Fortified with E12

The arrival of the next release of Microsoft’s Exchange Server – albeit an early beta codenamed E12 Beta 1 – is an important moment for admins. Millions of companies rely on Exchange Server for their email backbone, as it scales all the way from Small Business Server up to fully clustered enterprise servers. Hence, any new version is going to arouse interest, but this is more than merely a new version: it’s only the second major rewrite that Exchange Server has had during its whole service life.

Fortified with E12

Exchange Server started life as a pragmatic retreat from the radical Cairo vision of the early 1990s: instead of implementing Cairo’s native object store filing system, it offered a rich database engine based on existing Jet technology; instead of a customisable user interface, it offered Outlook; instead of a global directory service, it offered a tiny directory engine confined within Exchange itself and so forth. Exchange served us well from versions 4 to 5.5 and, indeed, some companies still cling to ES 5.5 for dear life, despite it having been “end-of-lifed” by Microsoft just before Christmas. Why would anyone want to keep running ES 5.5 when the much superior ES 2000 platform is around the corner? Well, many of them are still running Windows NT 4 too, and so simply haven’t yet grasped the Active Directory nettle – they deemed moving to Windows 2000 and ES 2000 an unnecessary cost.

The arrival of ES 2000, like that of version 4, heralded a major new code release, with tectonic shifts in the underlying technologies and concepts employed. That straightforward local directory engine was pulled out, beefed up and became Active Directory. Despite these good bits, there were still significant chunks of ES 2000 that remained the same, enough to ruin any claim that it had all changed. Nevertheless, despite its lack of any proper graphical management tools, ES 2000 was a major rewrite under the bonnet, and this development went further in ES 2003.

With this new E12 beta release we can see another big change about to happen and, indeed, I’m tempted to see this as the biggest change so far. Let’s just start with the delivery – E12 won’t run in a production environment on anything less than a 64-bit server. Note the careful choice of words: “in a production environment”. There’s a 32-bit version of E12 today, and it’s almost certain that there’ll be a 32-bit version of the final-release code of E12. But what Microsoft won’t be supporting are production servers running 32-bit Windows. I’ve spent several afternoons looking at this new release, and I’ll be blunt when I say that I’m quite shocked by what I see. Not in a bad way, but rather stunned by the magnitude of the changes.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first – almost everything you knew about Exchange Server, whether the 2000 or 2003 version, no longer applies to E12. Quite a few features have been pulled out of the product and are no longer supported. The list of casualties currently reads something like: Active-Active clustering; routing groups; administrative groups; Outlook Mobile Access; Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP); public folder access using IMAP4; non-MAPI top-level hierarchies in a public folder store; X.400 Message Transfer Agent (MTA); Microsoft Exchange Connector for Novell GroupWise; Microsoft Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes; Exchange Web forms; ADC (Active Directory Connector); SRS (Site Replication Service); that workflow designer that shipped with ES 2003 SDK; CDO for Workflow; and finally, support for legacy protocols including Named Pipes, SPX, AppleTalk, VINES, UDP and NetBIOS. That’s quite a lot of pruning of dead wood.

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