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Replication gives Exchange Server 2007 SP1 new selling point

Microsoft partners report steady sales of Exchange Server 2007 so far, and they predict more migrations will come with the release of Service Pack 1, which features continuous replication for disaster recovery.

Microsoft partners said they've had success selling Exchange Server 2007, and they expect the upcoming Service Pack 1 to drive even more business -- thanks to new features including standby continuous replication (SCR).

Exchange Server 2007 SP1 is due in the fourth quarter of this year. Convergent Computing, a Microsoft partner in Oakland, Calif., has already migrated many of its customers to Exchange Server 2007, but most of those were early adopters, not the mainstreamers who make up the bulk of a customer list, according to Rand Morimoto, Convergent's president.

"We've been waiting for SP1," he said. "A lot of customers will wait for SP1."

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Exchange Server 2007 shipped with two types of replication in place: local continuous replication (LCR), in which an Exchange server backs itself up continually onto a second set of disks attached to the same server; and cluster continuous replication (CCR), which uses the clustering and failover abilities in Windows Server to create a copy of one Exchange server on another, continually update the second, passive server, and instantly switch to the replica if the primary server fails.

While both approaches reduce the overhead, storage space and other resources required for full backup, they're not adequate for disaster recovery, so customers have had to buy third-party software or appliances for that ability, Morimoto said.

"It really was not cost-effective for smaller companies," Morimoto said.

In Exchange Server 2007 SP1, SCR addresses disaster recovery by extending CCR to make it possible to back up one Exchange cluster to another in a different location.

SCR's biggest advantage over LCR and CCR is that it does not automatically switch over to the remote Exchange if there is a failure, giving users better control over their incident management and response, said Donna Scott, an IT operations analyst at Gartner Inc.

The aim of including SCR in Exchange Server 2007 SP1 is to eliminate the need for third-party products, and Microsoft partners expect that to be a big selling point.

"Having it integrated in the core [operating system] is a huge plus," Morimoto said.

"There's been a lot of people waiting for [SP1] because that feature was going to be in it," said Alan "Skip" Gould, CEO of BrightPlanIT, a Microsoft partner in Buffalo, N.Y.

But Gould cautioned that customers who buy Exchange Server 2007 SP1 for its SCR functionality may not get all they want from a full disaster recovery solution, and they may still need to rely on third-party vendors.

For example, organizations that require very quick failover could be frustrated by SCR's requirement for manual failover, unless they're staffed around the clock and can guarantee someone able to manage the failover will always be available, Gould said. Third-party vendors that specialize in failover products provide that assurance and do a better job at automatic failover than LCR and CCR, Gould said.

Another limit is the inability of any of the three replication methods to allow for more than one Exchange database to be backed up within the same group of storage units or servers. Each setup is focused on one Exchange implementation, not several Exchange networks across an enterprise.

In addition, IBM's Lotus Domino Server and other Exchange competitors already have more advanced built-in disaster recovery capabilities, but including SCR in Exchange Server 2007 SP1 is still a "good first step for Microsoft," Scott said.

"It is a first release, so companies will have to evaluate whether they want to go with a first-release Microsoft product or something that's been around for a while," she said. "For disaster recovery, you normally want to go with something that's proven."

Still, Gould said customers who buy Exchange Server 2007 SP1 for its disaster recovery functionality will find several other benefits. Both he and Morimoto said the new improvements to the Outlook Web Access (OWA) client, which lets mobile users access their email and calendars through a Web browser, are another major selling point. The enhanced OWA client will give mobile users more of the features in on-premise Outlook, including the abilities to see a full month of a calendar, instead of just one day, and to create and modify personal distribution lists.

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