Many Microsoft customers clinging to Exchange 5.5

The elder statesman of Microsoft's messaging platform is still in use by a surprisingly large number of customers. Maybe not for long, though.

"Which version of Exchange are you on?"

Despite the fact that paid support for Exchange 5.5 is slated to end on Dec. 31, version 5.5 of Microsoft's messaging

The first thing enterprises should do when considering making an upgrade or a change in platform is to find out the real cost of ownership of the current system.

David Via, analyst, Ferris Research

platform is still in use by about 40% of those who answered that question in a recent survey, according to Ferris Research.

Upgrades and migrations to new platforms moved slowly in 2003 and 2004 and will continue to do so in 2005, Ferris Research analyst David Via said. Exchange 5.5 was released in 1997, and Microsoft has since released two newer versions, Exchange 2000 Server and Exchange Server 2003. (Mainstream support for Exchange 5.5 officially ended on Dec. 31, 2003, but Microsoft offered users one year of extended support for free.)

Neil Hobson, a Microsoft Exchange Server MVP and consultant, said that the 7½-year-old Exchange 5.5 is still a fixture in many enterprises. "There still are a lot of questions [from users] based on Exchange 5.5," Hobson said. "It's not going to disappear overnight. I would say now that Microsoft is looking to end these products, like [Windows] NT 4 and 5.5, you get a whole new wave of people who want to migrate off of them."

Many jumping directly to Exchange 2003

Ron Robbins, product manager for Exchange migration solutions with Quest Software Inc.'s Windows management group in Columbus, Ohio, said that when companies do choose to migrate, they often skip to the head of the class -- Exchange 2003 -- because it has proved itself

For more information

Learning Guide: Exchange migration

to be a stable platform with more features than its predecessor.

Ferris agreed. The report found that messaging systems are upgraded every three to five years, leaving Exchange 2000 out in the cold in many cases as enterprises jump directly from Exchange 5.5 to 2003.

The end of support for Exchange 5.5 is a motivating factor in choosing migration, Hobson and Via agreed. However, convincing some that it's necessary isn't easy.

"People have reined it in and said, 'It's working. It's not broken. We're not going to upgrade.' But in one sense, it is broken. There is a lot of stuff that you can't do [with older systems]," Via said. "It's gotten to the point where you have to look at it and say, 'Can you continue to run on things like Exchange 5.5?' There is not good third party support."

A case for an upgrade can be made

While Via said it is tough to make the case to management that a better e-mail system will save the enterprise money, it makes improvements in productivity that are worth it.

"The first thing enterprises should do when considering making an upgrade or a change in platform is to find out the real cost of ownership of the current system," Via said. "This, however, costs money that many aren't willing to spend."

Problems caused by migrations also hold enterprises back. Robbins said planning and personnel costs could be daunting for an enterprise, as well as fear of disrupting the flow of communication. Without the ability to wave a magic wand and install new client software on every machine, IT's job deploying new messaging software can also get pricey.

"Cost is what keeps people form upgrading -- doing the servers … is the easy part," Via said. "But anything that's got to go out and touch thousands of desktops, it's incredibly time consuming and expensive."

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