Users, analysts: No rush to adopt Exchange 2007


Windows Vista isn't the only recently released Microsoft Corp. software that will give users headaches when they upgrade their systems. Corporate users, partners and analysts said upgrading to Exchange Server 2007 from previous versions also may be a lengthy and painful process for companies, which may want to take a wait-and-see approach to the new software.

New hardware requirements, incompatibilities with other Microsoft software and the complexity of the product's new architecture are just a few of the issues that will make a move to Exchange 2007 from Exchange 2003 or earlier versions costly and difficult for IT administrators, said Microsoft partners and analysts.

"There are about 6,000 pages of documentation that an IT administrator will have to wade through to deploy [Exchange Server 2007], said Keith McCall, a former Exchange director at Microsoft and now chief technology officer and founder of Azaleos Corp., which offers an Exchange Server appliance and turnkey product. You need to think hard and you need to plan your server infrastructure to add the value and new functionality of Exchange 2007."

Exchange 2007 is the first major update since Exchange 2003, and it is the first version of the software that runs only on 64-bit servers. Previously, Exchange ran on 32-bit servers, so customers will not be able to just switch out their current version of Exchange to a new one. They will be required to update the hardware.

To its credit, Microsoft alerted customers in November 2005 that this would be the case. But the 64-bit transition is not the only hardware headache associated with upgrading to Exchange 2007, McCall said.

Because of the various server "roles" Microsoft has introduced for Exchange Server 2007, the software can no longer be set up for high availability on two servers -- one for the roles and one for failover, he said. There are five different server roles for Exchange 2007 -- mailbox, client access, unified messaging, routing and hub transport, and edge transport, which filters e-mail before it hits the mail store.

"If you want to run all of the three primary Exchange 2007 roles (mailbox server, hub transport and client access) with high availability, you need at least four servers, twice as many as you needed in Exchange 2003," he said. "If you want to add the unified message and edge transport roles, you need six servers."

If you don't want high availability, you can run all the roles of Exchange Server 2007 on one server, except for the edge transport server, which requires its own, according to Jeff Ressler, director of the Exchange Server Group at Microsoft. He said Microsoft created Exchange 2007 with these new roles clearly defined because it is easier for administrators to proactively choose which role they want Exchange to play in a network. Previously they had to go in and turn off the roles they didn't want.

"In the new world, you would choose, 'I want that to be a client access server,' and just install those components," Ressler said.

Hardware is not the only pain point for customers upgrading to the new version of Exchange. Duncan Greatwood, CEO of PostPath Inc., in Mountain View, Calif., said there are some incompatibilities between Exchange Server 2007 and Windows Vista, the new version of Windows that was released to business customers in November and to consumers earlier this week. PostPath has a mail and messaging server that runs on Linux and can connect seamlessly with Exchange Servers on a network.

A key problem is that the management tools for Exchange Server 2007 don't run on Vista, Greatwood said. Typically, an IT administrator will deploy Exchange and its management tools on a server, and then deploy the tools on his or her own desktop machine so the server can be maintained from there, he said. However, if an administrator's desktop is running Vista, that desktop can't run the tools, Greatwood said.

PostPath developed its software by figuring out Exchange's proprietary network protocols and building them into its product to enable the migration, Greatwood said. Microsoft also licenses some of Exchange's networking protocols to third parties, Ressler said.

"If you have an Outlook desktop, in a completely unmodified way you can use PostPath just like Exchange," Greatwood said. "Outlook doesn't know it's talking to PostPath; it thinks it's talking to Exchange."

For some companies, this could be a good alternative if they don't want to undertake the task of upgrading to Exchange Server 2007, said Maurene Grey, founder, and principal analyst of Grey Consulting. She said the move from Exchange 2003, which many people are running, to Exchange 2007 is the same as the leap from Exchange 5.5 to 2000, when Microsoft made a similar overhaul in the product's architecture.

For some companies that are diehard Microsoft loyalists, however, the question of upgrading to Exchange Server 2007 is not one of if but when, Grey said.

"When an organization made their last major upgrade will determine to a great extent when they'll make this upgrade," she said. "If a company just spent US$2 million two years ago to upgrade from 5.5 to 2003, the CFO isn't going to be that eager to give them the money to make this upgrade."

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