Microsoft Makes Gains with Windows Server, Exchange, Corporate Security

Usually, I like to tackle one topic each week in Windows IT Pro UPDATE, but so much is going on this time around that I'm going to touch on three: recent news around Windows Server, Exchange Server, and Microsoft's corporate security. With this much ground to cover, let's get started.

Microsoft Scalable Networking Pack At Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2006 a few weeks ago, Microsoft released its Scalable Networking Pack for Windows Server 2003. I was too busy at the show to hook up with the Windows Server folks to discuss this add-on, but since then, I've spoken with Microsoft Senior Product Manager Ian Hameroff. He told me that the Scalable Networking Pack is a free add-on for Windows 2003 that dramatically increases network throughput in certain situations by offloading CPU cycles to hardware in a new generation of compatible NICs that are becoming increasingly common. Scalable Networking Pack will simply be included as a core networking feature in Longhorn Server and, interestingly, in Windows Vista as well.

There are three primary components of the Scalable Networking Pack: TCP Chimney Offload, Receive-Side Scaling, and NetDMA. TCP Chimney Offload frees up the CPU by offloading the processing required for the TCP connection to a chip on these new NICs. This can have huge advantages for anyone needing to move huge amounts of data over a reliable, high-speed network. Receive-Side Scaling is basically a load balancer for incoming network connections, so it's a natural for file servers, Web servers, or any other kind of server with lots of simultaneous clients. And NetDMA supports Intel's I/O Acceleration Technology (I/OAT), providing another means of offloading processing requirements from the CPU so, as Hameroff put it, the CPU can "go about its day job."

Scalable Networking Pack is simple stuff: It's a free download. You install it and don't have to manage anything for the most part. In short, you shouldn't even know it's there beyond the performance boost you're going to get. What is required, of course, is a compatible NIC. Microsoft says that it has 13 partners shipping these NICs now, with more coming on board throughout the year. And server vendors such as Dell and HP are already offering servers with integrated networking that's compatible as well. What you're looking for is a NIC with TCP Offload Engine (TOE) support (for TCP Chimney Offload) or one that's marketed specifically as being compatible with Receive-Side Scaling. For NetDMA support, you'll need a newer Intel motherboard that's marketed with I/OAT support. For more information and a list of compatible products, check out Microsoft's Scalable Networking Pack Web site.

Exchange 2003 Adoption and Exchange 2007 Progress

I met recently with Microsoft Corporate Vice President of the Exchange Server Product Group David Thompson to discuss the progress Microsoft has made with Exchange Server 2003 adoption and the Exchange 2007 beta. Both appear to be making big gains. When I last met with Thompson in early 2005, one of Microsoft's most pressing concerns was getting users migrated away from Exchange Server 5.5, which at the time still made up about 40 percent of the Exchange installed base. Based on the latest figures--which are from late last year--Microsoft has lowered the Exchange 5.5 market to just 16 percent of the overall Exchange installed base, a huge improvement and better than its stated goal of 20 percent. And virtually all of those customers upgraded to Exchange 2003, which continues to dominate the messaging server market with 48 percent. "We're growing at three times the rate of Notes," Thompson told me. "And because that's been consistent over the past several years, the gap is increasing."

Exchange growth is important because the entire Exchange ecosystem relies on partners and developers to adopt the platform to make it successful. Thanks to Exchange's popularity, it has a wealth of add-ons that make it even more valuable to customers.

Regarding Exchange 2007, Thompson says Microsoft is still on track to deliver this product in late 2006 or early 2007. The company shipped Exchange 2007 Beta 2 in December 2005, and a Community Technical Preview (CTP) build in March. Beta 3, Thompson told me, is expected "this summer." There are numerous new features coming in Exchange 2007, so we'll have to discuss most of them in a future edition of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. One thing to be on the lookout for, however, is the new licensing model. Although Microsoft will still offer standard Exchange CALs going forward, the company will also introduce an "additive" Exchange Enterprise CAL that provides access to unique additional features. These include unified messaging (UM), per-user journaling, managed email folders, and antivirus/antispam protection through the Exchange Hosted Filtering and Antigen for Exchange services. Microsoft isn't talking pricing yet, but Thompson told me that the pricing model is based around offering customers a 50 percent savings over what they would have paid to access those additional services separately

Microsoft Antigen
And finally, Microsoft is starting to make some noise about its server-side security initiatives. Today, the company announced its Antigen 9.0 family of products for Exchange--the first release since Microsoft purchased Sybari. The family of products includes Antigen for Exchange (antivirus scanning for Exchange mailboxes, message store, and SMTP); Antigen for SMTP Gateways (subset of Antigen that offers just scanning of SMTP server; can be non-Exchange); Antigen Spam Manager (an Antigen add-on); and Antigen Enterprise Manager (formerly Sybari Enterprise Manager; a Web console for reporting, policy management, rules and filters, and update distribution).

Microsoft's approach to antivirus with Antigen is interesting. Basically, the product supports a multilayered approach that lets you plug in any number of antivirus engines, depending on your needs, throughput and mailbox needs, and other criteria. Antigen comes with five antivirus engines, and you can get four more and run any combination you want. You can also mix and match, running different engines on different parts of your Exchange infrastructure. The idea here is simple: No single antivirus engine is perfect, and by providing a mix of engines, the chances that you'll keep your environment safe are much better.

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