The close of MEC 2002 marks the end of an era—reliable sources tell me that Microsoft is quietly retiring MEC and rolling the show's content into its annual TechEd conference (TechEd 2003 will be June 1 through 6, in Dallas). With that in mind, I've put together a few highlights from this year's show.
First was the third-party product explosion. No, nothing actually exploded on the show floor (apart from a few inflatable beach balls that one vendor was distributing). Rather, the variety of products for deploying and supporting Exchange Server has grown dramatically since last year's show. Plenty of cool technologies and products were on the floor. (The Windows & .NET Magazine Best of Show awards went to some of the most deserving products. See the News and Views section for details.) My favorites included Authenex's AOne system, which provides secure sign-on through a small USB token and which works with Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000 to provide two-factor authentication for remote users. I was surprised at the flexibility and power of IMlogic's products for monitoring and managing Instant Messaging (IM) traffic, which is a growing concern for many organizations. And CipherTrust's IronMail appliance impressed me with its range of email filtering and security capabilities.
Then there were the big guns. Microsoft officially unveiled the next version of Exchange Server (code-named Titanium), and the next version of Outlook (code-named Outlook 11). Microsoft is designing these products to work closely together and with Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003. Also, Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Flessner led an impressive parade of product demos during his keynote address. The attendees I talked to particularly liked Win.NET Server's Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Outlook 11's new look and feel and improved connectivity.
VSS lets you create point-in-time snapshot copies of on-disk data. Microsoft Product Manager Keith Hageman demonstrated how to use VSS to make and restore a snap copy of Exchange. You can find out about this exciting functionality at http://www.microsoft.com/storage , and you're sure to see more about it as Titanium and Win.NET Server get closer to release.
Outlook 11's interface is more dynamic than earlier versions, so you can easily do things such as build virtual folders that look like standard folders but hold the results of dynamic queries. And in an exciting development, Outlook 11 will support the use of remote procedure call (RPC) over HTTP. This support means that organizations that use the client with Titanium will be able to permit full and efficient Outlook access without VPNs or special firewall configurations. Microsoft has updated the RPC engine to be more efficient (which translates into better network performance), and the new client-side store makes Outlook 11 much more capable when not connected to an Exchange server.
Finally, this year's top-rated sessions discussed Microsoft .NET and .NET Framework technologies. Unsurprisingly, the hands-on migration labs that let attendees practice migrating from Exchange Server 5.5 to Exchange 2000 Server were also well attended. (Microsoft is continuing to emphasize the benefits of migrating to Exchange 2000 now to better reap the improvements in Win.NET Server and Titanium.)
Of course, no MEC report would be complete without a pick for best booth. Choosing among all the competitors was tough. In the end I called a tie between Microsoft, which put down a really thick, soft carpet in the Ask the Experts area, and the company whose employees dressed up as Disney characters (including the ever-popular Tigger)—a nice touch considering the conference's proximity to Disneyland.