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What a hybrid setup means for Exchange's future

Organizations that don't want to move entire workloads to the cloud have another option that's gaining popularity.

Organizations considering a move to the cloud often want to explore and test the potential platform before they move entire workloads. Whether using Office 365, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services or other software as a service or platform as a service options, gradually moving those workloads makes the most sense.

Switching from an on-premises setup to a cloud setup can be disruptive -- not just technically but also organizationally. And there's a human factor to consider. Change is uncomfortable and can take a while, even in the most modern companies.

Whatever the reason, abruptly changing to a new platform -- even if it's similar to the previous one -- is seldom a good idea. This is why hybrid Exchange deployments are so popular.

A hybrid setup allows organizations to use cloud infrastructure with only a moderate amount of effort. This is likely why Microsoft has invested heavily into making the Hybrid Configuration Wizard easier to use.

A hybrid Exchange deployment is, of course, one of many ways to approach hybrid workloads. In fact, just because you have a hybrid deployment doesn't mean you have to use cloud-based features. For many organizations, the hybrid deployment is merely a vehicle for moving end users into Office 365.

The benefits of a hybrid setup in Exchange

It's important to know how the benefits of a hybrid deployment can extend well beyond moving mailboxes. Since hybrid Exchange's beginning, organizations have had the ability to deploy an Online Archive in Exchange Online while keeping the mailbox on-premises. And while there are indeed technical drawbacks related to this setup, it benefits organizations looking to offload some data from their on-premises environment.

This kind of hybrid setup is especially popular for organizations that want to provide people with larger mailboxes in the short term, but don't have the disk space to accomplish that. By moving old data to an archive stored in Office 365, you free up space on-premises that can be used for live data.

Another example of a hybrid workload is one we've used for quite a while now: a cloud-based message hygiene option. These were mainly deployed on-premises as an appliance or as add-on software to the messaging system. Today, many organizations trust this workload to their vendors and route messages to and from these options without them on-premises. It saves time and effort in having to plan for and manage the appliance or software.

Make sense of hybrid workloads in Exchange

So, how do hybrid workloads make sense in the Exchange world? First, they don't necessarily need to encompass just Exchange. Substituting a related workload with a different, integrated cloud offering is also possible.

Azure will continue to play an important role. Over the past year, Microsoft has been adding supported hybrid scenarios with Azure, such as the ability to deploy a File Share Witness in Azure for an on-premises Database Availability Group. Over time, I’m confident that similar scenarios will be supported and possible.

When looking at Exchange features, offloading mobile device management (MDM) or using Clutter, which Azure's Machine Learning feeds, could also make sense. The former option could be interesting. With Office 365 MDM soon becoming available, it would be nice if on-premises customers could use the same benefits without having to deploy a series of machines on-premises to support that capability.

Some workloads are pretty complicated, making it difficult to provide them as an add-on hybrid workload. But Exchange has always been a forerunner and sets the tone for anything hybrid-related. For on-premises customers, hybrid workloads would make a lot of sense because they could consume features that otherwise might require a myriad of additional servers or components. The best example might be Clutter. As Microsoft revealed, one of the reasons Clutter might not make it to the on-premises world is because of technical requirements; few organizations could deploy the infrastructure required to fuel Clutter.

Hybrid workloads won't cure everyone's problems. Organizations that aren't allowed to use cloud services because of legal or regulatory requirements won't be able to deploy and use hybrid workloads. Unless Microsoft decides to provide some features both on-premises and as hybrid workloads (such as Online Archiving), these organizations will inevitably miss out. Often, regulations that exist today have yet to adapt to the changing IT landscape. I believe that legal and regulatory constraints will gradually loosen as policies get reshaped and modernized, but changing regulations is a process that takes time.

The "moving train" principle

Another item to consider is something I like to refer to it as the "moving train." Cloud continues to evolve, often at a pace that's difficult for traditional IT departments. Traditional, non-agile organizations won't become agile overnight.

The same applies to IT departments that don't deploy the latest and greatest. But once you decide to get on board with cloud, you have to keep up with the pace of innovation in the cloud. Often that means that on-premises systems have to be updated, patches or changed to accommodate for the changing cloud requirements.

Depending on your organization, that might not be an easy task. One of the latest blog posts from the Exchange team describes some trends they see in support calls, one of which is customers running outdated software one or two cumulative updates behind the current version. The article is a good illustration of how organizations are struggling and still trying to find their way to best work in and with the cloud.

About the author:
 

Michael Van Horenbeeck is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Master and Exchange Server MVP from Belgium and works for ENow, a company that provides systems management software for Microsoft technologies. He specializes in Exchange, Office 365, Active Directory and a bit of Lync. He is an active contributor in the Exchange community by writing articles for several tech websites and his own blog and by participating in the UC Architects podcast. He frequently speaks at international conferences, including TechEd, IT/DEV Connections and the Microsoft Exchange Conference.

This was last published in February 2015

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Would your organization consider using a hybrid workload for Exchange?
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Interesting piece. After our initial analysis, we implemented a hybrid workload for a short time as we moved to a cloud-based implementation. I suspect many businesses are holding off on a hybrid setup for just that reason. I would be curious to see how the “moving train” principle gets handled my Microsoft, especially if they’ve already put so much into the hybrid configuration wizard.

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At this point, no, my business doesn't feel that using a hybrid workload for Exchange would benefit us. Exchange is already a very efficient and self contained email server that is secure, easy to use, and solid with Microsoft issuing needed updates and patches when necessary. We have found most hybrid offerings to water down the best of all systems to achieve the hybrid status, lowering the efficiency of the products.
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@Michael, Organizations will continue using Exchange Server due to Organizations do Not want to hand over their Data to the Vendor (Microsoft). Also Security and legal/regulatory constraints are reasons Organization will go with Exchange Server.
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I don’t think that concerns about handing over proprietary information or regulatory constraints pose as much of a problem as many people think they do, whether you’re talking Exchange or another cloud solution. For example, controls are already in place to address compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, and SAS 70 requires service providers to demonstrate that they have adequate controls in place when they host or process data that belongs to their customers.
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@Mcorum, I disagree with you 100%. Organizations DO have concerns with Vendor (Microsoft) having full-access to their Data/Emails. Also after the NSA PRISM revelations, who knows who else have access to the Organization's Data/Emails??
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I agree with Bob.
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If nothing else, a hybrid approach gives users a way to learn about working in the cloud without having to interrupt business too much.
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