Although Microsoft made available its Exchange Server 2010 service pack beta last week at TechEd 2010, another release due out later this month gives IT shops staying on Exchange 2007 support for the current Windows Server release.
The company reported last July that it would not support Exchange Server 2007 on Windows Server 2008 R2, but customers demanded support and, in November, Microsoft relented.
Exchange Server 2007 SP3 will launch this month, but Microsoft recommends that IT pros who haven't started Exchange Server 2007 installations skip to Exchange Server 2010.
"You will certainly get more out of 2010 SP1," said Michael Atalla, a director of product management in Microsoft's Exchange Server group. "The combo of Office 2010 and Exchange 2010 offers significant productivity value, so there is good reason to jump to that version."
Exchange Server 2010 SP1 beta
The first service pack for Exchange 2010 features improved flexibility for administrators as well as end-user productivity. Some of the most significant upgrades address archiving and discovery, Outlook Web App (OWA) and an improved management user interface.
One of the most significant features is the ability to put a user's primary mailbox and personal archive mailbox on separate mailbox databases, said Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm, Directions on Microsoft.
Other improvements include a new permissions features, additional transport functions and Client Access Server Role improvements for Federation certificates, Exchange ActiveSync, SMS Sync, Integrated Rights Management and virtual directories.
Exchange 2010 SP1 beta also supports coexistence between Exchange Online and the Unified Messaging server role and it provides multi-tenant support. That support may not be a big deal for most Exchange administrators, but is a major improvement for Exchange hosting and cloud service providers, said Mike Crowley, an enterprise messaging administrator at Planet Technologies Inc., a Germantown, Md.-based, integrator.
Up until now, hosting providers could only offer Exchange 2007 with support from Microsoft; providers that offered Exchange 2010 "broke" the product to make it work for them, which is not supported, Crowley said. This took away a serious competitive advantage for hosting providers.</ p>
With that built-in multi-tenant support, the established Hosted Message and Collaboration (HMC) feature isn't necessary, so Exchange Server 2010 won't support that suite any longer, Microsoft's Atalla said.
"For the experts in HMC and Exchange hosting technologies, this may be a significant change in the way they operate their infrastructure," said Crowley, who also blogs about Exchange.
Exchange Server 2010 is one of the first platforms to include features for on-premise and hosting providers. Microsoft executives at TechEd recently reiterated the company's strategy to extend the servers and tools that IT shops use today to its future cloud computing platforms. Although many IT shops plan to continue managing email locally, some IT managers who have studied Exchange Server 2010 and are ready to upgrade like what they see.
"I think the cloud [development] has helped [Microsoft's] work on Exchange," said Peter Kretche, a senior systems administrator at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. "I'm impressed with what they did."
Other Exchange 2010 collaborative features
In the Exchange 2010 RTM, Microsoft introduced calendar sharing for business-to-business use; that feature has been extended in SP1 so that end users can share their calendars with friends and family via the Web, much like Google offers with Google Apps.
Another development in SP1 beta is better support for Outlook use on Windows Mobile version 6.1 or higher. "Working with email and calendars is not only easier on mobile devices but more productive, no matter what type of device you have," Atalla said.
One disappointment is that Microsoft still does not support address list segregation for non-hosted environments, as in previous versions of Exchange. Though the company will eventually support this, many Exchange users would like it now, Crowley said.
And Directions' Sanfilippo said he's still waiting to hear when Exchange Online Standard will support Exchange Server 2010, which Exchange Online Dedicated already supports. Although the upgrade has been discussed, Microsoft has not offered a release date.