Microsoft: End is near for Exchange 5.5

Just like it's doing with NT 4.0, Microsoft is getting ready to pull the plug on Exchange 5.5. This isn't exactly what the 60% to 70% of customers who haven't made the move to Exchange 2000 wanted to hear, and it gives a new charge to the life cycle debate.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Microsoft earlier this year set dates for the final withdrawal of support for its popular NT 4.0 operating system platform. Now the company seems poised to do the same for its Exchange 5.5 messaging server.

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  • At MEC 2002, Chris Baker, group product manager for .NET Enterprise Servers, said that information on the end of Exchange 5.5's product life cycle will be forthcoming before the end of the year. Only 30% to 40% of Exchange customers have migrated to Exchange 2000 so far, Baker said, although many more have purchased licenses to upgrade.

    That's still a whopping percentage of Microsoft's customer base that has not upgraded. Exchange 2000 requires far more planning, particularly because it requires users to upgrade to Windows 2000 and build an Active Directory. These are huge, expensive projects that impact thousands of corporations and users, said James Kobielus, an analyst at the Burton Group, which is based in Midvale, Utah.

    "There are all these domain controllers, mail servers, desktops," Kobielus said. "[For plenty of customers,] what's the crying need?"

    Small businesses with tight budgets in a tough economy will feel the most pain when Exchange 5.5 is discontinued. Matt Pierce, a network administrator at SafeRent Inc., a Denver company that provides applicant-screening services for apartment communities, said that he anticipates staying on Exchange 5.5 as long as possible because of the high cost of migrating.

    "With the economy the way it is, our plans are not to dive right in, and if people haven't made the leap they are probably in no hurry to do so," Pierce said. "Exchange 5.5 gives most companies what they need, though Windows 2000 has a lot of benefits."

    The issue of marking the end of Exchange 5.5 support, like NT 4.0 support, dredges up the bigger issue of product life cycles and customer annoyance about being forced to migrate on the vendor's schedule -- not their own.

    "We are always forced into these upgrades, and do you get a choice? No," said Greg August, director of management information systems at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Bethesda, Md. "It's not a major concern but an overall gripe. Product life cycles are pathetic."

    Though NT will not be withdrawn from the market until July 1, 2003, shrink-wrapped server editions are no longer available through the channel. All support ends on January 1, 2005.

    Still, some IT managers said that forthcoming news about the end of Exchange 5.5 support is no problem unless Microsoft releases a timetable that is unusually abrupt.

    "Our plan is to be out of [Exchange] 5.5 in a year," said Todd Purifoy, enterprise messaging administrator at International Truck & Engine Corp. in Warrenville, Ill. "If our plan was two years out, and they said in a year [Exchange 5.5] would be dead, it might cause some issues."

    On the upside, specific knowledge about the end of Exchange 5.5's life cycle will give IT administrators, who sometimes have trouble getting corporate funds, some powerful ammunition when proposing their migration plans to senior management.

    "From an administrative standpoint, it's sometimes the only way to make a company move," Purifoy said. "Until the end of a project life cycle comes, we can't get the emphasis put on the project we need."

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