Nomad_Soul - Fotolia

Does 2015 signal an Exchange in the cloud movement?

There are three important areas in Exchange and Office 365 that all admins should keep an eye on this year, according to one MVP.

When it comes to Exchange Server or its cloud counterpart Office 365, 2014 was an eventful year. Exchange Online overtook on-premises Exchange, particularly with regard to features. Plus, Office 365 accounted for a total of $2.5 billion in its earnings halfway through the year and expected that number to grow, according to Microsoft. If anything, the growth confirms that Microsoft's strategy is (literally) paying off and that the company will continue investing in its cloud platforms.

But the rise of cloud-based services has also affected traditional on-premises software. Many IT professionals fear that Office 365 will put them out of a job. An IT pro's job might change in that IT pros won't have to deploy much software anymore, but they'll focus more on putting software to use in the context of the organization they're working in. This might be the case for anyone who doesn't learn to adapt, but I believe Office 365 will bring opportunities to those who are open to it. If you don't believe me, take a look at a recent whitepaper regarding the future of the Exchange administrator.

In 2015, there are three things to be on the lookout for as the movement to bring Exchange in the cloud continues. There will be an increase in hybrid workloads, probably in Exchange 2016 and later cumulative updates, spanning Exchange and its related products (such as Azure). Exchange Online will stay ahead of on-premises Exchange and leap further ahead with new features and capabilities. Finally, more third-party vendors will have to focus on products that are compatible with Office 365. Here's why.

What will on-premises Exchange look like?

We know this will be the year that Microsoft brings us a new version of Exchange in the form of Exchange Server 2016, though with Microsoft's cloud-first strategy, many wonder if this will be the last version of on-premises Exchange. I don't think it will.

Many organizations aren't ready to put Exchange in the cloud, so there is a huge opportunity in hybrid workloads. Let's use the example of an Exchange Online-only feature, Clutter. When Julia White, the general manager of product marketing for Office, confirmed that Clutter wouldn't make it into on-premises Exchange, many people were upset. The move was taken as a sign that it was the beginning of the end for Exchange. However, the reasons why Clutter wouldn't be in on-premises Exchange were made clear. The platform-fueling the feature would be too resource-intensive and likely leave most, if not all, organizations with a poor experience. Clutter also wasn't designed or built with on-premises Exchange in mind. Making the feature available to on-premises customers would require a massive effort, thus making it less commercially interesting for Microsoft.

This being said, a lot of on-premises customers who don't intend to move to Office 365 in the foreseeable future are left behind and feel they're missing out. Consider, for a moment, that Microsoft could create a way for on-premises customers to use Clutter while still having their on-premises deployments. Such a hybrid workload would effectively allow for the best of both worlds -- on-premises and in the cloud. Exchange already has solid hybrid integration, which is easy to set up and maintain with the Hybrid Configuration Wizard. A hybrid Exchange deployment already enables on-premises customers to benefit from online features, including the Azure Rights Management service, an online archive with primary on-premises mailboxes and numerous mail routing options with Exchange Online Protection.

But the success of Office 365 also draws the attention of third-party vendors. Last year, many reporting, monitoring and management vendors announced products to work with Office 365. From a vendor's perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Office 365 is no longer a small market -- it's growing rapidly and still full of opportunities. Many organizations that haven't been able to ship a version of their product will likely have to do so. If they don't, they risk losing business to the competitors that have adapted and have a cloud offering available.

How will security impact Exchange in 2015?

Security had a huge impact on Exchange in 2014 and will continue to do so this year. In 2014, anything related to cyber security (or the lack thereof) easily made international news. While I'm not advocating for Exchange admins becoming paranoid about security, they should always keep security in mind. Exchange is secure out of the box, but there are always ways to improve that. These changes don't necessarily have to be difficult. I still come across deployments that don't implement a decent antivirus or antispam option.

For this year, I hope all cumulative updates for Exchange 2013 will have no significant or critical bugs that prevent its deployment or force Microsoft to reissue a new version. Based on how Cumulative Update 7 is doing so far, I think Microsoft is off to a good start to make this a reality.

About the author: 

Michael Van Horenbeeck is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Master and Exchange Server MVP from Belgium and works for ENow, a company that provides systems management software for Microsoft technologies. He specializes in Exchange, Office 365, Active Directory and a bit of Lync. He is an active contributor in the Exchange community by writing articles for several tech websites and his own blog and by participating in the UC Architects podcast. He frequently speaks at international conferences, including TechEd, IT/DEV Connections and the Microsoft Exchange Conference. 

Dig Deeper on Exchange Server setup and troubleshooting