Microsoft's decision to hold off on its next major refresh of Exchange could be a boon to IT administrators struggling to keep current with major software platform releases.
At the recent TechEd conference, Microsoft outlined some changes to its messaging strategy. The key change is that for the foreseeable future, there will be no more big application releases as we know them -- only incremental ones.
The first of those will come in 2005, when the company releases Exchange Edge Services, a part of the product that
Although the major platform release known by the code name Kodiak has been shelved, the advances that were part of that product will be released over time, executives said. Microsoft gave no specific time frame for when Exchange will be using the coming data store for the Yukon version of the SQL Server database.
Since the future of Exchange is no longer a server-based application, but a set of services with a common SQL Server data store, Exchange administrators need to start viewing e-mail differently, said one analyst.
A service-oriented approach
Administrators need to recognize that in the future, the linear path of Exchange will be more complex, and that there will be a move to a service-oriented architecture in terms of the data center store and architecture, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Yankee Group, a Boston consulting firm.
"Your messaging decisions are no longer standalone," Gardner said. "You need to bring people who are making decisions about messaging in line with people who are making decisions
Some customers are already welcoming the notion of receiving Exchange in more manageable pieces. One consultant, who is experienced in messaging administration, said he believes that will be for the best because messaging administrators often find that it's difficult to obtain funding for the large releases, which are also harder to plan for.
"Sometimes, they elect to continue with the current release as they cannot justify the bottom-line figures for such an upgrade," said Todd Purifoy, a Dallas-based independent messaging consultant.
Smaller releases will ultimately help some of these smaller to midsized companies -- and some larger installations -- keep up, he said.
Less emphasis on specialists
Many companies are in no rush to leave their current versions of Exchange. One such company is Casey Family Program, a Seattle foundation that assists in providing foster care for children. The organization is happy with Exchange 2000, although it plans to upgrade to Exchange Server 2003 sometime next year. Tim Koeppe, an IT administrator for the program, said he expects to be on Exchange Server 2003 for several years.
In some ways, Microsoft's incorporation of messaging into the platform as a service is already been acknowledged at Casey Family Program. Koeppe's role shifted this year from that of messaging administrator to IT administrator. "We've done away with that discipline because [Exchange] is easy to manage," Koeppe said. "I'd be nervous tagging myself as a messaging administrator unless I was with a company with a more complex environment, like a Boeing."
Erica Rugullies, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass., said Exchange administrators will be relieved not to be hanging in the balance waiting to hear when Exchange will be running on a SQL database.
"[Microsoft] launched a lot of new versions of its software and customers are already overwhelmed," she said. "I don't see [a delay] as having a negative impact on Exchange's market share."