Beta Man

Exchange Lockdown

Security is the focus of the latest Exchange 12 beta.

What's that they say about real estate -- location, location, location? For Exchange 12 (E12), the three most important aspects of Microsoft's new e-mail platform are security, security, security. For example, e-mail is a major point of entry for malware in any network, so E12 will provide several layers of defense against inbound attacks.

E12 will use Microsoft's Intelligent Message Filter (IMF) as its built-in filtering technology. IMF supports automatic updates, even on a daily basis. (Microsoft updates the IMF based on analysis of mail streams coming through its own corporate and Hotmail servers.) It will also support the usual, real-time blacklists (RBLs), protocol filtering and so on.

E12 will also have APIs for third-party anti-spam and anti-virus software. In fact, besides the traditional VSAPI for anti-virus software (which supports message-store scanning), E12 will have a new API for scanning messages in transit before they ever reach the store.

Microsoft Exchange 12
Version Reviewed: Beta 1
Current Status: Beta 2 (mid-2006)
Expected Release: Late 2006/early 2007

Another of E12's new security features is dynamic detection and sender reputation. If Exchange notices a large quantity of spam coming from a particular IP address, for example, it will advise you to block that address. This continuous "intelligent" monitoring of the message stream and building good or bad "sender reputations" helps E12 adapt and respond by adjusting its filter. Over time, this lets E12 catch more bad messages while generating fewer false positives.

E12 also improves manageability with a command-line shell that lets you script and automate any administrative task. That capability combined with its new architectural (outlined in earlier Beta Man columns) and security features should render E12 less expensive to manage, easier to secure and easier to maintain.

When's That Appointment?
Calendaring is another function that will get a huge overhaul in E12. This is one area of Exchange that has remained essentially unchanged for the better part of a decade. E12's calendaring functions go through a set of Web Services APIs, easing third-party integration with Exchange calendaring.

There's also a new Calendar Attendant that runs on the server side to help you keep track of calendar items. For example, if someone sends you a meeting request while you're on vacation, the Attendant can tentatively accept the meeting. It will then indicate that you may be busy if you receive other meeting requests for the same time slot. You make the final decision when you get back. There's a Resource Booking Attendant that works the same way to streamline management of resources like conference rooms, projectors and so on.

The new Scheduling Assistant should be a huge boon for companies with busy employees and not enough conference rooms. This GUI tool is even available in the new Outlook Web Access (OWA). Type in your attendee names and it will help you find available timeslots for a meeting. Ask for a conference room and it will show you which ones are available for your meeting. It will also show you who has booked resources in case you need to engage in a little inter-office haggling.

Other extras abound in E12. For example, you can schedule start and stop dates for Out of Office messages and you can specify different auto-reply messages for internal and external users. At the admin level, you can disable this feature if needed.

There are tons of other new management, architectural and security features as well. Keep in mind that some new features -- like the auto- connect feature discussed in an earlier Beta Man -- rely on functionality built into up-version clients like Outlook 2007. That's a fine quibble, though, because overall, Microsoft has made major improvements with Exchange Server 2007.

About the Author

Although Beta Man is anonymous, please feel free to contact him/her about this review or other betas.

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