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The end of the road for Exchange Server 5.5

It's curtains for one of Microsoft's most used enterprise products -- Exchange Server 5.5. But IT administrators have plenty of breathing room with Exchange 2000 Server.

Though time is running out on the support lifecycle for Exchange Server 5.5, the next version of the software will have another five full years before it fades, thanks to Microsoft's move one year ago in May to a 10-year product lifecycle.

Exchange 2000 Server will move out of mainstream support at the end of the year but will be supported until Dec. 31, 2010. Exchange Server 5.5 ends its extended support phase at the same time.

Microsoft gave its customers a break before with Exchange Server 5.5 in 2003, when it gave customers the option of buying one more year of extended support. That extended support period is now coming to an end.

Microsoft continues to provide critical security fixes for its major platforms, which is what IT administrators care about the most when they're running a platform that's getting a little aged by the software company's standards.

The biggest hurdle with Exchange 5.5 is the requirement to move up to Active Directory to use Exchange 2000, but the number of holdouts -- those who have not upgraded -- is shrinking dramatically, said Peter Pawlak, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft a Kirkland, Wash., consulting company.

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By comparison, it is relatively painless for customers on Exchange 2000 Server to upgrade to Exchange Server 2003. The product works, it has benefits and it's unlikely it will experience incompatibility with any other major piece of software, Pawlak said. Microsoft released Exchange Server Service Pack 2 just last week.

For customers who remain on Exchange 2000, it's unlikely they will experience a problem if they leave the environment alone and continue to apply security patches, said Pawlak. The products tend to be stable and easily able to last another five years. According to the latest estimates from Forrester Research, a Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm, roughly 25% of Exchange customers are still running Exchange 5.5, about 30% are on Exchange 2000 and 45% are on Exchange Server 2003.

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