Beta Man

Exchange 12: Better Than Ever

64-bit power, better management add up to a compelling product.

[Beta Man has gone undercover to bring you the best, non-biased reviews of Microsoft beta products. Don Jones, formerly Beta Man, has morphed into Mr. Roboto, which you can read every month in Redmond magazine. -- Ed.]

Exchange Server is getting a major retrofit with Exchange 12 (E12), adding powerful features that will make it perhaps the most compelling new version since Exchange 2000. What's more, moving to E12 promises to be easier than ever -- more like an upgrade than a true migration.

Microsoft has gone all-out with new features and architectural enhancements to make it easier to administer and automate. The Exchange System Manager is still a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) application, but it's been reworked to provide a simpler, flatter view -- no more diving eight levels deep into the tree view.

More importantly, the System Manager is built on top of a new automation shell -- the Exchange Management Shell. This is based on "Monad," the code name for the Microsoft Shell (MSH) originally set to ship with Windows Vista. (Microsoft now plans to ship MSH as an add-on component to Vista and Windows Longhorn Server.)

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

You can launch every Exchange management function from the command-line shell. The graphical System Manager simply leverages the shell's functionality, meaning if you can do it in the GUI, you can do it in the shell. Now you can write shell scripts (analogous to batch files) to automate any administrative task.

Written from the ground up as a new shell, MSH is both consistent and easy to use. The shell commands -- called cmdlets or commandlets -- employ a simple verb-noun syntax, such as get-mailbox or move-mailbox.

Double the Bits
There won't be a 32-bit version of E12 for x86 processors. After struggling for years with the 4GB memory limit, difficult I/O throughput and other x86 processor performance issues -- and after realizing most new server hardware these days is powered by x64 processors -- Microsoft decided to ship an x64-only version of E12.

You'll need an x64 edition of Windows Server 2003 to run E12. Besides better performance, the x64 E12 will give you better I/O throughput, larger attachments and more capacity per server. Since you can load up your servers with terabytes of physical RAM, as well as multiple single- and dual-core processors, you can pack a lot of power into a box.

E12 will also introduce server roles -- an extension of Exchange 2003's "front-end" and "back-end" servers. While any server can run all available roles, you can also install specific roles on a single server. That way you can fine-tune any server to a specific function, which can help reduce the potential attack surface, among other benefits.

These architectural options make E12 much more flexible in larger organizations. You can scale out Exchange at a more granular level and provide better security for outward-facing roles like client access and edge transport.

Up Next
In the next Beta Man, we'll cover E12's improved security features and "Anywhere Access" capabilities, including Outlook Web Access and Unified Messaging.

The new AutoConnect feature (which depends on Outlook 2007 and other new-version clients) uses DNS to locate Exchange servers. That means your users no longer need to remember the name of their Exchange server (or any server for that matter). They just need to know their e-mail address and logon credentials. This makes deploying E12 easier and facilitates faster failover if a server goes down.

Speaking of servers going down, E12 will have a "hot spare" capability not unlike that of SQL Server. E12 logs all database traffic, and you can "ship" these logs to the spare server, which can then "replay" the logs and recreate the data at any time. With log shipping, tape backup routines can run from a secondary database on the same server, minimizing performance slowdowns during backups.

In terms of manageability, E12 could be the best Exchange yet. With its command-line shell and architectural and security features, E12 should prove less expensive to manage, easier to secure and easier to maintain.

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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