Why enterprises are delaying an Exchange 2013 migration

Michael Van Horenbeeck

Microsoft Exchange 2013 has some great new features and a host of improvements compared to Exchange 2007 and 2010 versions. Still, despite these improvements -- and the fact that it's been widely available for nearly a year now -- adoption rates for Exchange 2013 remain relatively low.

According to TechTarget's 2014 Windows Server purchasing intentions survey, only 5% of respondents have upgraded to Exchange 2013 while 50% plan to stick with Exchange 2010 in the coming year.

So what's holding organizations back? Let's take a look at why organizations are holding off on an Exchange 2013 migration.

Major issues with quality

Since its release late last year, the Exchange community has been extremely vocal about the lack of overall quality in Exchange 2013. One of the best discussions about this is in Exchange MVP Michael B. Smith's article "Exchange 2013 Gotchas."

Two cumulative updates have been released since then, but neither truly delivered the quality the product deserves. The second update had to be pulled and rereleased due to a major bug found only after the build was released to the public. The unfinished state of the product at RTM and the bad quality of updates reminds me of the issues Microsoft faced with Exchange 2010 with several updates being pulled and rereleased.

To straighten out the situation, Microsoft said it was committed to improving the overall quality of its updates by performing additional, more thorough testing. The fact that Cumulative Update 3 is taking so long definitely hints to extra caution and additional testing.

Claims of a limited cost value

Another frequently cited reason for delaying an Exchange 2013 migration is the supposed lack of added value compared to Exchange 2010. Although I have to disagree from a technical point of view, technological improvements alone rarely make good arguments to upgrade. Instead, enterprises look at different aspects, like increased productivity, end-user adoption and cost. Unless a unified user interface across different types of devices is an absolute must, the few other improvements in Exchange 2013 or Outlook 2013 make a poor business case to force an upgrade.

When looking at the cost of implementation and operation, Exchange 2013 could save your organization money, just like Exchange 2010 would over Exchange 2007. However, you'd have to deploy Exchange using JBOD. Assuming you already did that with Exchange 2010 -- which would make you a pioneer -- it's difficult to create enough additional value or save enough money with an Exchange 2013 migration, at least beyond the point of the additional cost of a migration itself.

Another reason for holding back an Exchange 2013 migration is that many companies only recently moved to Exchange 2010, so the investments made in that platform might not be fully amortized. And last but not least, the slow economy has a hand in the market's slow response.

Technical limitations

Despite support running on its last legs, there are still enterprises running Exchange 2003. And an upgrade to Exchange 2013 isn't easy for them. These enterprises would need to perform a double-hop migration to get there, which means an additional cost that can't be ignored.

Because of this requirement, companies might end up staying at the intermediate server version for the time being. That way, they don't have to execute two successive migrations and bother end users twice in a short amount of time. Alternatives, such as moving to a separate forest, seem far-fetched unless you're in the middle of a consolidation project following a merger or acquisition, which would present itself as an additional opportunity.

It's not uncommon for clients to be the limiting factor. Many companies might run Exchange 2007 or 2010 already but still use Outlook 2003. Often this is because of some legacy applications that interact with Outlook but haven't been rewritten for newer Outlook versions. Especially with Microsoft's switch to Outlook Web App, it's a change in mindset that many companies haven't made just yet.

Because a lot of the new Exchange 2013 features require the use of Outlook 2013, some companies face a steep learning curve. Having to provide training or some form of education for end users can become quite costly. Microsoft pushes companies to leverage the new delivery Office capabilities -- which allows them to run Office 2013 alongside earlier versions -- but it shouldn't forget that many companies don't using Office 365 yet or aren't able to support the requirements.

What will the future hold?

When looking back at Exchange 2010 migrations, we see a similar pattern; even though Exchange 2010 was far more popular at RTM compared to Exchange 2013, the majority of deployments occurred after SP 1. I expect this to be no different with Exchange 2013.

By the time SP 1 is released -- even though no date has been announced yet -- a lot of the quality issues should be fixed, and more people will have experience with the product. This combination makes SP 1 (or whatever it will be called) a lot more attractive to companies. By then, more companies may also have amortized their earlier investments.

About the author:
Michael Van Horenbeeck is a technology consultant, Microsoft Certified Trainer and Exchange MVP from Belgium, mainly working with Exchange Server, Office 365, Active Directory and a bit of Lync. He has been active in the industry for 12 years and is a frequent blogger, a member of the Belgian Unified Communications User Group Pro-Exchange and a regular contributor to The UC Architects
podcast.

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