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Microsoft Releases Exchange Server 2016

Microsoft released its newest messaging server product today for premises-based deployments.

There are no big surprises with this Exchange Server 2016 rollout. Since the company's Ignite conference talks in May, Microsoft officials have stressed that Exchange Server 2016 would be an "evolution" of its predecessor, Exchange Server 2013. Microsoft has also said that Exchange Server 2016 was built based on Office 365's Exchange Online service, which allows the server product to benefit from Microsoft's cloud service learnings.

The product is now available for download, with a trial version lasting 180 days. It had been at the preview stage since July.

Microsoft MVP Tony Redmond described this Exchange Server 2016 release as an "RTM" (release to manufacturing) or a "release to web" version. The implication is that it's a finished product that organizations will want to test first before deploying. He also described it as a "second service pack for Exchange 2013" because of the product similarities, adding that Exchange Server 2013 offers "90 percent of the value" of the current release.

Exchange Server 2016 does have one main architectural change of note. IT pros now get one server role to install as Microsoft has removed the Client Access server role and added a client access services component to the sole Mailbox role in Exchange Server 2016. This change can potentially reduce the number of servers needed to run Exchange Server 2016, and it can improve failover times, Microsoft claims. In support of that view, Microsoft posted the experience of King Saud University, which is using Exchange Server 2016 in coexistence with Exchange Server 2013.

One expected roadblock in terms of coexistence is that there's no coexistence or direct upgrade path from Exchange Server 2007 to Exchange Server 2016. That's an expected roadblock because Microsoft's legacy product support usually comes to an end for products beyond two generations. Exchange Server 2010 users, though, do have a coexistence and an upgrade path if they have Cumulative Update 10 installed, according to Microsoft's system requirements page.

Exchange Server 2016 uses the Resilient File System (RFS) like its predecessor. Microsoft recommends the use of RFS because it has found that RFS can reduce Exchange system file corruptions, according to this Microsoft video.

Microsoft won't change the update servicing model with Exchange Server 2016. It'll follow the same pattern of Exchange Server 2013, with cumulative updates arriving every three months approximately. Microsoft is planning to deliver the first cumulative update to Exchange Server 2016 in Q1 2016, according to its announcement.

Feature Enhancements
In terms of features, Microsoft has improved the back-end search capabilities of Exchange Server 2016, as well as e-discovery capabilities via its Equivio acquisition. It expanded Outlook's add-in capabilities for third-party software developers, allowing their products to be accessible in messages, the "ribbon" menu or Outlook's UI components.

The feature improvements for end users are seen through the Outlook 2016 desktop client or the Outlook Web client (Microsoft renamed it "Outlook on the web").

Microsoft is promising coauthoring benefits for attached documents sent in messages, with a side-by-side editing capability available within Outlook. However, the coauthoring capabilities likely will depend on having SharePoint Server 2016 or an Office 365 subscription in place while using the newly release Office Online Server, which is currently at the preview stage. Those dependencies for enabling coauthoring were briefly mentioned in this Microsoft video about Exchange Server 2016's collaboration capabilities.

Redmond noted that Exchange Server 2016's differences from its preceding product will become more apparent with the release of SharePoint Server 2016 and Office Online Server. SharePoint Server 2016 is still at the preview stage, but Microsoft is planning a product release in Q2 next year.

Microsoft's announcement mentions that end users can now create links to SharePoint Server 2016-stored documents from the Outlook 2016 desktop or the Outlook Web client. These document links permit coauthoring capabilities.

Microsoft provides a full list of Exchange Server 2016's new features at this TechNet library page. For the most part, the new features are enhancements of Exchange Server 2013 features.

Missing Features
One feature that didn't make the cut in Exchange Server 2016 is called "search indexing from passive," or the ability to "read from the passive copy of the database." It's not described too well by Microsoft, but it's apparently used to help speed up failovers. Microsoft plans to deliver this feature in a future cumulative update, although the timing wasn't indicated.

Redmond noted that Microsoft also omitted an "auto-expanding archive mailboxes" feature from this Exchange Server 2016 release. This feature scales archived mailboxes as they grow and is currently available in Exchange Online.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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