Microsoft Unveils Exchange 2007, Forefront Service Pack Previews

The CTP for Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 Beta 2 includes tighter integration of management tools for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. It also adds the ability for Exchange users to check voicemails from the soon-to-be-released Office Communications Server 2007 -- the cornerstone of Microsoft's budding voice over IP strategy.

Exchange 2007 SP1 Beta 2 also adds a feature called standby continuous replication, which allows Exchange to maintain an updated stand-by server to prevent catastrophic data loss in the event of power failures or natural disasters.

Rurik Bradbury, vice president at Intermedia.NET, a New York-based Exchange hosting partner, says this feature will appeal mainly to small and midsize businesses. "This is for companies that are looking to do Exchange in-house but need higher reliability, and don't want to spend a huge amount on enterprise grade clustering," he said.

The release of Exchange Server 2007 service pack 1 later this year is likely to convince many users who have been sitting on the sidelines to migrate to Exchange 2007, says Philip Cardone, a technology services consultant at KDSA Consulting, an Andover, Mass.-based solution provider.

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Adoption has been slowed somewhat by the major changes Microsoft introduced with Exchange 2007, including a new interface, as well as some bugs in the software, said Cardone. "With Exchange 2003, it only took two service packs to fix most of the bugs, so we're hoping this time they might be able to do it in one," he said.

Microsoft Tuesday also launched a CTP of Forefront Security for Exchange Server SP1 Beta 2, which integrates with Exchange Server 2007 SP1 and adds content filtering and 8 different threat scanning engines from multiple vendors to block viruses, worms and spam.

In addition to support for IPv6, the Forefront CTP weaves together security and network management functions through integration with System Center Operations Manager, which lets users monitor the security status of Exchange 2007 deployments, according to Joe Licari, director of product management for Forefront Server.

The Forefront CTP can scan for and block complex attachments such as RAR archives that contain viruses, and also includes more sophisticated profanity filters, said Licari.

Intermedia.NET's Bradbury says it may take some time for customers to warm to the notion of using Microsoft technology to secure their email servers.

"We've found Forefront to be pretty robust. But there are definitely questions in the minds of many enterprises as to whether they want to outsource their security to Microsoft. For now, third party antivirus and antispam vendors are more popular," said Bradbury.

Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1, due to launch later this year, will include an improved GUI and Exchange Management Console for managing public folders and IMAP and POP Servers, as well as the ability to provision certificates, which was missing in version 1.0, according to partners.

Microsoft also plans to offer Web service coverage for public folder access, delegate management and folder permissions.