MS exec talks about Exchange plans

Microsoft will dump the "Kodiak" code-name that had been tagged to the next release of Exchange Server e-mail and calendaring product and will deliver functionality that was planned for the release in pieces, the company said recently Tech Ed conference in San Diego.

Joris Evers sat down with David Thompson, a Microsoft corporate vice president who has been in charge of the Exchange Server group since early this year.

Thompson provided more details about the next release of Exchange, which he said could come before the release of a server version of Longhorn in 2007. Longhorn is the next major release of Windows. A client version of Longhorn is expected in 2006. Thompson also discussed how Microsoft plans to incorporate SQL Server database technology in Exchange.

You have some news today about your road map and are changing things a bit. Kodiak will no longer be the next big release of Exchange.

We're actually going to stop using the Kodiak name, but there is a set of things that we're still working on and that we will announce in steps.

When you stop using the Kodiak name, doesn't that make it less clear for customers as in when they know the next release will be?

Well, as the road map rolls out we will talk about different pieces of it. We will talk about the fact that the Edge Server (Exchange Edge Services), the next major technology, will come next year. So, I think that it is a change for customers if they had in their mind something specific that Kodiak was. What is true about product plans in this business is that they evolve.

If you drop the Kodiak name, is there a new release of Exchange coming up or is there no new release of Exchange?

There will be a new release of Exchange. We're not ready to announce when that is or what it is. I will say that our strategy is to be aligned with Outlook and Office because we see ourselves as the best server for Outlook. You can imagine that an alignment there would make sense. We will announce, maybe this fall, the next version of Exchange. Right now what we're talking about is technology directions.

Kodiak was originally planned for, what was it, 2006?

I honestly don't know when Kodiak was planned for.

Really?

Well, I have been in the group four months and I wasn't involved with setting the Kodiak plan a couple of years ago.

You're saying you're aligning with Office.

In fact, this last release (Exchange 2003) was aligned with Office. When I say aligned, typically with a server product we wouldn't necessarily deliver it the same day, we deliver a server product when it is ready, but you align the planning and the timing is approximately right.

The next version of Office is expected after the Longhorn Windows client ships. No date has been announced, but Microsoft has said that there will be a new release of Office in the Longhorn wave of software. So I guess that is when we should expect a new release of Exchange?

We would expect a release of Exchange around the time of the next release of Office.

If you're looking at the next release or update of Exchange, what is it that is taking up most of your time now? What are you working on?

We are working on the next generation product and it's got evolution in several areas. One is around the front-end, the end-user's access to features. We're focused on mobility experience around devices. That is a place where we're investing a lot, trying to make that experience seamless, easily provisioned, and easy to setup securely, the full Outlook experience on a device.

The new Exchange now will have three roles. There are basically three kinds of servers that are part of the Exchange Server: an edge server, a front-end server and a mailbox server or a storage server. The part that supports mobility is the front-end, that drives all the client connection experiences and where Web services access would be provided to make it a remote programming platform for applications.

About these three roles, we basically spent a bunch of time analyzing how customers use Exchange and how they roll out mail systems and found those three roles to be dominant. So we make it easier to roll out Exchange and deliver those three roles.

An area where we weren't widely used was in the edge. Well, this focused edge server product will be essentially a very advanced platform for routing and processing mail flow. You can think about antispam as an element of what you do, antivirus, message policy as messages flow in and out. It is a generalized platform for being able to implement all kinds of advanced functions triggered on the message flow.

And then there is the mailbox and data store.

The mailbox server is where calendaring support and where the storage is, also where you do things like document lifecycle, a major area of investment.

One thing I have heard about the data store part of Exchange is the possibility that customers will have to buy a SQL Server license with a future version of Exchange because of changes you are making in the product's data store.

We will change the data store technology at some point in the future. We have not announced any plans around that. If we did that, you would expect it to be a SQL-based technology of some sort. There is no implication there about the packaging. I don't know what those plans would be. We would need to do something that was compatible with the way customers deploy the product.

Microsoft plans to introduce new storage technologies in the Longhorn release of Windows. You're planning a release of Exchange for the Longhorn server, is that when you will have the new Exchange data store?

I didn't say that the next version of Exchange would run on Longhorn server. We have not announced what the plans are for the next version of Exchange, but I did not say it would run on Longhorn server.

So there might be a version of Exchange before Longhorn?

It is possible. What we will do is evolve Exchange in a way that addresses customer needs. I know that may sound like a cop-out, but that is the reality. We have a long list of things that we need to do for our customers. That is the reason I am in this group: the very demanding need of complex messaging systems today. There is lots of opportunity.

You said you're going to change the Exchange data store. When do you see that happening?

We have not decided when we're going to do that. We'll tell you that the edge services will use SQL technology as part of some of the message queueing support. Even then, any packaging and licensing has not been determined at this point. It is premature to talk about that.

So there will be a new data store technology and you've said that it makes sense to talk about SQL Server technology, but you can't say yet whether it will be a full-fledged SQL Server database or a subset of it or a special version of it specifically for Exchange purposes.

It is undetermined at this point. Technology like that, advantages of it would be that it would provide a more consistent programming model with other applications. If it brought with it some of the tools and technologies that are used to manage SQL Server databases, those are the kinds of things you would get with it. I focus on the things you get from it, not whether it is SQL and it is related somehow to a separately licensed product. The impact on customers is what matters.

Well, customers also worry about whether they have to license another product.

I understand that and what I said before is that we will need to package the product in a way that is compatible with their use of it. We always think about how customers use it and making sure that they pay a fair price for fair value.

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