What is it?
Microsoft Exchange Server is a messaging and collaborative services package that includes e-mail, calendaring and task management. The 2007 version adds voicemail integration, improved search tools and support for web services, better filtering, and a new Outlook interface.
For the majority of Exchange practitioners, it is far too early to think about upgrading to Exchange 2007 skills. For perhaps half of the world's Exchange installations, the priority is to complete the upgrade to Exchange 2003, or to begin the migration from Exchange 2000. Then there are the die-hards still using Exchange 5.5 despite the withdrawal of support.
Users considering the move from 2003 to 2007 are waiting for Service Pack 1 (SP1), which is in beta testing. SP1 is expected to include a better graphical user interface, improved Outlook web access, and an important addition to clustering and back-up, Standby Continuous Replication.
For now, the key skills demand is for Exchange 2003 skills, and for people with knowledge of the migration path to 2003 from earlier versions. But the demand for 2003 to 2007 migration skills is likely to grow, and will be lucrative for those with experience to offer.
Where did it originate?
Exchange Server 4.0 replaced Microsoft Mail 3.5 in 1996. It was an X.400-based client-server messaging system that also supported X.500 directory services, the forerunner of Microsoft's Active Directory.
What's it for?
For Exchange 2007, Microsoft has put the emphasis on better security through integrated filtering, multi-engine scanning and anti-spam and anti-phishing capabilities.
The new version aims to improve employee productivity with tools such as Outlook access to messages and calendaring from wherever people happen to be working.
The much-hyped - but hardly revolutionary - unified messaging provides single-inbox access to e-mail, voice mail and fax documents. Support for collaboration has been extended and simplified with data, document and calendar sharing.
There is also a web services-based application programming interface for application integration, .net integration via Exchange Management Shell, and a command-line shell and scripting language for system administration.
Apart from a trial version that runs on 32-bit systems, Exchange 2007 requires a 64-bit operating system and hardware, making it expensive for the rewards of more secure and better-performing messaging and calendaring.
What makes it special?
The clustering and back-up features in Exchange 2007 mean that data can be replicated to a datacentre, removing the major criticism of Microsoft's "continuity" provisions for Exchange Server.
How difficult is it to master?
You can take a seven-day course or take the certification path with a series of three and five-day courses. These are intended to be taken over a period of a year or two while you acquire experience, and they require an employer's training budget as the total could reach five figures. Microsoft also offers cheaper, self-paced online training.
What systems does it run on?
Exchange Server 2007 requires Server 2003 x64 or Server 2008. Exchange 5.5 users will first have to upgrade to Exchange 2003 and Active Directory.
What's coming up?
SP1 for Exchange 2007 is due out later this year.