REDMOND, Wash., June 30, 2003 — Microsoft today releases to manufacturing the software code for Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. It’s the last major step before the product becomes widely available to volume-licensing customers later this summer and generally available this fall. Microsoft calls Exchange Server 2003 (formerly code-named
) the highest-quality release of Exchange Server ever. To find out what that means for customers and how Microsoft has achieved this goal, PressPass sat down recently with Betsy Speare , Exchange Release Manager.
PressPass: Microsoft describes Exchange Server 2003 as the
version of Exchange to date. What does Microsoft mean by quality?
Speare: There are many things that go into delivering quality with a product as complex as Exchange Server, but I can explain it very simply: To give the customer a fantastic experience. Now, many things go into providing that fantastic experience, of course, and some of them are of particular interest to administrators, others to information workers. How reliable is the product? How easy is it to set up — whether the organization is upgrading from a previous version, migrating from another product, or building its first e-mail deployment? How much control does the administrator have over the infrastructure? How well does the product promote communication and collaboration for end users any time, any place? All of these add up to total quality.
PressPass: You mentioned that customers want a
— but that administrators and information workers may have different perspectives on what comprises that fantastic experience. How are you addressing the perspectives of both groups?
Speare : There have been tremendous changes over the last few years in how IT administrators view quality in Exchange Server, because there have been tremendous changes in how their organizations use e-mail. Obviously, it’s become incredibly pervasive and completely mission-critical for most organizations. So administrators need to not just deploy the product, but ensure they’re optimizing their deployments. They need monitoring and management tools to head off issues wherever possible. This is more important than ever.
We’ve responded to these needs in many ways. Exchange Server 2003 features more powerful deployment tools than ever before. For example, new wizards scan the network and advise if any patches or updates are needed prior to deployment, so the administrator is less likely to encounter problems. The architecture takes better advantage of the Active Directory directory service for more power and control — without requiring administrators to become experts in Active Directory. Microsoft Operations Manager is easier to use with Exchange Server, so administrators can take better advantage of an extremely powerful tool for monitoring managing their Exchange infrastructure.
PressPass: And from the information-worker perspective?
Speare : Information workers want the power, convenience and reliability to work effectively from anywhere. Exchange Server 2003 delivers that quality experience in a variety of new ways. Outlook Web Access lets users access their e-mail from any Internet browser and have a rich, powerful e-mail experience. That was one of the key comments we got back from users about the last version, and we took it to heart.
The cache capability in Exchange means users don’t need high-bandwidth connections to access their mail — an important benefit since broadband isn’t always available to information workers when they’re on the road.
Similarly, the RPC over HTTP functionality that’s new to Exchange Server means that information workers who access the server via Outlook 2003 can connect securely from hotels, client offices or wherever they happen to be, without having to deal with firewalls and Virtual Private Networks. That means these workers won’t need to jump through hoops, for example, to get a hotel to assign them a permanent IP address. It makes the connection seamless for the user. Meanwhile, the administrator and the organization also benefit, because VPNs are expensive and can be difficult to set up and maintain, and can be a primary contributor to Helpdesk calls.
PressPass: You mentioned creating quality features based on customer comments. How do you know what quality means to customers?
Speare : By asking them! We spent three years conducting focus groups to identify what customers felt it would take to deliver a quality experience to them. Customers told us the biggest issue was reliability and recovery time — how long it takes for servers to recover when there is a problem. So we invested enormously in this area. Exchange-clustering enables a failover scenario that can keep a customer up and running despite a hardware failure. And Recovery storage groups provide customers with a way to get their mail back up and running temporarily while they do their recovery work. Snapshot backup — a feature we coordinated with the Windows Server 2003 team — creates a snapshot of the server without any downtime. Customers tell us that these features for recovery are huge.
PressPass: How did quality affect the design and development process for Exchange Server 2003?
Speare : You can go to any developer or tester on the Exchange Server team, ask them what our primary goal is, and they’ll answer
not the feature set or the delivery date. So the first effect on the process was simply making quality the No. 1 priority. It’s something we can be proud of. Quality was the deciding factor in every part of the process–up-front planning, schedules, release criteria, testing, signoff from partners, Joint Development Program (JDP) customers, and so on.
This changed the development process in specific ways. For example, normally a developer comes up with a killer feature and the goal is to implement it in the product. But for Exchange Server 2003, the developer had to explain up front how to implement the feature so that it’s of the highest quality — including automated testing and customer validation. Or, in the past, if features weren’t ready at a particular milestone, such as a beta release, you asked if you needed the feature or not and struggled with meeting or missing the milestone. But now, we asked if we’d met all of our quality concerns. If we hadn’t, we were not ready and we did not move on to the next milestone. It was very simple and clear to everyone. And it was a very positive experience. For example, as part of the Trustworthy Computing initiative, we stopped the clock for two months last year to ensure we’d designed in the level of security that we knew our customers needed.
PressPass: With all of your concerns about quality, how do you test for all of this?
Speare : In lots of ways! We had more than 200 testers here at Microsoft working full time on Exchange. We currently have more than 170,000 e-mail boxes deployed at Joint Development Program (JDP) customer sites around the world. That’s a huge number — we’ve never had that much JDP customer testing before.
And we did many types of tests. Our deployment lab, with 200 servers and 400 connectors, tests virtually all the ways that customers might deploy Exchange. Our interoperability lab focuses on testing interoperability with a range of desktop and mobile clients, works with the Office team on integration with Office 12, and ensures interoperability with a broad range of mail applications. Our scalability lab does huge scale-ups, pushing the product to discover its limits. And we have what we call our dog-food lab; we’ve been running increasing portions of our own business here at Microsoft on Exchange Server 2003 for 24 months. Any pain that our customers might have felt, we felt — and addressed — first.
PressPass: Can you give us an example of what you accomplished with this testing?
Speare : Sure: When we prepared to ship Exchange 2000 Server Service Pack 3, it was among the highest-quality service pack releases we’d achieved, and it performed at 99.9 percent availability on a variety of scenarios for three weeks of continuous testing. We wanted to raise the bar with Exchange Server 2003. We achieved 99.95 percent availability for three weeks — and then kept going to achieve that level for six weeks. That includes stress testing in our internal labs, in our own deployment, and with customers. We pounded the heck out of the product, and it kept going.
PressPass: You mentioned JDP customers: What did their early deployment experience tell you?
Speare : They had a great experience with Exchange Server 2003, and they validated the quality of the product. We didn’t get many phone calls for help. That tells you a lot. The JDP customers also, inevitably, tested the product in scenarios we could never have envisioned. For example, we test interoperability with the third-party products used by significant segments of our market –but we can’t test against the complete universe of such products — there are just too many and we can’t know about them all. JDP customer testing gives us an opportunity to build on our own interoperability testing, to find out how Exchange Server 2003 works with products we didn’t test in the lab. Where minor issues did come up, we had a chance to address them — so that customers working with the final-release product won’t have to face those issues.
PressPass: Once Exchange Server 2003 is finally released and in distribution, how will you evaluate the success of your quality program?
Speare : That’s the beauty of the approach we took to developing Exchange Server 2003: we don’t have to wait for customer experiences with the final product to evaluate our success. Six months of pre-release testing with customers, two years of testing on ourselves, focus groups, customer visits, early reviews — everything we’ve done tells us that we’ve succeeded. That’s why we say we’re confident that customers will find Exchange Server 2003 is the highest-quality Exchange Server ever.