Dont Make Us Wait for New Exchange Features

Opinion: Version 12 will serve up interesting possibilities for VOIP in '07, but the security and anti-spam features should be offered up sooner rather than later.

It will be interesting to see how many of Exchange 12s new features, particularly those intended to make the mail server more secure, end up being part of the Exchange servers we already own. Should we really have to wait until early 2007 and then be forced to buy and install a new server just because thats most convenient for Microsoft? Hardly, and backfilling Exchange security is something Microsoft shouldnt have to be prompted to do.

Another thing Ill be watching is what the new VOIP features on Exchange 12 will do to rearrange that marketplace. If Microsofts VOIP offering is even reasonably compelling it could be the best choice for system admins who want to integrate telephony into their users desktops with a minimum of fuss. Whether Microsoft will also give us VOIP with a minimum of expense remains, of course, to be seen.

In that regard, I get the sense that Microsoft is positioning itself as a safe choice for new VOIP installations, a la "Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft." Whether the Microsoft channel will be able to effectively sell VOIP, or whether the VOIP industry will gravitate toward Exchange server are two important challenges that Redmond faces. This wont be a slam-dunk for Microsoft, but building VOIP into Exchange server does anoint the Internet technology as the future of business telephony for companies of all sizes.

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I am excited about getting telephone access to my mail and calendar, but am concerned about the cost of implementation. And also about security, since the telephone network would make it very easy for distant (and hard-to-find) spies to access corporate e-mail. I think this threat is more related to lousy user password management than the server itself, but the distinction will be lost if critical e-mail falls into the wrong hands.

Like many of you, I am an Exchange administrator. Unlike probably any of you, my server has only 10 users, some of whom are just forwarding mailboxes. The current Exchange management tools arent all that difficult to use, but they make it hard to remember where things reside. Ive heard this from admins of much larger mail systems than mine, who also cant find the Intelligent Message Filtering controls without a bit of searching.

Changes to the management console are thus quite welcome, not so much because Exchange is hard to administer as that is could be so much easier. Speaking of IMF, Microsofts free and effective anti-spam tool, its already taken too long for Exchange to learn to automatically download updates.

Current IMF "signature files" arrive on the server via Windows update and have to be installed from there. We shouldnt have to wait until 2007 and then pay for an upgrade for Exchange to be able to keep its spam filtering current. Thats a feature that should become part of the current server offering well before Exchange 12 ships.

I am expecting Microsoft to get into the anti-virus business in a big way, presumably offering protection for Exchange servers. This had better not be only for Exchange 12 customers is all I can say. OK, theres something else: Microsoft needs to own up and provide a complete suite of client and server anti-virus tools, all centrally managed, at very popular prices. Microsoft caused the malware problem and is way overdue in solving it. And, no, I dont expect to ever see totally bombproof code, so well need protection even as Microsoft learns to better secure its servers and applications.

Offering server components as modules makes excellent sense, allowing Microsoft to sell customers just what they need and customers to install only those components they want. It also would appear to support my idea that all of Microsofts various communications servers should become part of an Exchange installation, manageable from a single console.

This may not be a good idea for enterprisewide use of mail, instant messaging, conferencing, etc., but Small Business Server customers would be ecstatic to have so much available thats so easily managed.

I like what Microsoft is doing to make user provisioning easier, even as a user may be moved from one server to another. How that plays on real enterprise networks remains for the early testers to report back to us.

Taken as a whole, I like what Microsoft is saying about Exchange Server 12. I am concerned that security features shouldnt wait so long, or require a potentially expensive upgrade for customers to implement. I am waiting for more information on compelling features the Exchange 12/Outlook 12 combination will offer, beyond VOIP integration. But, I am especially looking forward to hearing what the beta testers say once theyve used the new server and about the features Microsoft has yet to reveal. Lets stay tuned.

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