Exchange 2007 upgrade looms in Vista’s shadow

Migrating to the next release of Exchange is also a big issue

Users, partners and analysts say upgrading to Exchange Server 2007 from previous versions may be a lengthy and painful process, and that many may want to take a wait-and-see approach to the new version.

New hardware requirements, incompatibilities with other Microsoft software and the complexity of the product’s new architecture are just a few of the issues that will make a move to Exchange 2007 from Exchange 2003 or earlier versions costly and difficult for IT administrators, say Microsoft partners and analysts.

“There are about 6,000 pages of documentation that an IT administrator will have to wade through to deploy [Exchange Server 2007], says Keith McCall, a former Exchange director at Microsoft and now chief technology officer and founder of Azaleos, which offers an Exchange Server appliance and turnkey product.

“You need to think hard and you need to plan your server infrastructure to add the value and new functionality of Exchange 2007,” he says.

Exchange 2007 is the first major update since Exchange 2003 and is the first version of the product that runs only on 64-bit servers. Previously, Exchange ran on 32-bit servers, so customers will not be able to just switch out their current version of Exchange to a new one. They will be required to update the hardware.

To its credit, Microsoft alerted customers in November 2005 that this would be the case. But the 64-bit transition is not the only hardware headache associated with upgrading to Exchange 2007, McCall says.

Because of the various server “roles” Microsoft has introduced for Exchange Server 2007, it can no longer be set up for high availability on two servers — one for the roles and one for failover. There are five different server roles for Exchange 2007 — mailbox, client access, unified messaging, routing and hub transport, and edge transport, which filters email before it hits the mail store.

“If you want to run all of the three primary Exchange 2007 roles (mailbox server, hub transport and client access) with high availability, you need at least four servers, twice as many as you needed in Exchange 2003,” he says. “If you want to add the unified message and edge transport roles, you need six servers.”

If you don’t want high availability, you can run all the roles of Exchange Server 2007 on one server, except for the edge transport server, which requires its own, says Jeff Ressler, director of the Exchange Server Group at Microsoft.

Maurene Grey, founder and principal analyst of Grey Consulting, says the move from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007 is the same as the leap from Exchange 5.5 to 2000, when Microsoft made a similar overhaul in the product’s architecture.

For diehard Microsoft loyalists, the question of upgrading to Exchange Server 2007 is not one of if but when, Grey says.

“When an organisation made their last major upgrade will determine to a great extent when they’ll make this upgrade,” she says.

“If a company just spent two million dollars two years ago to upgrade from 5.5 to 2003, the CFO isn’t going to be that eager to give them the money to make this upgrade.”

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