With the release of Exchange 2000 Server comes another important product—Exchange Conferencing Server. Although a separate product from Exchange Server, Conferencing Server should be an integral piece of your organization's messaging and collaboration strategy.

In the past, this frequently overlooked component of Exchange Server hasn't been taken seriously for several reasons. First, the conferencing component of Exchange has never provided a compelling feature set with which to motivate Exchange deployment planners to investigate this option for their organizations. The component wasn't much more than a NetMeeting traffic cop. Most organizations haven't been ready or willing to deploy a conferencing application throughout their infrastructures. My company's IT organization has been so busy with Windows 2000/NT, Exchange, and other internal applications that conferencing was far down the list.

Another deployment barrier for conferencing services is the network. Most organizations have network infrastructures that aren't ready for the audio, video, and data transmission requirements that conferencing services are hungry for. Political and cultural barriers also exist that have prevented the adoption of this service. Even Microsoft has not ventured down the path to internal deployment of conferencing services.

With the release of Conferencing Server 2000, it's time to take another look at deploying conferencing services in your organization. Think of the money your organization can save by not outsourcing this function to vendors. Conferencing Server 2000 is a full-featured conference services management system boasting complete support for the important services such as T.120 (the multicast conference multiplexer) and H.323 (the higher-overhead point-to-point service). At my company, we're investigating the rollout of Exchange Conferencing Server in North America and eventually worldwide. The key is a redesigned network that can host this traffic (which would have caused its predecessor to grind to a halt). I also recently received notification of Microsoft's planned internal rollout of this service.

In the future, I think Exchange Conferencing Server technology will get even better. Within the Microsoft .NET initiative, the Exchange Real Time Collaboration (RTC) group has received enough visibility and charter to become a separate group from the Exchange team. The RTC group has recently spun off from the Exchange team and is free to focus on its own identity as a product instead of an unknown component of the mighty Exchange Server.