Exchange 2010: Problems, Problems, Problems

Ah, Exchange Server 2010. Don't you just love a new and complicated program to explore? New technologies and a whole new network infrastructure to implement? Mmm, I love the smell of message routing pathways burning in, and the sound of countless messages bouncing around like shiny electric pinballs trying to find their way.

All right, I might have lost a few of you there. Perhaps you're not wowed by the New and Improved. And, actually, I get that. I had to relocate my office about a month ago—or was it six weeks?—and I still haven't found time to unpack my box of reference books so that I could, you know, reference them. So I can certainly understand not wanting to mess with your messaging organization when it's running smoothly—not wanting to go through the upheaval of an upgrade or migration just because Microsoft has a new version available.

Related: Common Problems with Exchange 2010 DAGs and High Availability

Microsoft released the first public beta for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 two weeks ago. The beta has already received a great deal of web traffic in news stories, blogs, and forums. Exchange Server administrators have weighed in with their thoughts about what they see in this latest version, in some cases praising new features or functionality but in many others voicing some significant valid criticisms.

One of the biggest complaints I've seen so far about Exchange 2010 is that it seems to be coming too soon on the heels of Exchange 2007. If Microsoft meets its goal of releasing the final version of Exchange 2010 by the end of this year, it will be three years between the two versions, which is the release cycle the company typically tries to maintain. However, that doesn't mean it's been three years since everyone moved to Exchange 2007—that is, those that have moved and aren't still using Exchange 2003.

With mainstream support of Exchange 2003 coming to an end earlier this month, many organizations undoubtedly decided only in recent months to upgrade to Exchange 2007. And many companies that might have wanted an early adoption probably had to delay any move to Exchange 2007 because of the additional expense of upgrading to 64-bit hardware. Naturally, for the Exchange developers and the true early adopters, three years seems like plenty of time for Exchange 2007 to have worn in like a comfortable shoe, but the reality is that most admins are still trying to make that shoe fit.

Another Exchange 2010 problem that's causing admins concern is the fact that there's no in-place upgrade option—even if you're already on Exchange 2007. That situation made sense with the last version because of the necessary hardware upgrade, but what's going on this time? Jørn Stoveland, a reader on the Exchange team blog, commented, "Small companies often don't have the budget to purchase additional hardware. I thought that the migration from 2003 to 2007 was a one-timer because of the transition to 64-bit OS. I hope there is time to reconsider the upgrade options here."

Tony Redmond, in response to a reader comment on his article "A First Look at Exchange 2010" addressed this point. "Microsoft hasn't forgotten the upgrade option," Redmond wrote. "They just learned from Exchange 2003 how difficult it is to engineer reliable upgrades for all of the circumstances that exist in installations around the world and they learned from Exchange 2007 how smoothly deployments can go when you build servers from scratch."

As true as Redmond's statement might be, it's no consolation for businesses that are already struggling because of the economy. You have to weigh the potential competitive advantage of moving to the newest technology against the actual costs of doing so. My guess is that right now that's going to be a major stumbling block for a lot of organizations—as long as the messaging infrastructure they currently have in place is functioning adequately, beta testing might be all anyone is looking to do.

Unfortunately, even beta testing Exchange 2010 isn't without problems. Here are some of the other common complaints I've seen about the Exchange 2010 beta:

  • No 32-bit trial version is currently available, as there was for Exchange 2007.
  • Exchange 2010 runs only on Windows Server 2008, meaning a potential dual-upgrade scenario.
  • Local continuous replication (LCR) is gone, leading many to feel that Exchange 2010 is aimed only at enterprises, while Microsoft expects small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) to move to its hosted Exchange services.

Are these all the problems with Exchange 2010? Probably not; I'm sure you've seen others, or experienced them if you're currently testing the beta. And it is, after all, still an early beta; technological problems as well as simply adjusting to the newness and changes are to be expected. I do think it's important that Exchange admins continue to raise their concerns and let Microsoft know how they feel about these developments.

But let's not forget that there are a lot of exciting new features to look forward to as well in Exchange 2010. What's important, though, is that Microsoft develops a product with the features that admins need to better do their jobs. Let's hope that's what Exchange 2010 finally delivers.

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