Exchange Server Licensing Survey Surprises

In a recent UPDATE, I wrote about a problem that reader Alf Flowers was having with Microsoft Exchange Server licensing ("A New Wrinkle in Exchange 2010 Licensing"). He'd been given some information by his license reseller that he didn't think was correct: He was told that he needed to have Exchange 2010 CALs for every user as soon as he deployed the first Exchange 2010 server in his organization. This information didn't sound correct to me either, so I wrote about it. After writing that column, I had the opportunity to talk to Microsoft's Vikas Khandelwal, a senior product manager for Exchange Online and Exchange Server.

I was surprised by what I found out; Khandelwal said that Microsoft's position was that "any user or device that accesses, directly or indirectly, any of the Exchange 2010 functionality needs to have an Exchange 2010 CAL." When I asked him a few clarifying questions, such as whether installing an Exchange 2010 Hub Transport server to process mail for users with Exchange 2003 or Exchange 2007 mailboxes required Exchange 2010 CALs, his answer was the same: Yes, you'd need to buy the CALs.

Fine; Microsoft is, of course, entitled to set its own licensing policies, and customers are free to vote with their wallets if they find those policies objectionable. I'm not going to get into whether I think these policies are reasonable or not, but I was curious: How many other Exchange administrators had the same mis-interpretation of what the CAL requirements actually are?

With the aid and assistance of Brian Winstead, my stalwart UPDATE editor, I wrote a quick nine-question survey to gauge the Exchange community's level of knowledge. In short order we'd gathered more than 200 responses, which I will now summarize: "duh."

Let me start by setting the stage. Of our respondents, 40 percent were running Exchange 2010, 29 percent still had Exchange 2007, and 29 percent had Exchange 2003; 2 percent put down "other," which I certainly hope doesn’t mean that any of them are still on Exchange 5.5. Of the folks who were moving to Exchange 2010, 49 percent were migrating in stages and 32 percent were doing so (or had done so) in a single big-bang migration. When asked about the proper order for deploying Exchange 2010 server roles in migration or upgrade deployments, 71 percent of the respondents said they were aware of Microsoft's guidance on how to do it. (If you're in the remaining 29 percent, the answer is that you should deploy them in alphabetical order: first Client Access, then Hub Transport, then Mailbox, then Unified Messaging.)

Now, what about licensing? I asked whether you thought you needed Exchange 2010 CALs for every user in the organization in three separate scenarios:

  • In the first scenario, the only Exchange 2010 server was a Hub Transport or Edge Transport server handling inbound mail; 64 percent of our respondents believed that they did not need Exchange 2010 CALs in this case.
  • In the second scenario, there's an Exchange 2010 Client Access server acting as a proxy for users whose mailboxes are on Exchange 2003; the Client Access server will redirect traffic to an Exchange 2003 front-end or mailbox server. This time, 54 percent of survey-takers believed that they would not need Exchange 2010 CALs.
  • In the third scenario, there's a mixed population of Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2010 mailboxes, and I asked whether the Exchange 2003 mailbox users needed Exchange 2010 CALs to see free/busy information for the Exchange 2010 mailbox users; 58 percent of you said no.
The survey went on to explain Microsoft's stance and asked two follow-up questions:
  • Did Microsoft's requirement to buy Exchange 2010 CALs for every mailbox user match your understanding? 65 percent of respondents said no.
  • Do you believe that this requirement is the same as, or different from, licensing requirements in previous versions? Here only 19 percent of you said the requirements were the same; 49 percent said they were different, and a whopping 33 percent weren't sure.
What does this actually mean? To me, it points out a couple of things. The first message is that administrators aren't at all clear on what the licensing requirements for Exchange 2010 actually are. This isn't helped by the somewhat unclear language on the product licensing page that I pointed to in the previous column. The second point is that many users who become aware of this requirement see it as a net change, even though it's not. Taken together, these two factors show that Microsoft has a long way to go to educate Exchange admins, and others in the license-purchasing chain, about what organizations actually need to buy.

Ultimately, when you migrate your users, you'll end up buying Exchange 2010 CALs for all of them, so the question of whether you can coexist with less than full coverage of Exchange CALs isn't very interesting given that you'll be buying them in the end. However, for organizations that want to manage their license costs by spreading CAL purchases over time, this is a potential problem. The bigger and more interesting question is what other licensing requirements you might not be aware of, a question which takes on particular relevance given the often-complex (and seldom-read) language in service terms for cloud-based services.

Do you read license agreements before you agree to them? Why or why not? Let me know.

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