Windows Exchange: From Email Client to Unified Communications Server

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Windows Exchange started out as Microsoft Exchange, an e-mail client included with Windows 95 and subsequent versions up to Windows 98. During this period, it was renamed Windows Messaging, which was succeeded by Outlook Express and Outlook, the current e-mail clients offered by Microsoft.

Microsoft’s move towards unified communications started with Microsoft Fax that stored fax messages in the same .pst format as other messages. Microsoft Fax could also act as a server sending and receiving faxes.

Windows Exchange Server

Exchange Server 4.0 was offered to the public as an x.400 based client-server mail system that had a single database and supported x.500 directory services. Databases stored such things as e-mail messages and user details while the directory pointed to all the resources and users in the system.

Within one year of the above release, Exchange Server 5.0 was released that had several new features such as a new Exchange Administrator console, support for SMTP e-mail protocol, and a new Web mail interface. Web mail can be accessed from anywhere through a browser unlike the local access provided by e-mail client programs such as Outlook Express.

The Exchange Server 2000 allowed increased sizes of databases and increased number of servers in a cluster to a maximum of four. However, it had no built-in Directory Service and depended on Microsoft’s Active Directory that also had to be installed.

Exchange Server 2003 had compatibility features that allowed users to migrate slowly from their earlier versions. A one-time migration from the old to the new would have meant considerable disruption for companies with many distributed servers. The new application also offered speedier recovery from disasters and e-mail operations could continue while stored messages were being recovered from the backup.

The 2003 version offered access to mobile communications, better spam and virus protection, improved administration tools for managing messages and mailbox.

Exchange Server 2007 came with many new features including unified messaging, and improved calendaring, mobility and Web access for the increasingly mobile information technology workers. The unified messaging allowed users to receive voice-mail, e-mail and faxes in their mailboxes, and access the mailboxes from mobile phones and wireless devices.
There were also other improvements such as increased security through encryption, the ability to automate routine administrative tasks through scripts, and increased database sizes and storage group numbers.

Exchange Server 2010

The latest version of Exchange Server is wholly 64-bit and provides a better mobile experience with support for RSS, SMS and Instant Messaging. Archiving is integrated and items can be managed through retention policies. Server administration is role-based allowing for greater delegation. Lower cost disks are supported for information storage adding to the cost reduction advantage. Direct intercept of messages, blocking of messages and encryption enhance compliance capabilities.

An upgrade to Exchange Server 2010 can thus lead to cost reduction, better compliance and improved administrator and user experience. However, managing an exchange server with many capabilities in addition to e-mail, such as unified communications and Instant Messaging, can prove complex despite all the administration-facilitating tools.

Certain actions can help to reduce the complexity of the task, and also result in a better experience of the final users, the communicators. We look at the major steps that can help in separate articles.

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