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With 2014 quickly coming to a close, many admins are reflecting about Exchange Server's current state and are wondering what lies ahead in the new year. And many have questions about how the roles of on-premises Exchange, hybrid Exchange and Office 365 will evolve, now that Microsoft is following a "cloud-first" approach for delivering updates.
We polled our Exchange Server experts to get an idea of what the industry will see in 2015. Here, they give their predictions about potential changes and new features Exchange admins could see in 2015, including how hybrid Exchange comes into play, closer integration with Office 365 and possible Exchange security improvements.
Exchange MVP Michael Van Horenbeeck, product manager, E-Now
I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the next version of Exchange. I don't expect this version to "rock our worlds" like Exchange 2010 did when it was released in 2009, but I expect it to be an evolution of what we already have today, very much like how Exchange 2013 compares to Exchange 2010. No one benefits from disruptive changes anyway; they only lead to complex deployments and potentially complex migrations. In the past, it's been challenging to move from one version of Exchange to another version. With the architectural changes in 2013, this should be much easier, provided you are already running Exchange 2013. We'll have to wait for the first implementation to be the judge of that, but I'm really optimistic there.
I also hope that Microsoft finally comes up with some solutions for the challenges organizations face in hybrid deployments. I'm slightly biased on this topic because of my predilection for hybrid deployments; however, hybrid customers cannot easily exchange Free/Busy information with other hybrid customers. There are challenges around managing recipient types between on-prem and the cloud, and cross-premises permissions are still not possible. So, hopes are going out that Microsoft is able to address these problems in the next version too. Anything that makes the interaction between the on-prem world and Office 365 easier is a huge win for customers and consultants.
It wouldn't be too surprising to see an even tighter integration between Office 365 and Exchange in the next version. Given the efforts Microsoft has put into Office 365, this would also make a whole lot of sense. Microsoft already mentioned that some workloads (e.g., Clutter) would not make it to the on-premises world because of the underlying technical challenges. But what if a customer really likes a feature but doesn't want to move to the cloud just yet? In such cases, why not go hybrid and allow on-premises customers to consume specific workloads in Office 365 through a hybrid deployment? That way, customers that really want a specific feature but don't want to go "all-in" into the cloud can still have their on-prem deployment but enjoy some of the benefits of the cloud. A good example of something that already exists today is the "Online Archives" where the primary mailbox is on-premises, but the archive is hosted in Office 365.
Exchange MVP Steve Goodman, technical architect, Ciber UK
We'll see Microsoft double quotas again in Office 365, giving users a cool 100 GB mailbox to play with. Maybe we will see an update to Office 365, allowing customers who use DirSync to remove on-premises Exchange management tools after a migration is completed. On-premises, I'll bet we will see some sort of implementation of Groups -- as it's too good to ignore. Finally, I think we'll see Microsoft cave in and provide better tuning options for Exchange in a virtual environment. Some of these may be a pipe dream, but an Exchange MVP can hope, right?
Kevin Beaver, information security consultant, Principle Logic
Microsoft Exchange has evolved into a powerful messaging system. The real weaknesses come with hair on top, and I suspect we're going to continue to see more of that in 2015. I'm not convinced there's a lot more Microsoft can do in terms of shoring up some of the user- and administrative-borne weaknesses in Exchange. They are certainly not able to convince management that security needs to be taken seriously -- the real root of most security challenges.
If there's an ideal feature that could be integrated into Exchange, it would be tighter security controls around phishing. It's a growing threat that seems to have no bounds. I think Microsoft could play a better role in keeping malicious links and content out of users' inboxes, because once that content reaches the user, all bets are off.