Exchange 2010: The Migration Story

We're probably not too far away from the launch of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 now. Most people have been talking about a November release date for a while, and I've heard rumors that it could be even sooner. And of course we've got Microsoft Exchange Connections upcoming November 9–12 in Las Vegas as the perfect venue for a grand coming out party for Exchange 2010.

By all accounts, Exchange 2010 is a solid evolution of Microsoft's messaging platform, albeit not without some expected growing pains. Still, I'm left wondering what the upgrade or migration picture really looks like: Are businesses ready for a major Exchange Server move, and does Exchange 2010 have what it takes to convince the fence-sitters the time is right?

I recently spoke with Robert Haaverson, CEO and CTO of Imanami. "Email is ubiquitous. It's important to the organization, but ultimately it's plumbing," Haaverson said. "Plumbing is important, right? But who cares what pipes are doing it? And is it really worth it to keep ripping out the old pipes and putting in the new pipes every time there's a new version?" In other words, if what you have works, why change? This argument might well be echoed by others, particularly if budgets remain tight.

On top of that, even organizations wanting to upgrade have to consider both new hardware and OS requirements. Like Exchange 2007, Exchange 2010 is available only for 64-bit systems, and additionally, it requires Windows Server 2008. Haaverson sees these requirements as another barrier to upgrade to the latest release when it becomes available.

I also spoke with Scott Gode, vice president of product management and marketing, and Lee Dumas, director of architecture, both of Azaleos, about possible upgrade scenarios to Exchange 2010. "The companies that are the ones that are going to be the early adopters of Exchange 2010 might be different early adopters than were early adopters of Exchange 2007," Gode said. "These are going to be people that, for various reasons, stayed on Exchange 2003, and are now more ready to move quickly to 2010." Not coincidentally, this is the same group of people who are likely to have the biggest need for both hardware and software upgrades before transitioning to Exchange 2010.

Another point Haaverson raised was the difficulty of getting your third-party add-ons to work with the upgraded Exchange version. These can be anything from email archiving software, your antivirus or antispam program, or custom line-of-business apps that need to integrate with the mail system. "Every new version of Exchange requires a new version of all these third-party tools. I know \[Microsoft's\] not setting out to do that; they're trying to make things better. But that becomes another barrier," Haaverson said.

And considering Microsoft has dropped WebDAV and other development APIs from Exchange 2010 in favor of Exchange Web Services, it might not be an easy process for those third-party vendors to simply update their software, as you would typically expect from one version to the next. Many vendors could wait to see if there's demand for their product on Exchange 2010 before expending development time; meanwhile, some companies will wait to see if the add-on apps they need will be updated before making the move to Exchange 2010—puts both sides in a bit of a pickle, actually.

So clearly there will be some legitimate barriers to moving to Exchange 2010, even for organizations that have it in the budget. Are there compelling reasons to upgrade nonetheless?

You've no doubt heard about the various new features that Exchange 2010 has in store. Probably the most eagerly anticipated feature is the new high availability architecture through the Database Availability Group (DAG). Basically, this feature lets you build high availability into your Exchange organization with multiple copies of each database through log shipping replication. (Look for a feature article from Tony Redmond on DAG architecture and how it works coming in the December 2009 issue of Windows IT Pro.)

Exchange 2010 has many other new features that might get you excited: built-in email archiving, role-based access control (RBAC), text preview for voicemail, Message Waiting Indicator (MWI), MailTips. You can probably think of others. In addition to the features themselves, there are some other reasons Exchange 2010 should be ready out of the gate for companies to make the move.

"It's also just a natural maturation factor of the Exchange dev team and the way that they've approached the product," Gode said. "They're living more with the enterprise type customers, understanding those pain points, and just applying that a little bit more directly, a little bit more actively to the product. So by its very nature, what they come out with is going to be more market-ready."

Exchange 2010 received extensive early testing through Microsoft's Exchange Labs even before the beta was available. As a result of this large number of live mailboxes running, "the level of testing is just much more intense than it has been in previous versions," Dumas said. "Waiting for Service Pack 1 may not be a requirement like it has been with previous Microsoft products. A lot of companies will wait that six or eight months for Service Pack 1 to come out, and that's not necessarily something we think we're going to push real hard with this release."

Another thing to consider is the improvements to Outlook Web Access (OWA) in Exchange 2010: multi-browser support, integrated IM, conversation view. You're getting just about everything you've come to expect from the desktop Outlook. As Gode said, "Because OWA is going to be so feature-rich this time around, and because budgets are going to continue to be an issue, a lot of admins and IT directors may decide to say, 'Listen, it's OWA for everybody. We don't need and aren't going to purchase the fat client because OWA's good enough.'" Then add to OWA improvements the fact that Outlook 2010—required to take advantage of many of Exchange 2010's new features—won't initially be available when Exchange 2010 is. Makes Gode's suggestion seem quite reasonable.

A recent nonscientific poll we ran on the Exchange & Outlook Articles page about what features of Exchange 2010 seemed most compelling yielded the result that 44 percent of respondents weren't even evaluating Exchange 2010 yet. With Exchange 2010 coming out amid the hoopla for Windows 7 and the flood of other Microsoft releases coming in 2010, I'm left wondering if this Exchange release might be somewhat overshadowed. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts or plans for moving to Exchange 2010—send me an email or leave a comment below to let us know.

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