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'Commercial Previews' of Exchange and Skype for Business 2019 Released

Microsoft has released the "commercial previews" of the 2019-branded editions of its Exchange Server and Skype for Business products.

"Commercial preview" is a new term from Microsoft that first emerged with the commercial preview release of Office 2019 for Windows this past April. Microsoft subsequently released a commercial preview of Office 2019 for Mac in June. A commercial preview is software that can only be tested by Microsoft's volume-licensing customers, which are organizations that license "more than five but fewer than 250 users or devices," according to a Microsoft reference guide (PDF). These previews are not available to consumers, as explained in Microsoft's Office 2019 Commercial Preview FAQ.

Both Exchange Server 2019 and Skype for Business 2019 are expected to be commercially available later this year, but they can be tested as of Tuesday.

Exchange Server 2019 Highlights
On the Exchange Server 2019 side, Microsoft described just a few details about the product's hardware support, installation options and end user perks. Microsoft plans to offer more details at its Ignite event in September. Supposedly, the preview can be downloaded here, but the link didn't work at press time.

Exchange Server 2019 will take advantage of hardware improvements and will be capable of running with "up to 48 processor cores and 256GB of RAM," Microsoft's Exchange Server announcement indicated.

Microsoft is touting the installation of Exchange Server 2019 on the Server Core option of Windows Server as being the "most secure platform for Exchange." It'll be supported as well, though, on both the Core and Desktop installation options of Windows Server 2019 and Windows Server 2016.

Microsoft plans to cut the Unified Messaging role from Exchange Server 2019. Here's what that'll mean for organizations, according to the announcement:

Customers who currently connect either a 3rd party PBX or Skype for Business Server to Exchange Server won't be able to do so with Exchange Server 2019 mailboxes. Those customers considering an upgrade to Exchange Server 2019 should consider migrating to Skype for Business Server 2019 and using Cloud Voicemail, or migrating to Office 365 with Cloud Voicemail.

Cloud Voicemail possibly is the same thing as the "Office 365 Cloud PBX Voice Mail" service that's described in this October 2017 TechNet article, although Microsoft later renamed its Cloud PBX service, calling it "Phone System." The 2017 TechNet article had stated back then that "you CANNOT use Cloud Voice mail if you use Skype for Business Server or Lync Server ON Premise," but apparently that restriction will be relaxed in the case of Skype for Business Server 2019.

Microsoft is also signaling that it's adding a "tiered storage read/write capability to Exchange Server 2019," although it's not part of this preview release. The tiered storage is associated with a Microsoft rethink of its storage strategy. It now favors using fast solid-state drives for search data and message retrieval, while low-cost drives should be used for everything else.

The search experience in the Exchange Server 2019 commercial preview was improved using Bing technology, which also resulted in improved database failover performance, Microsoft indicated. IT pros will get the ability to manage events on end users' calendars. End users will get feature additions such as simplified calendar sharing and a "do not forward" option.

Skype for Business Server 2019 Highlights
The commercial preview of Skype for Business Server 2019 is available as a 1.7GB ISO download that initiates from this link.

The main perk for IT pros highlighted in Microsoft's announcement of the Skype for Business Server 2019 commercial preview will be the ability to upload call quality data to Office 365 to get a "consolidated view of calling diagnostics," instead of having to store the data locally. It'll get done using a new "Cloud Call Data Connector" feature. IT pros will see the data using a new Office 365 "Call Quality Dashboard," which will be arriving "later this year." The Call Data Connector can be used to monitor end user experiences, troubleshoot problems, and assign helpdesk and administrator roles, according to Microsoft's "What's New" document.

Microsoft also plans to add a "Cloud Auto Attendant" capability (possibly a rename of "Phone System Auto Attendants") later this year that users of Skype for Business Server 2019 will be able to leverage to keep their Auto Attendant feature up to date. Auto Attendant is a voice-driven menu system that's used for placing or transferring phone calls in an organization. Getting the automatic update capability will require synchronizing user identities using the Azure Active Directory service, the announcement added.

In addition to Cloud Voicemail support planned for Skype for Business Server 2019, Microsoft intends to make it easier for organizations to move to Microsoft Teams. Microsoft's announcement indicated that the Teams migration process has been simplified, but it didn't provide any details. More information will be disclosed at the Ignite event in September, Microsoft promised.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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