Microsoft Exchange Server expert and author Michael B. Smith has a technology career spanning almost 30 years. His first job in IT was while he was in college in the early 1980s (picture not available, but I'm imagining some really great hair). After working for a few different companies over the years in IT departments, in 1999 he started working in IT consulting, working largely with building hosted Exchange environments. He started his own consulting company in 2007. Michael published his first article in 1984 in Byte magazine, and since that time he's written a couple hundred articles, over 400 blogs, 2 books, and contributed to 4 other books.
If you're attending this fall's Microsoft Exchange Connections, you'll be able to share in some of Michael B. Smith's well-earned messaging wisdom as he'll be presenting several sessions. Michael is also, by all accounts, an accomplished swing dancer, and although I can't say you'll get to see that skill displayed at the conference—well, you just never know, do you? And you still have a couple of ways to get a discount on conference registration. First, the early bird discount has been extended until September 8; second, use the code UPDATE when you register for an extra $50 savings.
Now let's see what Michael B. had to say about the current state of Exchange server deployments and what you might expect to see at Exchange Connections.
BKW: Exchange 2010 has been available for about 2 years now. What do you see as the major trends related to implementing this version, and how have these ideas influenced the topics you'll be talking about at Exchange Connections?
MBS: Deployment of Exchange 2010 actually continues to accelerate at this time. I believe this is tied primarily to hardware refresh cycles and the fact that Exchange 2003 was "good enough." While Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 have a number of great features, for the average company, Exchange 2003 was "good enough."
Because of that, many companies are interested in knowing how best to move forward with Exchange. Today, there are more options than ever. With Exchange virtualized, or in the cloud, or on premises—Exchange continues to provide great value and a great feature set for almost every company.
My presentations revolve around helping companies attain operational excellence with Exchange and helping them determine the best options for most effective use of Exchange.
BKW: One of your sessions has to do with moving Exchange to the cloud, which is certainly a big theme these days with the launch of Microsoft Office 365. In your opinion, what situations or what type of organizations are best suited to making the move to the cloud?
MBS: Well, I'm giving a 75-minute presentation on who—and how—come see it. J But in general, I think that the best match is from companies who really use Exchange only for basic email. They don't treat Exchange as a differentiator that helps provide extra value to their company. Those people can most easily move their message and communications infrastructures to the cloud. Companies that have designed and built applications and operational infrastructures around the feature content of Exchange will have a greater deal of difficulty in making the move.
BKW: Considering the recent, well-publicized outage of Office 365, how should customers prepare for such potential outages if they do make the move?
MBS: There's no such thing as perfect uptime. Four nines (99.99%) is very difficult to attain—that's a presentation I've given at Connections in the past. When planning for infrastructures to support highly available and fault tolerant services, people come into play. And people make mistakes. That's going to be true at whatever provider you use. Based on what I've heard, this most recent issue was caused by a relatively minor design flaw that didn't provide redundant hardware services at a particular point in the switching/routing matrix—and that problem has now been corrected.
Does that make up for three hours of downtime? Does the financial refund of 25 percent of a month's fee make up for that? No. In US dollars for the basic service, that's only $1.50 per user. If a company needs complete control and complete accountability—then they need to continue to run their on-premises Exchange server.
I see the major issue, long-term, being Internet service. While large cities in the United States have reliable, inexpensive, high-speed Internet, that isn't true in much of the country. For example, while visiting Seattle two weeks ago, I noticed advertisements for $19.95 per month for 12Mbps DSL. Guaranteed for five years! I was amazed. Here in my hometown, $19.95 per month buys you 512Kbps DSL—25 times slower. And it's from the same national provider, CenturyLink. And personally, I don't buy the cheapest service, but I've had five DSL outages this calendar year. That would be devastating to a larger company—and is certainly painful for me!
Since you can't access email when you can't get to the Internet, you have to calculate what that cost is to your business.
BKW: You'll also be doing a session on running Exchange virtualized versus in a traditional physical set up. What are two or three things a business needs to have in mind to determine which is the appropriate architecture for their organization?
MBS: I think the number one consideration is I/O load. While relatively minor with today's hypervisors, input-output operations taking place within a hypervisor are marginally slower than on a physical server. If you design hardware very close to its physical limits, that can be challenging.
And I've often seen that people like to run virtual machines with too little memory—especially on the VMware side of the fence. Exchange is memory hungry. Don't think that you can effectively run an Exchange server in a VM and reduce its memory below recommended values and still get good performance.
[Michael B. Smith's most recent article for Windows IT Pro compares the different Exchange environments, physical, virtual, cloud: "Exchange Server Deployment Options"]
BKW: You've been attending and speaking at events such as Connections for many years. For Exchange admins who might be considering attending for the first time, what benefits do you see in attending, and what advice would you give to attendees?
MBS: Honestly, I think the greatest value is networking. You get to meet other people just like you, who either previously faced and have already solved the same problems that you have, or maybe can help you find better workarounds for those issues. Helping each other, hearing about the issues with other companies bigger and smaller—these are of great value.
If you are investigating new technologies—new to you—then the guys who make these presentations are your best resources available. Each of us has done many upgrades, migrations, greenfield installations, and has probably solved more problems than you could even guess existed! Make sure you talk with the speakers, talk with your peers, and invest into the community of the people attending the conference.