It's that time again: keeping to its traditional three-year cycle, Microsoft has released a new version of its Exchange Server for mail and groupware. The server has recently been released with a "2016" suffix, and will surely be on full display this March at Microsoft's stand in Hall 4 at the CeBIT fair in Hannover, Germany.
Despite the Cloud hype, the new release from Microsoft remains an on-premise version of Exchange Server, i.e. a version that companies can purchase and run on their own servers. Microsoft is also offering a Software-as-a-Service version in the Cloud under the moniker "Exchange Online."
Even in this age of instant messaging services and collaboration tools, emails remain the prime medium for communication in most companies, both for internal and external communication. And many companies would still prefer to keep that sensitive data on their own servers in their own buildings. In these thoroughly insecure times, where 'safe harbor' is a buzzword, the market for stand-alone software like Exchange Server 2016 may well remain quite high.
Exchange Server 2016 is less about a completely new version with fundamental changes than an incremental improvement over the previous version, Exchange Server 2013, with better support for various Cloud services.
Outlook in the Browser: Microsoft has renamed what was previously known as Outlook Web Access or Outlook Web App into "Outlook on the Web," with significant changes. (Photo: Microsoft)
Outlook on the Web: Microsoft has renamed the mechanism for accessing an Exchange Server from the internet, previously known as Outlook Web Access or Outlook Web App, as "Outlook on the Web."
The interface has been revamped and should now work without significant problems with Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer 11 and the latest versions of Google Chrome and Firefox as well as Apple's Safari browser. The web interface has also been significantly optimized so that it can be used on smartphones and tables running on Android and iOS operating systems without requiring that an Outlook app be installed.
The "Sweep" function allows for simpler handling of emails from a specific sender using the web interface. Messages from that sender are kept for a pre-defined number of days, with the option to save the most recent message or to delete all messages.
Improved search: one of the most important improvements involves the search function, which Microsoft has completely reworked. The search architecture is based around Microsoft's experiences with Office 365. Most search results are available within a second, Microsoft claims. As a search term is being entered into Outlook 2016 or Outlook on the Web, the software makes predictive suggestions based on frequent contacts, the contents of the inbox and earlier search terms.
If you are using Outlook 2016 and the client is online, then the search automatically takes advantage of the index on the speedy server, searching through all emails, not just cached messages. For Outlook on the Web, it is now also possible to search through both one's own calendar or those of others.
The overhauled search architecture (eDiscovery) now works asynchronously and decentrally. This makes the server quicker and by default can use several servers.
Collaborative work: Outlook 2016 and Outlook on the Web allow for files stored on Microsoft's OneDrive for Business or SharePoint 2016 Cloud services to be stored as a link instead of as a standard file. Version management for the file is handled by the respective service. Access rights to the file are set automatically, allowing the recipient of a linked file to open it directly like a standard attachment. Access rights can be adjusted prior to sending.
Microsoft has simplified the architecture of the 2016 Exchange-Servers and eliminated the Client Access Server (CAS). These were previously responsible for the handling of all client connections and authentication and provided the standard access protocols such as IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). For the new Exchange Server, the Mailbox Server is responsible for the tasks previously covered by the Client Access Server.
Customers using a load balancer to distribute query loads can continue to do so. The elimination of the Client Access Server does not impact its functionality.
MAPI/HTTP: In Exchange Server 2013 Microsoft introduced the new MAPI/HTTP connection protocol for the exchange of data between Exchange Server and Outlook. Until now the protocol had to be activate manually, otherwise the connection was established via the older RPC/HTTP protocol. In Exchange Server 2016 MAPI/HTTP is used by default. One benefit of the new MAPI/HTTP protocol compared with RPC/HTTP: MAPI is less complex, and as so works quicker.
Hybrid Cloud: the new Exchange Server supports hybrid scenarios. Some mailboxes can be on local servers, others in the Cloud. Beyond this, local mailbox Cloud extensions such as Exchange Online archiving and Azure Rights Management can be used.
Protection against data loss: Microsoft has expanded its Data Loss Prevention (DLP) functions. DLP ensures for example that no sensitive corporate data lands in unauthorized hands, such as through manipulated emails or rigged attachments. Both Outlook and its web version provide warnings about the threat of data being intercepted.
Administrators of a 2013 Exchange Server do not have to worry about massive changes to their routines when switching over or expanding existing servers to the 2016 version. The fundamental structure and configuration of a Mail Server remains largely identical for the 2016 generation.
The new Exchange Server runs on Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2 – in the respective Standard or Data Center version — Microsoft has indicated. The Active Directory structure and domain controller must be running on Windows Server 2008 or newer.
There has to date been no official confirmation that Windows Server 2016 will support the new Exchange Server. One can reasonably presume, however, that the newly released Exchange Server will also run on Microsoft Windows Server 2016, expected in the second half of the year. Microsoft is likely to install that compatibility in a timely manner through an update.
New servers with 2016 Exchange Server can be integrated without further ado into an existing server environment with 2010 or 2013 Exchange servers. Prerequisite: on the 2010 version Update Rollup 11 at minimum must be installed, while 2013 requires Cumulative Update 10. Older versions of Exchange require additional Exchange organization.
On Windows computers, the Microsoft Outlook 2010 mail program is supported as a client through Update KB2965295, and Outlook 2013 and the new Outlook 2016 are supported without further issue. The 2016 version of Outlook may well be the most common client in companies running Exchange Server 2016.
In Mac OS Exchange 2016 access is possible using the Outlook for Mac 2011 or Outlook for Mac for Office 365 applications. Extensive details about licensing options for the Exchange Server and server/client access licenses can be found on the corresponding Microsoft website.
Those uninterested in running their own server can also rent one from the Microsoft Cloud on a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Depending on which functions are desired, an annual subscription of 3.40 or 6.70 euros per user and month (plus VAT) are charged.
Each online inbox offers 50 Gbytes and supports emails of up to 150 Mbytes in size. Access comes via Outlook or Outlook on the Web.