Exchange 2003 Airlift

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a technical airlift event that Microsoft hosted to educate some of its key partners about Exchange Server 2003. These events (which get their name from the fact that attendees fly in from all over the world) are legendary for providing a lot of hard-nosed technical details about new products. Last week's event drew a mix of authors, trainers, partners, and consultants and featured some interesting tidbits about Exchange 2003 features and deployment.

Kevin McCuistion, group program manager on the Exchange team, opened the event by explaining how Microsoft is positioning Exchange 2003 in the messaging market. Not surprisingly, McCuistion's presentation included a long list of features that administrators have asked for and that appear in Exchange 2003. These features include backup and restore improvements (including Recovery Storage Groups, which I discussed in last week's column); new and more muscular clustering support; better migration tools for clients moving from Exchange Server 5.5; and better security. McCuistion claimed that Microsoft won't support Exchange 2000 on Windows Server 2003 because that OS (particularly the Internet Information Server--IIS--component) contains so many security and architecture improvements that reengineering Exchange 2000 to take advantage of them all would be prohibitively expensive. My favorite takeaway from the talk was the welcome revelation that Microsoft will offer per-device and per-user licenses for Exchange 2003. Depending on how Microsoft prices those licenses, one license that lets a user use any device (or several devices) to access Exchange might be a significant cost saver.

Other speakers revealed interesting tidbits during their talks, too. For example, I learned that Microsoft's early-adopter program, the Joint Development Program (JDP), puts beta and release candidate versions of Exchange into production at major enterprise customers. JDP customers have more than 93,000 mailboxes in production, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of users at Microsoft who now use the product. Part of the reason for this broad deployment is the Exchange product team's focus on ensuring Exchange 2003’s manageability. The news that the Exchange 2003 management pack for Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) will be included free with Exchange 2003 was also welcome (although you’ll still need to buy a license for the MOM product).

Another revelation was the breadth of Exchange 2003's spam-fighting approach. A fascinating synergy exists among several Exchange 2003 components:

- Exchange 2003 provides support for real-time block lists, which help block email from the IP addresses of known spammers and spam-friendly ISPs. These lists provide a first line of defense.

- A new filtering feature lets you specify recipients and domains from which to block or accept email, then apply those settings on every server in your organization. This feature provides a second layer of defense.

- Updated transport event-sink interfaces give more capabilities to third-party antispam products; vendors are already updating their products to take advantage of these capabilities.

- Outlook 2003's excellent junk-email filter (derived in part from the MSN 8 client's filtering technology), lets users mark messages or senders as junk. Clients can tag any spam that gets through the block lists, filters, and third-party products, and you can use that information to strengthen the servers' filtering list.

Microsoft was coy about the exact nature of future antispam improvements, but it's safe to say that the company has a few surprises up its sleeve, and developers who want to strengthen the integration between spam-fighting components will find plenty of fertile ground. Imagine a tie-in between server-side Exchange spam filters, Outlook, and third-party services such as the Distributed Checksum Clearinghouse (DCC). Clients could mark a message as spam and automatically block other copies of the message (or messages from the same sender) at the server.

In addition to the product-information presentations, the event featured solid labs with a strong focus on migrating to Exchange 2003 from Exchange 5.5. (By some estimates, about 55 percent of deployed Exchange mailboxes still run on Exchange 5.5.) The new ExDeploy toolset (and excellent accompanying documentation) will help ease this process. My favorite lab, though, demonstrated how to deploy Exchange 2003's Outlook Mobile Access component, which offers access to Exchange data from a variety of devices, and used a Pocket PC emulator to test the service. Look for more details about this component as I explore it in the weeks to come.

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