Store Change Still in the Cards

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-07-20

Exchange Data Store Change Still in the Cards

Editors Note: This is the first in a series of articles that looks at how Microsoft plans to meet the enterprise needs of the mission-critical e-mail, calendaring and messaging market.

While Exchange 2007, the upcoming e-mail, calendaring and messaging server from Microsoft, is still based on the Extensible Storage Engine, a derivative of the Jet database store, the company says it remains committed to unifying this with the SQL Server database store going forward.

They just dont know exactly when yet.

Officials such as Terry Myerson, the general manager of the Exchange Server product group, argue that there is ultimately more value for customers by staying on the Jet engine in Exchange 2007, the second, public beta of which is expected to ship as early as late July, with the final product likely in late 2006 or early 2007.

Read more here about how Exchange 2007 is expected to have something for all.

"We are delivering incredible value around storage in Exchange 2007 and reducing costs with the 64-bit optimizations and building the applications database. These are features that are done a little differently in SQL Server and are optimized for Exchange," he said.

Theres more value from Microsoft keeping Exchange 2007 on Jet than if it had moved to SQL but, he said, it would have been different value if it had moved, "so its comparing apples with oranges."

Some customers agree. Joel Stidley, a senior solutions engineer at Data Return, in Texas, which provides strategic enterprise IT operations services and is an early adopter of the product through the Exchange TAP (Technology Adoption Program), said that when the rumors started years ago about the possibility of Microsoft ditching Jet for the SQL back end, the promise seemed exciting.

"Over the years though, the improvements that have been made to the stability, performance and recoverability of Jet have really reduced the importance of moving to the SQL engine. I am sure there can be more benefits gained from moving to SQL, but along with that will be a number of technological hurdles to overcome," he said.

To read more about early concerns that extensive retraining and high costs would be involved in moving to Exchange 2007, click here.

The decision to moving to the SQL store had to be prioritized against all the other management functionality the Exchange team was working on, like the new scripting shell, based on Windows PowerShell, and "which I think is the most exciting thing weve done at Microsoft for management in a long time," Myerson said.

Next Page: Challenges and breakthroughs.

Challenges and Breakthroughs

The new command-line interface, known as the Exchange Management Shell, would be more impactful "right now" on Exchange administrators than switching the data store.

"As we plan the next version of Exchange [currently code-named Exchange 14], it may be that the biggest breakthrough we can make for storage management is to switch to the SQL data store. Well probably know that in about six months time," he said.

Dave Thompson, the corporate vice president of Microsofts Exchange Server product group, told eWEEK that the team had decided to stay with the Jet engine in Exchange 2007 based on customer feedback around scalability, programmability and availability.

But the Exchange team had done some work on the architecture in Exchange 2007 that would allow it to more flexibly change databases in the future.

"When we do that, we will do so because its a benefit to customers. That is the yardstick we will use when considering this in each future version of Exchange," he said.

But some competitors like Julie Hanna Farris, the founder and chief strategy officer of Scalix, a messaging infrastructure company based in San Mateo, Calif., whose products are based on a Linux and open systems architecture, claim that the underlying architecture of Exchange suffers from more than its fair share of reliability and security problems, the fundamental causes of which have not been addressed in Exchange 2007.

The Exchange message store, based on the Jet database, is prone to corruptions and is difficult to manage and maintain, she said, adding, "this is a long-standing, known problem, and plans to replace the Exchange message store have been iteratively postponed."

At the same time, Exchange upgrades had come to mean a perpetual rearchitecture of customers e-mail environments, she said.

For example, with Exchange 2007, the requirement for 64-bit hardware meant that customers would once again have to upgrade their hardware to use the latest product, she said.

But Myerson disagreed, saying there were no reliability issues with Jet. The big opportunity for Microsoft in moving to the SQL store was that this would make all of their data management consistent; from a line of business application to collaboration and communications applications.

"All their high-availability data disaster recovery would then be consistent," he said.

Microsofts competitors were missing the point when they said it was about scalability and reliability, as "really it isnt. Its about customers having two backup applications for SAP and Exchange, and two high availability plans for Siebel and Exchange, and customers would love to have one," Myerson said.

But Keith McCall, a former Exchange executive and now the chief technology officer at Azaleos in Redmond, Wash., says that in every seminar and customer discussion his company has, it hears the urgent plea for archiving solutions to help with storage management, compliance, and Exchange reliability and performance.

Click here to read more about how the Azaleos BladeMail appliance simplifies Microsoft Exchange e-mail.

"Storage management is the single biggest issue facing Exchange customers today after high availability. In some of our customers, Exchange mail store sizes are growing at 7 percent a month and the growth in larger local drive capacities are not sufficient to meet e-mail demand.

"Exchange customers are also switching en masse to storing e-mail on SANs to help address Exchange store reliability and growth issues," he said.

Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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