Microsoft detours Exchange direction

Microsoft last week released the first service pack for Exchange Server 2003 and a corresponding set of free utilities. But company officials revealed that the road map for the messaging software is under reconstruction.

Microsoft said at its annual Tech Ed conference it is scrapping a planned version of Exchange code-named Kodiak, which was to be released in 2006, and instead will roll out some of Kodiak's features individually over time. The company says it does not plan to disclose a new ship date for a future version of Exchange until the fall.

The first feature Microsoft will release from Kodiak is Edge Services, an intelligent message transfer agent for the edge of the network that offers security, spam and virus protection. Edge Services is expected to ship next year.

Edge Services is just one of three modules, or "roles," for Exchange server, according to Dave Thompson, corporate vice president for Microsoft who took over responsibility for Exchange in January.

The other two roles are Information Worker Experiences, which include client options for Outlook, Web and devices; and Storage Services, which will include back-up/recovery and a high-availability storage infrastructure. With Kodiak, that infrastructure was to be built on Microsoft's Yukon technology, which is scheduled to debut in SQL Server 2005. Thompson said the future Exchange data store likely will be built on a database, but offered no firm commitments.

Microsoft also plans to add support across the three roles for a consistent set of management tools and for .Net, which will let Exchange offer Web services such as a user's calendar information. Microsoft plans to keep Exchange's MAPI interface, which lets clients talk to the mail server.

The three distinct Exchange roles will let Microsoft roll out individual features and upgrades to the server in a more modular fashion, experts say.

"An important part of the future is trying to make Exchange a better product by decoupling the features in the server," says Peter Pawlak, an analyst with research firm Directions on Microsoft. "By decoupling they could release a new feature for the server before releasing (a new version) of the core server."

The model is similar to the recently released Windows Server System road map, which includes interim update releases between major version upgrades that will ship on a four-year cycle.

Conceptually, the model seems to appeal to users.

"I would like to get technology upgrades in smaller chunks that are not considered major releases," says Pius Oleskey, network operations manager for K2 Sports, a sports equipment manufacturer in Vashon Island, Wash. "The major releases I want spread out because if they aren't I have to be thinking about my next version upgrade while I am rolling out the current version."

Vague direction

After 2005, the road map gets more nebulous. Microsoft's Thompson says the vendor will enhance features such as calendaring, mobility, security and manageability. There also are plans to support Longhorn Server, which is slated to ship in 2007; 64-bit platforms; and the Windows Server System Common Engineering Criteria model, a plan to introduce consistent management, installation and patching technology across Microsoft's lineup of server software.

Despite the vague road map, Microsoft's Thompson took a shot at rival IBM Corp. Lotus, saying it doesn't have a clear road map.

Ed Brill, who examines rivals' technologies as manager of Lotus' competitive project office, fired back: "I don't know how he can say we don't have a clear road map; we're shipping Notes 7 in the first quarter next year. They laid out their own road map in very general terms. What is the future? They have their heads in the sand because they had committed to shipping in 2003 Kodiak with an SQL Server back end."

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