Microsoft‘s Exchange Server 2007 software may have some advantages over the previous edition, but the fact that its only available in a 64-bit version may exclude all but a handful of users, according to one analyst.

Exchange 2007, currently available in public beta 2 format, will be launched in the coming months. Bryan Rusche, product manager for Exchange Server, acknowledges that “it’s definitely a concern” that users might feel constricted by the 64-bit-only edition of Microsoft’s e-mail architecture.

“In some instances, you’re forcing customers who are on legacy servers to look at a hardware refresh as well as an e-mail application refresh,” said Rusche. But Microsoft is hoping that users will overlook that in order to take advantage of the extra capacity that 64-bit systems offer.

Storage requirements are growing, particularly for e-mail, said Rusche. Users tend to hang onto e-mail files for longer than usual for either for regulatory or day-to-day work requirements.

A 64-bit system can address a much larger memory space than a 32-bit system, argued Rusche. Where 32-bit systems can address 4GB of memory without going back to the hard drive to retrieve data, 64-bit systems can handle upwards of 500 exabytes.

Realistically, that number is actually only 512GB due to hardware limitations, but it does “provide a lot of headroom for future scalability,” said Rusche.

Certainly in future, users may be looking more seriously at 64-bit systems, said Pete Pawlack, a senior analyst with Directions on Microsoft, based in Kirkland, Wash., but that future isn’t here yet.

While a lot of 32-bit servers sold in the last few years are capable of running 64-bit Windows applications, few users are currently taking advantage of that, said Pawlack. The market for 64-bit Windows has been stymied by a lack of drivers for applications, including previous versions of Exchange. An upgrade from Exchange 2003 to 2007 would require a completely clean install, he said.

“If you’re happy with Exchange 2003 today, it’s going to be kind of hard to convince a company that they need to go through all the pain of upgrading unless they specifically need some of the features that are in Exchange 2007 and they’re willing to go through all the cost and hassles of getting there,” he said. “It’s not no a no-brainer like it was going from Exchange 2000 to 2003.”

Pawlack said the situation is similar to the upgrade path from Exchange 5.5 to the 2000 edition, which required that users also have Active Directory installed.

But there are advantages to taking the plunge and adopting Exchange 2007, said Pawlack. For one, it has a native unified messaging system, allowing users to receive e-mail, voice mail and faxes in a single inbox.

Rusche said that Exchange 2007 has other pluses: it’s easier to manage than Exchange 2003 since set-up is governed by commonly used configurations.

“What they’ve with Exchange 2007 is they’ve formalized those roles so that when you deploy the server, you can deploy it in one of five different roles,” said Rusche, referring to: mailbox server, client access server, hub transport server (for compliance issues and content filters), edge transport (for security), and unified messaging.

“It kind of intelligently guesses at the services you’re going to want to have enabled or disabled.”

Pawlack said that Exchange 2007 may be of interest to enterprises that are looking to extend their existing Exchange rollouts into new server architecture, but a straightforward upgrade may be a tough sell for Microsoft.


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