Redmond Unveils Details of Platinum

Microsoft's next version of Exchange -- code-named Platinum -- has entered beta 2.

DALLAS -- Microsoft Corp.’s next version of Exchange has entered beta 2. Code-named Platinum, the product is targeted at improving scalability through tight integration with the Active Directory services of Windows 2000.

Gordon Mangione, product unit manager for Microsoft Exchange, detailed many of the new features and aspects of the architecture at a technical session at Microsoft’s TechEd user conference here.

The upcoming version is designed to push Exchange into large hosted environments with up to 10 million users, which is the theoretical limit for objects within an Active Directory domain. The closed beta release only went to users who committed to deploying the new version of Exchange within 90 days of general availability.

To improve the scalability and reliability of Exchange, Microsoft is providing support for partitioning and enhancing cluster management capabilities. Platinum allows users to partition by dedicating servers to specific Exchange processes including protocols, storage or directories. The new version also enables partitioning of the Exchange database and multiple instances of the Exchange database on the same server.

Cluster management in Exchange builds on that partitioning. "Clustering is really an area where we've made massive investments in Platinum," Mangione says. An Exchange administrator can configure two Exchange storage servers in an active-active cluster, with each server running three instances of the database. If one of the servers fails, the databases can fail over to the other machine.

Integration with Active Directory includes support for Active Directory's Access Control List (ACL) security feature on items in Exchange and allows unification of mailboxes with their Active Directory users.

The new version of Exchange includes a major architectural revision to the Exchange message store, now referred to as the Web store. Where Exchange 5.5 uses an object database for its message store, Platinum is designed as a store with both kernel mode components and user mode components, allowing it to be indexed in a far more complex fashion. "In some ways, we have taken the storage technology in Exchange and made it far more generic," explains Eric Lockard, general manager of Exchange Server at Microsoft.

The new Web store is said to be more scalable than the Exchange 5.5 message store, and it will support other applications. "By doing the [rework] on the message store, that means a variety of clients on the front end can reach this rich message store on the back end," says Russell Stockdale, director of server applications marketing at Microsoft.

He adds, "The first productization of that is Platinum, but there are other products -- Tahoe is one of them that will be productized." Tahoe is a set of technologies Microsoft is developing to provide categorized, targeted information to knowledge workers.

Platinum also includes URL addressability for all hierarchies, folders, messages and attachments. "We're basically making all of the data in an Exchange server Web-readable," Mangione says.

Integration of that feature with Office2000 should allow Web access to mailboxes. The products will be capable of determining the type of browser in use, and those with support for XML should have a Web experience of Outlook that is nearly identical to an Outlook client, Mangione says.

Grizzly Paws Platinum for Better Workflow

One of the first technologies to build atop the Platinum version of Exchange is Grizzly, the code name for a set of technologies for enabling workflow applications.

"Grizzly is a tool for developers that want to build SQL-based tracking and workflow applications, and want to have a Web-based front end," says Neil Charney, group product manager for developer tools at Microsoft.

Charney draws a parallel between the Grizzly technology and initiatives such as the removable media services that are new to Windows 2000. Grizzly is not intended to compete with workflow vendors, but it does provide a foundation for building workflow-enabled applications and offers Workflow services for developers. "We're expecting the developer community to take advantage of this [technology] and supply it to the masses," Charney explains. "Think of [Grizzly] as a library of reusable building blocks."

Grizzly currently is in a limited private beta, with formal release code expected later this year. An incremental update will be made available when Platinum is released. -- Al Gillen