January 30, 2001, 7:10 PM — Microsoft Corp. Exchange, which was speeding down a straight road just a few months ago, is hitting some twists and turns that are raising more than a few concerns about future developments.
Three months ago Exchange looked solid and ready to make a run at rival Lotus. But now Microsoft seems to be dismantling key parts of the system in favor of technology that supports Microsoft's .Net platform, a loosely defined strategy to offer software as services over the Internet.
The latest hullabaloo is being raised over Exchange 2000's Web Storage System (WSS), a universal repository delivered three months ago to a hero's welcome. WSS was heralded as the technology that finally delivered the type of data store Exchange needed to support collaborative applications. It was so well-received that many Lotus Development Corp. Business Partners branched out to support Exchange.
But now it appears WSS is in line to be consumed by a universal storage system Microsoft is developing for the next version of SQL Server, code-named Yukon.
A month ago, Microsoft yanked the much-anticipated client-side storage system from Exchange that would have let users work with applications offline. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently said that move was made to focus on developing Yukon.
Now it appears Yukon has the back end of Exchange in its sights, and users and analysts are wondering about plans for Exchange and for developing applications for Exchange's WSS.
"Without a clear direction from Microsoft, we recommend users be cautious in developing on top of the Web Storage System," says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group. "The problem is as you write to APIs within Exchange, they call the underlying data store. If they separate the data store, do you still get the same performance?"
The Exchange WSS and the client-side data store - called the Local Web Storage System - were designed to help Microsoft compete with rival Lotus.
But instead of going forward, it looks like Microsoft is going backward.
Instead of a dedicated data store for Exchange, Microsoft plans a universal repository under Yukon that can be a database, a message store and a file system. The idea is to create a single repository for its .Net platform.
"An enormous amount of engineering has to go into creating a single store," says Barry Goffe, group manager for .Net servers. "But the intent is to make SQL not only a relational database but add capabilities so it can be the back-end for e-mail and file systems."
Microsoft is not announcing delivery dates for Yukon, but Ballmer said late last year delivery is two years or so off.