So, what's up with Microsoft Exchange Server 2013? I'm looking around at what the experts are saying, and the problems encountered by those wanting to implement Exchange 2013, and I'm not seeing a ton of love. Of course, keep in mind that Microsoft hasn't released the necessary updates for Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2007 to allow for coexistence with Exchange 2013, so the only actual implementations should be greenfield deployments or lab environments, which means a fairly limited distribution. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Exchange 2013 is getting a bit of an image problem.
Exchange MVP Michael B. Smith posted a blog a few days ago of "Exchange Server 2013 Gotchas," which consists primarily of a list of missing features, unwelcome changes, or bugs -- and it's a long list. Not everyone agrees that everything on the list is necessarily a problem; Paul Robichaux wrote a response that defends a few of the points. However, the overall impression is that Exchange 2013 was released before development was truly done, with the expectation that later updates would fill in any holes or fix problems.
For any early adopters, this sort of release strategy could certainly cause some hard feelings as they get stuck working with an unfinished product that some sales rep told them would solve all their problems. But since almost no one can deploy Exchange 2013 into production even though it's reached general availability, perhaps there's no such thing as early adopters in this case. Perhaps the bigger perception problem with Exchange 2013 is that it doesn't really have any marquee-value new features to offer. It's not that Exchange 2013 doesn't have interesting new functionality, but data loss prevention (DLP), a Metro-like interface, or Exchange Administration Center (EAC) are hardly the sort of features you're likely to build a case for adoption around.
It might be that the best selling point for the new Exchange is its simplified architecture, relying on just two server roles instead of as many as five, which should result in easier deployments and possibly fewer management headaches down the line. Peter Melerud, executive vice president of product management at KEMP Technologies, spoke to me about this point. "From our standpoint, we're excited that Exchange 2013 is going to make life easier for customers. It will make it a simpler story to discuss," Melerud said.
My conversation with Melerud came about in relation to how KEMP is addressing Microsoft's decision to stop selling its Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG). The Forefront changes could also be lumped in with the problems around deploying Exchange 2013. TMG has been a standard for Exchange customers to use as an authentication measure for their Exchange environments. To address the removal of TMG, KEMP is stepping in to add authentication capabilities to its LoadMaster series of load balancers through the new Edge Security Pack (ESP).
Although still in development, ESP will be included with the next major release of LoadMaster, expected by the end of Q1. ESP will include features such as end point authentication, single sign on, and LDAP authentication to Active Directory (AD). Of course, LoadMaster also has a great reputation as a load balancer for Exchange Server and other Microsoft workloads; the addition of ESP lets you combine load balancing and gateway features in one deployment. "At the end of the day, you're still going to need a load balancer. But the complexity around implementing a load-balanced Exchange environment has been dramatically simplified," Melerud said.
It remains to be seen how many organizations will be quick to move to Exchange 2013. It might just be that companies are still trying to figure out what to do about Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 and haven't even begun to worry about whether an Exchange upgrade is justified. According to Melerud, "Right now it seems, at least from the discussions we're having with customers, the ramp to Exchange 2013 isn't even on the table yet for a lot of them, not even this year [even though it's early yet]. People are still buying and deploying and planning for Exchange 2010."
So, if you find yourself thinking you're behind the times, still working on Exchange 2010 rather than jumping to the newest version, you're probably not alone. And in this case, with the sort of problems being voiced around the Exchange community, the old advice about waiting for service pack 1 might just be truer than ever. Perhaps by then, everyone will have their other upgrade issues sorted out and Exchange 2013 will offer something to be excited about. Well, we'll see.