Microsoft has issued the final beta on Exchange Server 2010 along with the final beta of its security companion, Forefront for Exchange Sever 2010.
The newest Exchange Server, which is 64-bit only, is expected to ship before year-end.
The 2010 version of Exchange is being touted as a hybrid - equally at home as the foundation for a hosted email service or a corporate messaging infrastructure.
Microsoft already hosts more than 5 million users on Exchange 2010 as part of its Live@Edu program.
Michael Atalla, group product manager for Exchange, announced the release on the Exchange Team blog and called out a number of new features: support on the 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2; support for in-place upgrades from the Exchange 2010 RC to the 2010 RTM; and co-existence with Exchange 2007 and 2003 servers.
The co-existence with Exchange 2007 will require Service Pack 2, which Atalla said would ship later this month.
Microsoft has said previously that it has specially architected Exchange 2010 for high-availability and cross-domain integration using techniques such as pairing the server with Windows Server 2008 clustering technology and directory federation features.
The company said that the ability to use Exchange as a hosting platform is now built into the product.
The Exchange beta includes a number of user and administrative features, including new archiving capabilities, but perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic is its online and on-premises split personality.
The company hopes that personality will make it easier for corporate users to straddle environments with some users on internal systems and others using hosted mailboxes from a service.
Features, such as Powershell support, will give administrators one set of tools for managing internal users, users on hosted platforms, and the infrastructure needed to bridge the gap between the two.
But creating the infrastructure and architecture involves more than just Exchange. Microsoft is relying on new clustering technology in Windows Server 2008, such as multi-subnet stretched clusters, and federated Active Directory technology to help bolster high-availability and integrated management.
Microsoft is also trying to beef up discovery and compliance features in Exchange with built-in email archiving. But early beta testers have said the feature doesn't appear like it will be complete in Exchange 2010 and will likely take one Service Pack to hit full stride.
Network World Lab Alliance member Joel Snyder said in his Exchange 2010 review that corporate users should carefully assess the implications of the new server.
"The combination of clustering, replication and low-cost disk support means that reliability and scalability can be based on replicating small, inexpensive servers both within a data centre and between data centres.
"Email managers thinking of deploying Exchange 2010 should step back and evaluate closely these new grid-style architectural approaches - and be sure that your Exchange team has adequate time to re-think and re-evaluate commonly held beliefs on how to build large Exchange networks."
Exchange 2010 is the first in a wave of new Office products set to ship this year and next. Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010 are slated to ship in the first half of 2010.