A little over three years ago, Ray Ozzie wrote his famous memo re-focusing Microsoft from software to services. We started seeing results of that memo last October, when Microsoft announced Windows Azure.
The SaaS emphasis is also hitting mainstream products like Microsoft Exchange. This morning Steve Gillmor and I talked with Rajesh Jha, the VP of Development overseeing Microsoft Exchange, about the upcoming release of Exchange 14.
While he wouldn’t say much about the actual release timeline, he did say they’ve been working on Exchange 14 for about 18 months. Currently they have 3.5 million test users, mostly in university settings. He contrasted that with Exchange 2007, which had a mere 5,000 test users at the same point in development.
He also highlighted the emphasis on SaaS from the ground up:
Exchange 2007 was first a server, then we built on top of it to make it a service. The feedback on the service came too late–the server design was already complete.
While there are about half a million seats of Exchange 2007 SaaS, the huge number of test users for Exchange 14 means it’s currently the largest multi-tenet Exchange offering–and we haven’t released it yet. From the beginning, the emphasis on co-developing the server and the service aspects of Exchange 14 allowed us to perform much more robust usage tests.
The emphasis on SaaS technology has also attracted a few frustrated Notes users. According to Rajesh, about 5.1 million Notes seats have switched from Notes Servers or Notes Online.
He gave more specifics on learning derived from 3.5 million testers:
From an IT administrative perspective, the university was surprisingly similar to large enterprises. Users struggle to use the software, and administrators struggle to balance privacy with the need to research e-mails for compliance and discovery issues. We’ve tried to architect Exchange 14 in a way that facilitates this.
Our major learnings are scale based–having 3.5 million testers versus 5,000 is no comparison. Since this is the first full-integrated SaaS version from the ground up, having this many users taught us how to optimize deployment, core technology stuff like I/O server footprint, and minimizing help desk call through better usability and web access.
All in all, it sounds like this next version of Exchange should be well-vetted.
(Which means the inevitable frustrations will be all the more aggravating!)