Charlie Chung is a technical Lead Project Manager in the Exchange Product Team. He was in Auckland attending Microsoft New Zealand's Tech Ed event and we took the opportunity to catch up with him in all things related to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and what features and benefits it brings to IT administrators, mobile users and consumers in general.
We started by talking about infrastructure administration. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 aims to reduce cost of management, by introducing a command line tool that leverages the PowerShell, which was previously codenamed Monad. The idea is to provide IT administrators with a a consistent and powerful experience, through script shell that is invoked through a command line utility or the GUI.
It is possible, for instance, to create scripts that will automatically provisioning users with mobile devices, create mailboxes, migrate information from the message store, and other tasks that would require lots of time to accomplish through the standard GUI.
It means that you will need PowerShell installed on your server, but this is a pre-requisite and the install routine will advise if the administrator needs to install this beforehand.
About the installation process, I was told that migration in early builds could be a costly activity in terms of time and management involved, but Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Beta 2 is a great improvement in deployment. There is no inplace upgrade but the installer script will walk the administrator through all stages, and check prerequesites. The Exchange Setup Wizard will detect everything that needs to be done and complete the tasks. At the end you will have a new Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 instance available on your network.
After this new server is in place, then we will be able to use the Move Mailbox Wizard to transfer the Message Store content. Again, PowerShell can be used to script the migration through command line, making the process easier by allowing the administrator to migrate individual mailboxes, blocks of mailboxes or other groups.
I asked about the 64 bit versus 32 bit question and Charlie made it clear: the 32 bit is only meant for evaluation and demo purposes, and should not be used on a production server. The reasoning behind this, besides the improvements in storage and memory handling achieved with 64 bit OSes, is that most of the times a migration of Microsoft Exchange Server coincides with an OS upgrade, so they see this as a release alignment.
Also, they see most of the new server hardware being 64 bit enabled, so this is just a way of moving forward and keeping the investment safe. In my view I would still like to see an official 32 bit for small servers, such as the one I have here for testing. But that's the way it is...
According to Charlie, the current Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Beta 2 is already supporting well over 30,000 mailboxes on early adopters. Internally, Microsoft has deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 for most of the Exchange and Office teams.
What's new for non-IT Admins? Let's start with security...
Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server, previously known as Microsoft Antigen, is completely integrated with this new release. I was told the sofrware offers antispam and antivirus protection and ships with Exchange 2007, but it is a separate install. If you are running Exchange Server 2003 then you can try this software now, through a beta download.
The Outlook Web Access was completely written from the ground up. The new OWA 2007 is very close to Outlook, with flags, views, support for categories, and a new auto-booking feature called Scheduling Assistant that allows you to create a meeting with many atendees and the software will suggest the best time for the appointment for all participants, then the next best time for all participants but one, and so on. The new OWA 2007 is entirely developed with managed code.
Another new feature are the Messaging Rules. For example security administrators can create rules that will make sure certain e-mails will never leave the corporate environment, reaching external servers. This is useful for departments or companies dealing with sensitive information. This feature used to be provided by third party software, but it is now integrated in the system. Also for security freaks is the rights management software that allows certain e-mails to be restricted, preventing some content being copied or forwarded when it should not be.
And now for mobile users... If you happen to have Windows Mobile devices (or other OS that supports the Exchange ActiveSync protocol) then you know about Direct Push e-mail, and the remote management features implemented with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack and the Microsoft Security Feature Pack (MSFP).
More Windows Mobile integration with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007
But the new Exchange Server 2007 enables a much better experience with an appropriate version of Windows Mobile OS (which doesn't seem be available at the moment, but I can't say much more than this).
Charlie commented that usage scenarios weren't quite complete and didn't work all the time for all the users. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 improves the mail triage directly on the mobile device. This includes the ability to apply flags with priority or followup directly on the device, and having this replicated to the server.
It also improves the ability to receive HTML e-mails with better on-device rendering. And a much interesting "on demand download" option, which is pretty much like streaming an e-mail message. For user who download just a few kilobytes of each e-mail, an option to download the rest of the message will be available, and as the message is read the content will be "streamed" from the server.
And talking about servers, the new version incorporates all the mechanism needed to allow Windows Mobile users access to Sharepoint sites from their e-mails while connected to the Exchange Server.
Other interesting features enabled by this new version are mobile search for items inside the mailbox on the server, even if the e-mails are not on the device. This will allow users to search for messages with a certain content and select from the resulting list.
And if you go out of office a lot you will be able to enable, disable and modify your OOF message directly from your mobile device.
As for device security management this is being improved as well. While Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 introduced the remote wipe facility (which could be used to erase the Pocket PC's or Smartphones's memory contents if lost) it was limited to the device's main memory only. This is now being extended to cover any inserted storage card.
To help reduce help desk costs, the functionality is now being provided on a self-service basis, with users being able to login to the corporate network using a laptop or desktop and remotely wipe their devices - so if they forget the Pocket PC in the cab on the way to the airport, a quick connection can ensure all information on that device is quickly erased.
Charlie says that mobile devices security is improved, where in previous versions a single policy was enabled for the whole Exchange Server, it will be possible to create mobile policies for individual users or groups of users. This impact PIN requirements, PIN length, login attempts, etc. I can see security people around the world rejoice and welcome mobile devices to the corporate world!
But we are not finished with mobile devices yet. According to Charlie, ActiveSync is now logging more data and server logs can be used through a report parser that provide synchronisation debug information. This can be completely integrated with Microsoft MOM and is part of an expanded diagnostic testing tool, which allows help desk to follow sync requests and identify the root cause of failures, either on the device, transport or server.
These are very interesting and good news, specially for people interested in mobility and security.
Charlie is leaving New Zealand now and going to Australia to attend the Microsoft Australia Tech Ed.