Exchange 2007 facing integration issues with other Microsoft software

As Microsoft updates the individual key components of its enterprise software, integrating those pieces is proving challenging.

Microsoft officials say it all comes down to timing issues in the development processes of the individual software and that solutions are in the works. Critics say it is another indication that Microsoft’s product teams often are marching to different drummers.

For corporate users, it means deft deployment planning to make sure everything they need works together even though they are getting it from a single vendor.

In any case, users are already reacting, especially in regards to virtualization, which has become a hot bed of networking activity, as well as, a major area of competition for Microsoft with VMWare and open source Xen on Linux platforms.

Ironically, users can run Exchange 2007 on the VMWare platform, which does support 64-bit guest systems, and some users are making the switch.

“Microsoft has certainly made a dreadful mistake in not getting the capability for 64-bit guests out on the street,” says Mark Arnold, infrastructure architect for Posetiv, the UK’s largest storage integrator. “They’ve had since June 2006 and now, nearly seven months, since Exchange 2007 hit public beta.”

Currently, Microsoft does not plan to support 64-bit guest systems until it releases Windows Server Virtualization, its next virtualization software upgrade that is planned to come within 180 days after Longhorn is shipped.

Arnold has already ditched Virtual Server for VMWare in order to run Exchange 2007. He says virtualization is helpful, because Exchange 2007 can be deployed in a number of different roles such as remote client access, transport/routing, mailboxes and unified messaging. He says some of those roles can be run on virtual machines on a single box in order to alleviate issues of underuse of a server’s resources.

Arnold is not alone, Keith McCall, CTO of Exchange service provider Azaleos, says he has had to scrap plans to run some of the Exchange 2007 roles on virtual machines.

“Without Virtual Server support from Microsoft it is difficult for us to support Exchange on the Microsoft platform,” McCall says.

Azaleos is testing some of the Exchange roles on VMWare, but McCall says licensing requirements around clustering free versions of the VMWare software make deployment cost prohibitive.

“It brings back the question, if you are not going to support 64-bit guest systems, why not support 32-bit Exchange 2007 for production deployments,” says McCall.

Microsoft indeed has a 32-bit version of Exchange 2007, but it is available only for testing purposes.

Microsoft says there have been 260,000 downloads of the 32-bit Exchange since it was made available two months ago. But Microsoft has no plans to allow users to run that software in a production environment.

Microsoft officials say Exchange’s role-based architecture is one reason virtualization support for 64-bit was not a priority. With Exchange 2007’s predecessor, the company found that users were mostly running Exchange 2003 in virtualized environments to support different roles for the server.

“For Exchange 2007, we looked at that requirement and built [the server] into distinct roles,” says Ray Mohrman, group product manager for Exchange Server at Microsoft. Mohrman says, however, if users show demand for virtualization support it will be considered for Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1, which is now just entering its development cycle.

He also says SP1 will address the issue of Exchange not being compatible with Longhorn, but he says the possibility still exists that SP1 could ship after Longhorn. Historically, Exchange service packs have shipped in six-to-nine month increments.

“It is still early to say it has not come together,” says Mohrman. “We have Exchange released and as soon as we get our roadmap around SP1 we can talk about alignments around Exchange and Longhorn just like we had alignment around Vista and Office.”

That alignment will in part focus not only on support in Exchange for Longhorn itself, but support in Exchange for Longhorn directory servers.

Without that support Active Directory sites that include Longhorn directory servers need to be isolated from Active Directory sites that include Exchange 2007 servers, according to Microsoft. That issue could pose topology challenges for Exchange shops, especially during migration.

“Our current goal for SP1 is to bring in Longhorn support,” Mohrman says. “But right now we cannot commit to that, it is a matter of timing based on when SP1 will come to market, when Longhorn will come to market and how those two match up.”

But the lack of compatibility between two of Microsoft’s most important 64-bit platforms also seems perplexing to many observers given the fact Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chief software architect, said nearly two years ago at the company’s WinHec conference that "we are going to see the adoption of 64-bit computing happen quite rapidly, especially on the server side.”

The company has moved some servers, including SQL Server, BizTalk and Host Integration Server to a 64-bit architecture.

In terms of Exchange management tool support on Vista, Microsoft’s Mohrman says that is also a consideration for SP1. Many users today use remote access to the Exchange server to do management and given that Vista is not widely deployed the issue seems more cosmetic than urgent.

“We remote to the Exchange box and that is just a standard operation for us,” says Azaleos's McCall.

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