Exchange’s transformation to .Net coming in 2003

Microsoft Corp. last month sketched out the future of Exchange, targeting 2003 as the year the messaging and collaboration server will be pulled fully under the company’s .Net umbrella. .Net is Microsoft’s initiative to deliver software as a set of services available over the Internet.

The biggest change in 2003 for Exchange will be the use of a common .Net data store, replacing the current Web Storage System in Exchange 2000. The change puts Exchange in line to offer its core messaging, calendaring and task features as reusable components, or Web services, to the .Net infrastructure.

The change, however, presents a number of migration scenarios for IT executives, according to some analysts who say enterprises may rethink their timing on a move to Exchange 2000 and wait for the 2003 release.

Many enterprises have not yet moved from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000, which was released last year, because the migration must be coupled with a move to Microsoft’s Windows 2000 and Active Directory. The total migration can take a couple of years to complete.

“They still want people to migrate to Exchange 2000 [and Active Directory], but they are actively creating this new data store model,” says Dana Gardner, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group Inc. “How do I know what to deploy and in what order? Do I go to Exchange 2000 and the Web Storage System and then go to Yukon or wait and go directly to the new data store from 5.5?”

Paul Flessner, senior vice-president for .Net enterprise servers, encouraged nearly 5,000 attendees during his keynote speech to open the Exchange Conference to move to Exchange 2000 now and prepare for the opportunities to create sophisticated applications that will come in the 2003 edition.

Flessner said the next generation Exchange would feature support for Web Services based on XML, and innovation on the client, including wireless access.

But the major change will be a common data store based on the next version of SQL Server, codenamed Yukon. The data store will be a common repository for data and objects used in .Net applications. The next generation of Exchange will use Yukon to replace its current data store called the Web Storage System.

Sources say Microsoft also is developing new Exchange server-side features under the codename Kodiak. Those features will be paired with Yukon. Flessner would only say the development of new Exchange features is ongoing.

Yukon also is important because it offers for the first time sophisticated replication and offline use of applications, two features for Exchange 2000 that were abruptly scrapped late last year just six months before they were set to ship.

Flessner admitted during his keynote that it was he who decided to scrap the replication and offline features in order to focus on Yukon. Sources say some 50 beta-testers are working with the Yukon code, but Flessner said the only testing is happening inside Microsoft.

“The 2003 release will open up a huge opportunity [for the enterprise] going forward.”

Microsoft says that opportunity will be Web services. More specifically, it will be the ability to convert Exchange features, such as calendaring, into Web services and stitch them into a variety of line-of-business and other applications built on top of Microsoft’s forthcoming .Net infrastructure.