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Exchange 2003 Enters RC1 Testing Stage

DALLAS -- Beating the drum for Exchange Server 2003's eventual launch, Microsoft on Monday at TechEd announced the availability of Release Candidate 1 of the company's flagship messaging server.

"This is the final milestone before release to manufacturing (RTM)," said Missy Stern, a Microsoft product manager for Exchange. "We expect to RTM somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight weeks after RC1."

Exchange Server 2003, one of the first major applications to take advantage of security, storage and clustering enhancements in the recently released Windows Server 2003, was originally rumored to be on a schedule to ship at the TechEd show this week. The current schedule puts the release between July 14 and July 28.

Exchange Server 2003 RC1 is available for download at www.microsoft.com/exchange/evaluation/ti/. The Exchange RC1 download is compatible with the RTM version of Windows Server 2003, and customers will be able to upgrade directly to the Exchange 2003 RTM version when it ships.

The Beta 2 version of Exchange 2003, which has had about 50,000 downloads, was mostly feature complete when it came out in January. RC1 has undergone significantly more testing and bug fixes.

"In RC1, really the primary difference is deployment," Stern said. Microsoft packaged a number of new tools with RC1. Many are aimed at helping Exchange Server 5.5 customers make the jump to the Active Directory-dependant Exchange Server 2003.

The new tools include analysis and reporting tools for obtaining information about existing environments and coordinating Exchange Server 2003 deployments. The Exchange Active Directory Connector (ADC), which enables co-existence and replication between Exchange 5.5 directories and Active Directory, has been enhanced with a new ADC wizard to simplify setup of connection agreements between the directories. There's also a new tool for migrating public and system folders.

The RC1 phase is also the first time that Microsoft is making both the Standard and Enterprise editions of Exchange Server 2003 available. The Standard Edition is intended for customers with between 50 and 5,000 employees and limited storage requirements or for specific front-end server scenarios, such as an Outlook Web Access or mobile access server. The Enterprise Edition supports higher storage requirements and failover clustering. While pricing has not been announced, in the Exchange 2000 generation the Standard Edition costs $800 and the Enterprise Edition costs $4,000. Microsoft's recent actions with Windows Server 2003 suggest that the company may hold prices steady for Exchange.

Viewed by the industry as primarily an interim release of Exchange to support Windows Server 2003, the server does have a number of new features. Inherent in the product are enhanced Outlook Web Access performance and functionality, new mobile access capabilities and additional junk mail control technologies, including an anti-spam API that has received widespread early support from security ISVs.

When used with Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003 will support up to eight-node failover clusters and online snapshots for backup through the Windows Volume Shadow Copy services.

Microsoft also says Exchange Server 2003 has better performance on processing e-mail and shows slight improvements in the number of users supported per server over Exchange 2000.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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