Best Practice Ezine #83 – Exchange 12 (E12)

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Life changing experience

Exchange E12, formerly known as Titanium, is the successor-in-waiting to Exchange 2003.  For me, a trip to the E12 Ignite conference in London has been a life changing experience.  These are exciting times in computing and as a true independent I am free to wander in which ever direction I choose; well I now I have decided to make a special study of Exchange E12.

See Exchange 2010 Server Roles

Unified Messaging

The headline news for E12 is Unified Messaging.  Whilst this new Exchange version concentrates on a smarter core messaging service, it is the new features for voice / mobile phone integration that steal the headlines.

One of the five roles for servers in E12 isUnified Messaging Server; some call this OVA (Outlook Voice Access), some refer to it as son of Outlook Mobile Access.  Whatever the name, do go out of your way to see a demo of this technology.  Imagine this: you dial the phone number for a big company called Acme.  When the phone answers, instead of listening to that annoying message, with 7 options, each with 7 sub options, you say boldly ‘Fred Bloggs’.  A robotic voice replies, ‘Do you mean Fred Bloggs’, you say ‘Yes’ and you get put through to his extension straight away.  This feature is even more useful when you need urgently to speak with Customer Complaints or Invoice Payment. 

If Acme installs an E12 server then they can deliver this clever phone service.  To get the system working, naturally they need an Active Directory account for each person, or each resource, mapped to the corresponding phone extension.

Next, let us see what E12 can do if our own company choose this Exchange upgrade.  Well, if you get a new voice message on your mobile phone, E12 integration can create a .wav file and deliver it to your Outlook 12 inbox.  You can then click on the message and hear it through your computer speakes without having to pickup your mobile.  Hence E12 delivers unified messaging of email, voicemail and even faxes if you still use them.

Incidentally, at the Ignite 12 show, ‘Barking’ Eddie arrived late and the only seat left was in the front row.  When the demonstrator talked into his mobile phone, at first nothing happened, whereupon Eddie barked out ‘Format C drive’.  This got a good laugh, but fortunately did no damage to the Outlook client.  The demonstrator recovered his cool and the second time his demo worked perfectly and we saw the .wav message arrive magically in his Outlook 12 inbox.

A couple of savvy delegates wanted E12 to decipher the message into text so they could read the messages in Outlook instead of playing the .wav file over the computer’s speakers.  You can probably guess Microsoft’s response – ‘It will be in the next version’, which incidentally will be E14 (E13 would be bad luck!).

To be fair, when ‘Mad’ Mick leaves me message I can barely understand his thick Geordie accent, so how could any computer program decode his mutterings?  To digress, I discovered a new word the other day – Ebonics, the article opened up a can of worms about teaching African America pronunciation.  My point is this, it will have to be impressive decoding software to create accurate text from all these different nationalities; even though they are all leaving messages in supposedly the same English language.

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Beta Disclaimers and NDA

As you may know I don’t go in for disclaimers, but I have discovered from my minor involvement with Vista (and other products from Windows 95 onwards) that features change between Beta 1 and the final product.  So what I tell you about E12 Beta 1, while true in spring 2006, many not be the final story when E12 is released.  As for the release date for E12, Microsoft’s site says early 2007 crucially, before Longhorn.

There is another factor which hamstrings me slightly, at these meetings Microsoft ask all delegates to sign a NDA (Non-disclosure agreement).  Now my friend ‘Barking’ Eddie warned me that he had a mate who was black-balled by Microsoft for disclosing stuff that should have kept secret, apparently it gave his fly-by-night company an unfair edge in developing some weird tool.  Now I don’t want to be black-balled and lose my MCT, MCSE, MVP and other qualifications, therefore I will have to check with my contact at Microsoft before I go into more detail in a later ezine.

My mission for the rest of this ezine is just to plant a few ideas.  True understanding E12 is going to take us both many turns of my learning spiral.  The idea of my learning spiral is that you go round and round a topic, but each time you complete a circuit you reach a higher level, sometimes you reach the pinnacle and thus become an expert.

64-bit Operating System

E12 will be 64-bit.  Exchange 12 will be the first of the new breed of 64-bit operating systems.  Theoretically this increases virtual memory from 4GB to 16 Terabytes.  In a nutshell on big servers, the 4GB memory limit has become a bottleneck in Exchange 2003, hence gurus fiddling with the /3GB switch in boot.ini.

The main reason that I am telling about the 64-bit requirement is so that you can plan your hardware purchases.  Don’t buy any more 32-bit processors for your Windows Systems.  Also don’t be lulled by the 32-bit beta versions of E12 they are just for evaluation and training.

Upgrade or Migrate to E12

Upgrading from present Exchange systems to E12 will be tricky.  You will need many turns of my learning spiral before you finalize your upgrade strategy.  For starters you will not be able to do an ‘In Place’ upgrade because of the above reliance on 64-bit processors.  Therefore even if you want to upgrade an Exchange 2003 server you will have to go for a ‘Swing upgrade’, where you employ the move mailbox technique to get all the email from the present server to the new E12 Server.

If you are waiting, waiting, waiting to upgrade Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 12 my present information is that you may have waited too long because that upgrade from Exchange 5.5 will not be supported.  However, if enough people complain, then there is a chance Microsoft will change E12’s capabilities.  For example, E12 will support public folders.  Many years ago, I heard that public folders would be removed from the next version of Exchange, I now conclude that either it was an urban myth, or else Microsoft changed their minds on public folders because of pressure.

As I mentioned earlier, I have lots more to say about E12 Migration in general and Active Directory compatibility in particular, but that will have to wait until a future article.

Decommissioning Exchange Features

We were told in the E12 Ignite meeting that some Exchange 2003 were going to be decommissioned in E12, apparently this is a by-product of redesigning Exchange from the bottom up.  The speaker listed items such as Admin Groups and GroupWise connectors and then asked if any of the 50 of us were using these features, no-one put up their hand.   My point is that if you see sensational headlines: ‘Microsoft remove zillions of features from Exchange in E12’, then do check to see if you actually use any before you complain.  For example, how often have you designed custom forms or developed workflow documents in Exchange and Outlook?

Finally, I was pleased that in E12, Exchange will no longer need WINS in any shape or form.

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