Microsoft today announced the release to manufacturing (RTM) of Exchange Server 2010 with a post on the Microsoft Exchange Team Blog. This is great news, especially for those who have been waiting for its release to move from Exchange 2003. The formal launch will take place in early November at TechEd Europe in Berlin.

Microsoft has been talking about Exchange 2010 for quite some time, and I figure that by now most UPDATE readers already have a good idea what to expect from its new features. I wanted to talk a little bit about the release process itself, though.

As you might know, Microsoft's been using Exchange 2010 to host almost 10 million mailboxes through its Live@edu and Exchange Labs programs. This is a huge departure for Exchange, which historically has been tested before release on a few hundred thousand mailboxes at most. One of the explicit design goals for Exchange 2010 was to have the same code scale and run well for both hosted and on-premises use. Large-scale testing was necessary to validate that the goal had been met.

Of course, Microsoft's own operations weren't the only ones using Exchange 2010 during its development. Members of the Technology Adoption Program (TAP) ran it, too, with more than 100,000 mailboxes of their own in production use from fairly early on. TAP members get access to interim builds and technical support from the Microsoft Customer Service and Support (CSS) engineers who are in the beta support rotation. In exchange, the TAPs have to wring out the product thoroughly and suffer through the occasional problems and failures that inevitably happen during the development cycle.

Microsoft has TAPs for other programs, too, but the Exchange TAP is exceptional in several ways. For instance, based on their personal experience with the product, TAP members vote on whether it's ready to be released. If there are major bugs that prevent TAPs from using the product in production, they can blow the whistle and delay the RTM until things are fixed. The Exchange developers made builds of Exchange 2010 available to TAP members on a regular, and frequent, schedule so that changes and bug fixes could be evaluated sooner rather than later.

The most remarkable thing about the Exchange TAP program, though, is the extraordinary degree of engagement and support that the product team provides to TAP members. The project managers, developers, testers, and management on the Exchange team actively asked for feedback, paid careful attention to it, and often stepped in to help solve thorny problems that the TAP members faced—even when, as in a couple of my own situations, they were self-inflicted!

I don't know what the official street date for Exchange 2010 is, but a reminder: Volume license customers will be able to download it before the retail kits are built and shipped, so I'd expect that to be within the next month.

I'm curious to know whether your plans to deploy Exchange 2010 have changed based on what you've learned since TechEd North America this summer. Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.