Microsoft began 2003 with a bang by announcing the next version of Microsoft Exchange Server. In recent years, Exchange has become one of Microsoft's flagship products and certainly one of its greatest revenue sources. More than just email, Exchange is a crucial system in many companies and the backbone of many communications infrastructures. Additionally, most companies use Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) to provide Web-based remote email access.

Technology research firm IDC predicts that the number of email messages sent daily will approach 40 billion worldwide in 2003. IT and network administrators face incredible pressure to keep Exchange running 24 x 7. For many companies, a 20-minute failure of their public Web site isn't a crisis but having Exchange go down for 20 minutes is. You don't realize how dependent you are on Exchange until it goes down. I can't think of any Microsoft server product that demands as much attention to fault tolerance and scalability as Exchange does and fault tolerance and reliability are what Microsoft is promising in Exchange Server 2003 (formerly code-named Titanium).

For months, Microsoft has been using a beta of Exchange 2003 in production environments. Does a better way exist to test the reliability and scalability of the new Exchange version than on the tens of thousands of email accounts of one of the largest companies in the world?

Microsoft began its migration to Exchange 2003 last September. Every night, Microsoft's internal IT group moved several hundred employee and contractor accounts. By December, approximately half of the company's 60,000 employees and contractors were on Exchange 2003, with the rest scheduled to migrate by February. I have a Microsoft account because of my company's close working relationship with Microsoft. In November, my account moved to Exchange 2003 without a hiccup. In fact, had it not been for the interesting email messages I received from Microsoft IT updating me about the process, I wouldn't have known that I'd been migrated. According to Jerry Cochran, group program manager in Microsoft's Operations and Technology Group (OTG), upgrades took an average of 30 minutes per night. In a Microsoft press release, Cochran said, "We stopped the services, applied the upgrade, and restarted the services. Ironically, the most important thing to say about the migration is that there's not much to say. It just works. We didn't encounter any significant problems."

Performance metrics are always an interesting part of any new Microsoft server product. According to a Microsoft press release, Derek Ingalls, group manager in OTG, said, "We're seeing significant bytes-over-the-wire savings from the new compression possible with Exchange Server 2003 and Outlook 11—on the order of 50 to 70 percent, sometimes better." I agree—I switched to Outlook 11 beta 1, and the performance difference is dramatic. My company will definitely migrate to Exchange 2003 beta 2 this month. Exchange 2003 handles network traffic more efficiently, making server consolidation more feasible and promising to help many companies realize a greater Return on Investment (ROI). Server consolidation is a popular trend in big IT shops because it can provide dramatic savings in hardware, licensing, and maintenance costs.

To learn more about Microsoft's Exchange 2003 announcements, read the following press releases at Microsoft's PressPass Web site:

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2003/jan03/01-06betatitaniumavailabilitypr.asp

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2003/jan03/01-06titanium.asp

You can read more about the features and functionality of Exchange 2003 at http://www.microsoft.com/exchange .