Exchange Server 2013 hits general availability, but upgrades must wait

Exchange 2013 hit general availability this week, meaning admins can download it and start experimenting.

Exchange Server 2013 hit general availability this week, but organizations must wait for service packs and updates before they can upgrade.

Companies on Exchange Server 2010 must wait for Service Pack 3 to be released in order to achieve complete Exchange 2013 and Exchange 2010 coexistence. Similarly, organizations on Exchange Server 2007 must wait on a rollup that will include the same functionality. Both Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 must coexist with Exchange 2013 before all data is completely migrated to Exchange Server 2013.

Exchange Server 2013 includes several new aspects that should make both administrators and users happy.

The Exchange server role architecture has been consolidated from five roles (unified messaging, hub transport, edge transport, client access and mailbox) down to two (client access and mailbox). Fewer server roles will make for easier Exchange 2013 deployments.

The Web-based Exchange Administration Center is Exchange 2013's new management interface. It replaces the Exchange Management Console and the Exchange Control Panel. Not only is the interface itself a significant upgrade -- it looks better and is more intuitive -- but it also allows admins to manage hybrid Exchange 2013 with Office 365, if their companies decide to go that route.

Exchange 2013 is now more tightly integrated with SharePoint 2013 and Lync 2013. This integration will allow admins to cross-examine information across all three products, helping to consolidate e-discovery. In past versions, a third-party tool was necessary for this type of discovery.

"There's serious concern for all content across an entire organization. New e-discovery and compliance tools will help here, among other places," said Rob Sanfilippo an analyst with Kirkland, Washington-based Directions on Microsoft.

Users can also now take advantage of the OWA Offline feature. OWA Offline lets users access mailbox information, from contacts to calendars, all without actually connecting to an Exchange server.

Many of the new features and changes in Exchange 2013 share a common thread; they provide further proof of Microsoft's work in and commitment to the cloud.

"These changes are being influenced by requirements due to findings in Exchange Online," said Sanfilippo. "A lot of improvements were for Microsoft's own needs, but they will really benefit customers too."

What about Exchange 2003 customers?

As of now, there is no recommended Exchange 2013 upgrade path for Exchange 2003 shops. Many customers are curious about this and the question of what Exchange 2003 shops should do about migrating to Exchange 2013 was posed at the live "Geek out with Perry" session at September's Microsoft Exchange Conference.

Exchange 2003 customers are terrific candidates for Office 365, said Perry Clarke, a Distinguished Engineer with Microsoft at the session. Fortunately for Exchange 2003 customers, they needn't worry about a move to the cloud if they desire the functionality and improvements that Exchange 2013 provides.

To start, companies have the option to migrate first to Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010, and then make a subsequent move to Exchange 2013. Once they make this move, they will have further time to evaluate Exchange 2013 and may wait on the first service pack before deploying.

Many companies rely on custom applications. Microsoft doesn't support these types of applications, and companies would lose the applications' functionalities if they move to Office 365. Also, even though some governmental agencies are moving to the cloud, many industries that hold highly sensitive data still remain wary of giving that information to someone else to protect. 

"There's so much to consider," said Sanfilippo. "You can't just sweepingly say that everyone [on Exchange 2003] should go to the cloud."

Let us know what you think about the story; email site editor Matt Gervais.

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