Microsoft's decision to expand licensing options for Exchange can be a boon to customer flexibility but, as usual, customers have to weigh their options carefully, because it's not always obvious what's best for each enterprise.
The company said Monday that it would offer a per-user client-access license (CAL) for Exchange Server, in addition to a per-device CAL and a connector license. These options are all consistent with licensing released in April for Windows Server 2003.
Microsoft also said it was releasing Exchange Server 2003, formerly code-named Titanium, to manufacturing. The price for the new messaging server is the same as it was for Exchange 2000. General availability is expected later this year.
Microsoft has made many changes to its licensing program since it was overhauled 11 months ago. The new terms let customers pay for licenses per user, regardless of how many devices the user accesses. The cost of the per-user or per-device CAL is $67, not including the cost of the server license. A standard server license is $699, and an enterprise server is $3,999.
In the past, licenses were issued according to each device, so one user who had several devices, such as a laptop, a BlackBerry and another device, would have to buy a license for each. Customers can also mix and match user CALs and device CALs, according to Missy Stern, an Exchange product manager at Microsoft.
But with this new flexibility, customers still must take a close look at whether or not the new user-based CAL makes sense for their enterprise. "You really have to look at whether you are using more devices than you have users," said Julie Giera, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. "Companies with more devices than users can save a boatload of money, and we are talking about 30% or 40% if you license your BlackBerry from your desktop."
"But while it can be good, it's not automatically good, and that's important for customers to understand," Giera added.
Microsoft is banking on its community of Exchange 5.5 customers to upgrade to Exchange Server 2003. Currently, about 40% to 60% of Exchange customers are using version 5.5, which will reach the end of its life cycle next year. There are about 50 enterprise customers today participating in Microsoft's Exchange 2003 joint development program, representing about 170,000 seats.
Microsoft said that since Exchange Server 2003's second beta, there have been more than 70,000 "pre-release downloads."
Customers welcome the ability to choose how they design their licensing, particularly where companies have component corporations with conflicting needs. Roger Wilding, a senior technical engineer at CNF Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., said that he's not sure how the different licensing options will pan out for CNF, but the fact that his company has multiple businesses means greater choice in how licensing is handled.
Wilding said that CNF is looking forward to Exchange Server 2003 for its improved mobile capabilities and for improved Outlook Web Access, because these features make it easier to maintain and manage accounts for third-party suppliers. The user CAL licensing makes it easier to keep track of licensing for customers who may work at a partner company but who need access to a CNF Exchange account and can now access the e-mail system with a browser.
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