One of the most noticeable changes over the years around Microsoft Exchange Server has been the steady expansion in the amount of documentation that Microsoft provides. This expansion has steadily brought us new content, along with new delivery methods, with each product release. This is an excellent situation to be in because over the years Exchange has also become a more capable and complex product. You're probably already familiar with the documentation on TechNet that Microsoft maintains for administrators, systems managers, and designers. However, Microsoft recently launched an open beta of a set of documents that I think are particularly useful: the infrastructure planning and design (IPD) guides.

The intent of the IPD guides is to provide an in-depth, repeatable resource for designing Exchange Server 2010 architectures. The reason I say "repeatable" is that, ideally, two designers given the same set of requirements should produce two fairly similar designs. In practice, that's not anywhere close to what happens. Different consultants bring with them different levels of experience, different levels of knowledge about the product, and different levels of what my dad would have called know-how. One benefit of the IPD guides is that they provide a very useful cross-reference or check on design quality. You can use them as a means to judge whether a proposed design is reasonable, whether it meets your stated requirements, and whether there are other requirements that your design might not consider but should.

The IPD guides cover several important areas of a design project: defining the scope of what should and should not be included in the project; identifying specific features of Exchange that are in scope or out of scope; designing the structure (including figuring out which server roles you need, where they should be located, and how they should be sized); and including elements such as fault tolerance, resilience, and performance as design criteria. My experience with earlier versions of the IPD guides for Exchange has been quite good; although customers often have unique requirements that aren't addressed in the IPD guidance, the guides provide a solid framework to build on.

Microsoft is making the IPD guide for Exchange 2010 available for public review and comment until November 29. To gain access to the beta, all you have to do is sign in to the Microsoft Connect website; there are no qualifications or nominations required. After you've done so, you get access to the documents as ordinary Word (.doc) files. Microsoft asks that you mark up the documents using Word's revision tracking features. When you're done, you return the marked-up document by email. Microsoft will collect and collate all the feedback it receives, using it where appropriate to produce the final version.

This is a great example of the kind of documentation I like to see: Having documentation about how the product works and what buttons to push is valuable, but knowing why to push those buttons, and when not to, is even more so. If you get a chance to review the IPD guide for Exchange 2010, I think you'll find it worth your time.

In other news, Microsoft launched Lync 2010 last week. On the surface, Lync seems much more complicated than Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2, but that might be because I haven't fully absorbed all the Lync changes yet. Microsoft partners haven't been idle, either, introducing a wealth of new Lync-enabled devices. Because I love playing with hardware, expect to see some device reviews in this space early next year.

In the meantime, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, and good luck to the New Orleans Saints against the Cowboys in the traditional Thanksgiving day game. (And, hey, good luck to the Detroit Lions, too! They need it.)