Why You Shouldn't Wait for Exchange 15 to Upgrade Your MS Exchange Server
With Microsoft Exchange 15 (E15) on the horizon, many businesses are wondering whether they should skip the Exchange 2010 upgrade and wait for E15 to upgrade their aging messaging systems. Changes in IT management and requirements have increased the urgency to deploy the newest features in Exchange, mostly around high availability and global availability.
Moving to Exchange 2010 or waiting for E15 both require work today, for most organizations to avoid making future upgrades increasingly difficult. However, here are several very good arguments for making the move to Exchange 2010 right now.
Quality Is Job 1.1
Most large enterprises view new software upgrades and rollouts as expensive and risky. They often prefer to delay them as long as possible. Email, much like electricity, must be “Always On” in order for a company to do business. With a complex product like Exchange and a major release like E15, it’s important for the platform to be mature before risking an enterprise deployment. There’s a saying in the software industry based on the old Chevy tag line “Quality is Job 1”, in software “quality is job 1.1”. While Microsoft has done a great job of releasing increasingly more stable versions of Exchange, risk avoidance is always a good policy. That being said, Exchange 15 Service Pack 1, which will likely be released 3-6 months after E15 ships, promises to offer fewer surprises.
Exchange 2010 Is Proven
It takes time for any enterprise product to prove itself in the industry. A good example is Exchange 2007. Many enterprises chose to skip this release and wait for Exchange 2010 based on questionable reports regarding its stability, especially in CCR mode. Exchange 2010, on the other hand, is rock solid and has proven itself with an installed base of millions of mailboxes in hundreds of thousands of enterprises. Product knowledge is easily available and the cost of deploying Exchange 2010 is lower than it has ever been.
Companies that delay upgrades are called TiPtOz (Tip Toes). This is the Exchange Insider name for companies that are simultaneously running Exchange 2000, 2003 and 2007 (the Exchange releases code named Titanium, Platinum and Osmium respectively). They must at the very least get rid of Exchange 2000 as soon as possible. If they wait for E15, they will most likely also need to migrate away from Exchange 2003 before upgrading. The best strategy for any Tip Toes environment is to move entirely to Exchange 2010 first and then to upgrade to E15, or even wait for Exchange 16, when they are ready. Given these sorts of upgrade scenarios, at the end of the day, E15’s biggest competitor is likely to be Exchange 2010.
Exchange 15 will most likely contain many new features that will take time for IT Pros to master. Consider the learning curve associated with understanding Cluster Continuous Replication (CCR) in Exchange 2007 or the Database Availability Group (DAG) in Exchange 2010. It could take up to one full year to become proficient with E15, without access to a Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) or Microsoft Certified Master (MCM). Microsoft will ensure that these engineers are up to speed before the product releases. Unfortunately, there’s a limited supply of MCA and MCM experts, so they are difficult to hold down for an extended period of time.
Exchange often serves as the backbone for other enterprise communications tools. It is common for companies to integrate multiple products with Exchange, including DLP systems to control the flow of confidential data to external systems used by employees or customers. These products use a number of interfaces ranging from SMTP to WebDav and Exchange Web Services (EWS). Past releases of Exchange have included changes to the protocol stacks and how they work. Based on this track record it is likely that changes will be made in E15 as well.
Microsoft has also been creating tighter integration between Exchange and other Office products, such as SharePoint, Lync and Office 15. All of these products will likely be enhanced with new features and integration points to make end-users more productive. However, implementing them will take time and effort from the IT team, which translates into increased costs for the business. It’s possible that deploying E15 could inadvertently force upgrades of other products to take advantage of new features.
Along the same lines, Microsoft has a track record of integrating features into its products that have previously only been offered by third-party software vendors. This “Embrace and Extend” mentality has served customers well in the past. There was a time when Windows didn’t have TCP/IP. We may one day say, “Remember when Exchange didn’t have Virus Scanning?” Microsoft has integrated previously unavailable features in all prior releases of Exchange. E15 promises to be no different.
Wait for SP1 Wisdom Flawed?
The flip side of this “don’t wait” argument relates to the allure of the Wave 15 release and the new age of Microsoft testing. What if the combined total of not just E15, but all the Wave 15 applications are simply too compelling to wait for? What if Microsoft’s new development model can truly deliver rock solid x.0 products? One school of thought is that E15 features have been incrementally rolled out and beta tested in the real world as part of Office 365 for some time now, and that all bugs and issues are getting worked out in advance. As a result, problems that were previously only identified post-release are now being discovered prior to RTM. If this holds true, there is no need to delay until Service Pack 1. Organizations just need to wait a month or two for the Office 365 bug check process to work itself out and they’ll be ready to roll.
Truth is, Microsoft has done a better job of releasing production ready software and the Office 365 dogfooding theory does add some credibility to Microsoft’s E15 stability claims. With one big exception. When Microsoft has a problem on Office 365, the product’s developers are just across the street and immediately available to debug even the smallest of problems. In addition, Microsoft has deployed Exchange in a way that most enterprise customers would not, and could not afford to, even if they wanted to. Finally, Microsoft’s IT infrastructure is standardized completely on homogeneous Microsoft technologies, so they don’t face the same heterogeneous systems integration challenges most customers have to deal with on a regular basis.
Exchange 2010 Now
Exchange 2010 is stable, proven, and supported by thousands of qualified and experienced engineers that can assist with system set-up and management. In addition, product support for Exchange 2010 will be available for another five years. Finally, when the time is right, an upgrade from Exchange 2010 to E15 will be a snap compared to migrations from earlier versions. Based on this information, moving to Exchange 2010 now is a no brainer.… E15’s time will come eventually.
About Lee Dumas
Lee Dumas is director of architecture for Azaleos, a provider of managed services for Exchange (and other Microsoft UC servers), and a Microsoft Certified Architect.
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