Leapfrogging from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010

Is your company considering leapfrogging from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010? It may be the best way to see benefits of cost savings, a stronger client access server and numerous backup and recovery options.

Imagine that your company runs its messaging infrastructure on Exchange Server 2003 and planned to migrate to Exchange 2007 when Exchange 2010 entered the equation. What do you do?

Unless an IT policy prohibits it or you're particularly loath to early adoption, chances are you'll make the leap to Exchange 2010. This is especially the case if you've already familiarized yourself with Exchange 2007 and understand how it differs from its predecessor.

Although it's more feature-rich, Exchange Server 2010 looks similar to Exchange 2007 SP3 from a migration standpoint, says Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing (CCO) , a technology consulting firm located in Oakland, Calif. For example, the servers have the same names -- client access, edge transport, hub transport, mailbox and unified messaging -- and the same roles in Exchange 2010 as they do in 2007.

"If you were ready to go to Exchange 2007, then you have little reason to take the baby step instead of leapfrogging to Exchange 2010," Morimoto said. "It's [Exchange 2010] been in beta, and 30 to 40 customers have already migrated. It's reliable. It's stable. From a budget standpoint, it could be better to go to Exchange 2010," he added.

Julia White, director of Exchange product management at Microsoft, agrees that the leap from Exchange 2003 to 2010 makes sense for cost reasons. "Holistically, the Exchange 2003 environment is amortized, companies have gotten their value out of it and it's getting expensive to maintain," she said. "Looking at total cost of ownership of Exchange 2003 compared with Exchange 2010, we see savings in the range of 40% to 60% when running 1,000 seats." About half of early Exchange 2010 adopters have come directly from 2003, White added.

From a business perspective, as IT managers plan for and undertake such a migration, they will discover many differences between Exchange 2003 and 2010, experts say. Pay particular attention to these.

Recovery and archiving

The biggest gap between Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2010 comes in mailbox server recovery, using a new capability Microsoft calls database availability group (DAG), Morimoto said. DAG essentially extends Exchange 2007's Cluster Continuous Replication (CCR) capability, which enables users to run a secondary mailbox server for recovery. This functionality doesn't exist in Exchange 2003. Unless users bring in third-party back up products, the only recovery option is tape.

With DAG, Exchange 2003 users can get a plethora of backup options, which means they can get rid of the third-party products if they want. With Exchange 2010, users can run up to 16 copies of the server. Unlike CCR, each server can be active at all times.

"It's about extending mailbox resiliency within a single, unified architecture and enabling centralized management -- and it does represent a significant delta from 2003," White said.

Suppose that a company has offices on both coasts as well as in London, Morimoto said. The IT manager in the New York office could run a mailbox server locally with a copy at the San Francisco and London offices, and vice versa. If the New York server fails, the San Francisco server becomes the primary one. If all North American sites fail, the mailboxes are then served from the London copy. Testing from dozens of early adopters shows that failover takes place within 30 to 60 seconds, Morimoto said.

"Companies will have gone from spending $50,000, $100,000, even $1 million on third-party hardware solutions and now they get the failover redundancy that everybody wants without paying a premium because it's out of the box," he added.

Besides alleviating backup and recovery worries for Exchange 2003 users, Exchange 2010 also puts an end to archiving concerns. With Exchange 2010, users can drag and drop mailboxes into an archive store, rather than copying them onto a local hard drive, Morimoto said. Management can search this centralized repository, making e-discovery and compliancy easier in than in 2003, he added.

Storage for less

Exchange 2010 also brings a change in storage strategies for Exchange 2003 users, says Henrik Walthers, a technology architect for Timengo, a Danish Microsoft Gold partner. Microsoft has made significant storage improvements from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010, reducing I/O by 90%, he said.

"This means that organizations can use slower, desktop-like disks, such as Serial ATA in their existing storage area network or, even better, with direct-attached storage," Walther said. "There are some serious cost savings here." It also means companies can host larger mailboxes at no additional costs, which is increasingly important from productivity and intellectual property standpoints, White added.

User productivity improvements

IT managers migrating from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010 should also be prepared for a more robust client access server than would have been called for with 2007, Morimoto said.

"In 2010, client access server does more than just connect users, it's doing much of the communications for all clients, not just Outlook Web Access," he said. "Bottom line, users need to put about 15% to 20% more horsepower in the client access server [than] they had planned for 2007," he explained.

With Exchange 2010, IT managers should be able to confidently extend email access to users with mobile devices and non-Windows machines. Compared to its predecessors, Exchange 2010 enables a seamless experience for users as they move from their desktops to laptops to smart phones, and provides premium support for Linux and Mac clients.

"You get the full drag-and-drop, rich-text format in these clients. It's a huge improvement," Morimoto said. Having all the database features -- high availability, disaster recovery, archiving and Mac support -- layered in will make people with Exchange 2003 realize it wouldn't be advantageous to only take the baby step to Exchange 2007, he added.

Henrik Walthers offers these watch points for IT managers who are considering the leap from Exchange 2003 to 2010.

  • Mail flow in Exchange 2010 is controlled via Active Directory (AD) sites within the AD topology. This requires some AD topology prep work before deploying hub transport servers.

  • Exchange 2010 is built on top of Windows PowerShell, a command-line and task-based scripting technology. While this makes administration easier than in Exchange 2003, it may call for staff training, especially if they are used to navigating via mouse clicks.

  • Exchange 2010 only installs on Windows 2008 SP2 and higher, meaning the move from Exchange 2003 could require some staff learning a new operating system.

  • Exchange 2003 can run on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, but Exchange 2010 will run on new Microsoft virtual servers such as Hyper-V, and on VMware servers.

Beth Schultz is an IT writer based in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

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