Product quality and functionality gaps top-of-mind issues at Exchange Connections

Product quality and functionality gaps top-of-mind issues at Exchange Connections

Exchange Connections rolled into Las Vegas for its annual get-together this week. I had the privilege of opening the conference and introducing some of the important issues and concerns that are addressed in sessions.

Two points really struck home during this session and discussions afterwards. The first is the degradation of product quality that has recently been seen in Exchange and elsewhere. Perhaps this is the result of the accelerated cadence of software releases or maybe it’s due to current software engineering practices.

For whatever reason, quality problems keep on cropping up and have impacted customer confidence in products like Exchange, even if caused by changes made in associated software like Google Chrome. Issues like this simply reflect the complex interconnected nature of IT used today.

A senior manager from a financial company that has over 300,000 mailboxes told me the perceived quality of Exchange 2013 had caused them to halt plans to upgrade from Exchange 2010. Their current plan is to wait for Exchange 2016 in the hope that improvement happens over the next year. We’ll have to see. I really don’t think that Exchange 2013 is all that bad and it is improving all the time, but I admit that it has had its moments and the list of high-profile issues that have cropped up recently has given Exchange 2013 a bad name.

The second top-of-mind issue is a perception of a growing gap between on-premises and cloud releases. Features like Office Delve and People View have already shown up in Office 365 and Clutter is on its way. Microsoft has not announced plans to make these capabilities available for on-premises customers and it has caused some agitation.

I noted that a functionality gap will always exist between Office 365 and on-premises software: they are delivered through different methods and serve different purposes. It’s also true that on-premises customers have lots of functionality available already and that some of the “missing” features won’t make a heap of difference in real terms to the overall success or failure of a messaging system. For example, People View is a nice to filter email and identify messages from people important to you, but it is hardly an essential must-have feature for most users.

But that logic doesn’t calm those who want to see the new functionality show up in their favourite on-premises product. Once again, we shall have to wait and see what Microsoft delivers in Exchange 2016 next year, albeit in the understanding that by the time Microsoft releases Exchange 2016 it will already be behind the functionality available in Office 365. Still, it’s nice to have something to anticipate.

Most people agreed with my assertion that support continues to be the Achilles Heel of cloud deployments. There's no doubt that Office 365 support has improved as the platform has matured and but far too many reports exist of difficulties in getting past front-line support and slow resolution when serious problems are encountered. 

I also heard some discussion about Microsoft's decision to switch from SHA-1 to SHA-2 certificates (see this blog for detail). The changeover will take place gradually, but Certification Authorities who are members of the Windows Root Certificate Program will only be able to issue SHA-2 certificates for SSL and code signing after January 1, 2016. Exchange and other Office servers make extensive use of certificates to secure traffic and the switchover is causing some brows to furrow. Administrators definitely need to pay attention to this development to ensure that they are ready to phase out SHA-1 certificates.

On a positive note, I saw lots of enthusiasm and interest in topics such as Managed Availability (covered with some aplomb by Paul Robichaux), Database Availability Groups and High Availability (Tim McMichael and Paul Cunningham), and using PowerShell to manage Exchange more effectively (sessions from Jaap Wesselius/Michel de Rooij and Sigi Jagott). And Andrew Higginbotham did an excellent job describing the advanced techniques that he uses to chase down difficult Exchange problems to a standing room only crowd. All good stuff – and that’s only the start of the session line-up. Andy Malone ran a very well-received Office 365 seminar on Monday and Michael Van Horenbeeck will deliver a workshop on hybrid connectivity on Friday.

We also appreciated the Exchange trivia challenge sponsored by ENow Software. Gold envelopes were planted under chairs in several sessions. Those who found the envelopes were invited to answer a trivia question (like “what was the ESE shimmy?”) and if they answer correctly, are entered into a draw for prizes (including $500 cash and an Xbox One). We’ll draw the winning entries after the closing “ask any question” panel session on Thursday afternoon. All in all, a bit of fun.

Like any conference, Exchange Connections is just a snapshot of the current feelings and thoughts within the technical community. The two issues highlighted here are obviously important. Product quality is something that Microsoft needs to action both in Exchange 2013 and as they progress Exchange 2016 through development and testing to first customer ship. As for the functionality gap between on-premises and cloud versions, it is not going to close. We should just accept it and move on.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

TAGS: Office 365
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