Microsoft Strives to Make Exchange More Like an Appliance

Microsoft is looking at how to make its e-mail, calendaring and messaging product more like those appliances that make migration and operation far more automatic.

Editors Note: This is the second 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.

One of the major challenges and goals facing the development team working on Microsofts Exchange Server, is how to make the e-mail, calendaring and messaging product more like those appliance products that make migration and operation far more automatic.

But this burgeoning appliance solution market poses a bigger question at Microsoft than for Exchange alone, Terry Myerson, the general manager of the Exchange Server product group, told eWEEK.

The development team could reduce the complexity of Exchange, and has taken some tangible steps to do so with the upcoming Exchange 2007 offering, along with the Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer, or ExBPA, around diagnostics and Monad, now known as Windows PowerShell. But Myerson said there is a level of automatic migration and operation "that we are just not at today."

"Id love to get there and that is a great vision for where Exchange should be. We wont be there in 2007. But, for the version after this, Exchange 14, we will be standing in front of the team and asking why someone cant buy Exchange Server from Dell or HPs Web site, plug it in, test it for 30 days and return it if it doesnt work for you," Myerson said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about how the Azaleos BladeMail appliance simplifies Microsoft Exchange e-mail.

The Exchange team was getting very close to this though, with ExBPA scanning the environment and understanding what is and is not ready, and giving prescriptive guidance. "We havent crossed that chasm, but we think we will," he said.

But not everyone agrees with this assessment. Some administrators say the ExBPA is merely a stopgap tool that analyzes the potential for the incorrect deployment of Exchange.

"Because there are so many ways that Exchange can be deployed, the ExBPA is a required mechanism for Microsoft to reduce the cost of all of the support calls theyve been receiving due to e-mail failures over the past six years, ever since Exchange 2000 was released," one administrator told eWEEK.

Myerson also notes that another challenge the development team faces is that there are three primary audiences for the product: the IT decision maker or CIO, who is focused on cost savings, reliability, security and compliance; the administrator, who looks at complexity; and the end user, who wants the most seamless experience across all his devices.

"And we have to please all three of them," Myerson said.

For his part, Dave Thompson, the corporate vice president for the Exchange Server product group, told eWEEK that Exchange 2007 was completely scriptable and had the infrastructure for appliance-like delivery.

Exchange, Thompson said, "is now in a state where you can build particular configurations. Exchange is used in a wide variety of configurations and an appliance wont meet all of those requirements."

Keith McCall, a former Exchange executive and now the chief technology officer at Azaleos in Redmond, Wash., a company that offers a managed Exchange appliance with remote maintenance and proactive monitoring, agrees that Exchange 2007 is well-suited for the appliance form factor.

McCall said that enterprise e-mail messaging has become a commodity that IT should be able to run as a highly available utility like their telephone systems.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about how an Exchange data store change is still in the cards.

Azaleos appliances add the automatic migration and operations capabilities that Microsoft will not deliver in Exchange 2007 that help to turn Exchange into that utility, McCall said.

But Thompson points to Microsofts Small Business Server, which he says is "basically delivering Exchange as an appliance. So it is our goal to build a core product that can be used widely and which can deliver as simple an experience as possible for a particular class of user, and run it for them," he said.

But McCall disagrees, saying Small Business Server does not deliver Exchange as an appliance. While it can be bundled onto a server, it still needs to be configured and managed. He also points to the fact that Exchange Server 2007 brings a new modular system of five server roles.

"Companies of all sizes are going to need to consider how to implement e-mail servers to support the five different Exchange 2007 roles as opposed to the two or three in Exchange 2003," McCall said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read more about early concerns that extensive retraining and high costs would be involved in moving to Exchange 2007, click here.

McCall added that, "those customers seeking highly available Exchange 2007 will need to consider applying two hardware servers to each of the five roles to cluster systems for redundancy and to reduce the impact to availability from the hundreds of patches Microsoft delivers a year."

Blade servers from HP or IBM, which support 14 server blades per BladeCenter chassis, would also increase in use when running Exchange in its various roles as a cost-effective way of addressing these challenges, McCall said.

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