Exchange 2007 end of life creates on-premises vs. cloud choice

Support for Exchange 2007 ends in April, which means many organizations face an impending migration. Keep these guidelines handy during migration talks.

Exchange 2007 will reach end of life in April 2017 as Microsoft discontinues support for the messaging platform. Organizations have three choices: Staying with Exchange 2007 -- without assistance or updates from Microsoft, upgrade to another on-premises Exchange Server platform, or move to Office 365. But before making a decision, IT admins and business leaders need to evaluate all options.

Since its release 10 years ago, Exchange Server 2007 has been significant improved. In that time, Microsoft released three versions of Exchange Server: Exchange 2010, 2013 and 2016, which complicates the decision to upgrade or migrate mailboxes to the cloud. In either an upgrade or migration scenario, IT must overcome some technical hurdles: maintain the system within the company's servers, or shift email to Exchange Online?

Use these guidelines during an Exchange 2007 upgrade -- whether it's to a new platform or to the cloud.

Consider the need

As Exchange 2007 end of life nears, the most critical factor is to understand business needs. Are Office 365 services or an on-premises implementation necessary? Once enterprise IT reaches that decision, the organization can determine if it is ready to jump to the new Exchange platform.

Know the complexity involved with an Exchange 2016 migration

An upgrade from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2016 -- the latest version of Microsoft's on-premises messaging platform -- requires a two-stage move because the two platforms cannot coexist.

An upgrade from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2016 -- the latest version of Microsoft's on-premises messaging platform -- requires a two-stage move because the two platforms cannot coexist. Exchange administrators first need to set up a new installation of Exchange 2013 and move mailboxes from Exchange 2007 to 2013. Then, they must install Exchange 2016 and move the mailboxes again. As Exchange 2007 end of life creeps closer, Microsoft recommends that organizations that want to continue to host the platform in their data centers use this method.

Understand the cost involved with moving to the cloud

Migrating from Exchange 2007 to Office 365 is far less complex than moving from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2016; it also offers an easier path to Exchange Online. There are many tools available in the marketplace, such as Skykick and MigrationWiz, to assist administrators with an Office 365 migration. Microsoft also offers financial assistance under its FastTrack program to assist qualifying customers during the process.

Get PowerShell skills

New instances of Exchange, either on premises or in the cloud, depend on PowerShell for common maintenance and configuration tasks. As Exchange 2007 end of life looms, admins with deep Exchange 2007 experience should brush up on their scripting skills to ensure they can address some tasks in Exchange 2016. PowerShell scripts allow administrators to perform many tasks in bulk, whereas the administration web interface often requires some tasks to be performed individually. Here is an example, which shows how to configure multiple mailboxes with specific retention policies where the users belong to a specific department:

Get-Mailbox -OrganizationalUnit "Finance" -ResultSize Unlimited | Set-Mailbox -RetentionPolicy "RetentionPolicy-Finance"

Evaluate Exchange Online's additional services

Many of Microsoft's Office 365 plans include multiple services. This means anyone who wants to migrate email to the cloud can use existing workloads within different plans. Business users can benefit from services such as SharePoint Online, Skype for Business, conferencing, Office Planner and Office Groups. They also should look at advanced email security capabilities, such as Advanced Threat Protection, safe attachments and URL detonation, with the bundled plans in cloud-based Exchange.

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Upgrade client to support new Exchange versions

Upgrade end-user machines to support the new platform; pay special attention to Outlook. Some end users may still use the Outlook Web App client in the browser. However, organizations with a larger user base must upgrade Microsoft Office on clients, although that can disrupt users across the board. Microsoft recognized the Office deployment had to change, and the company now gives IT access to new deployment tools that enable them to more easily and efficiently push the latest Office client applications to end-user machines.

Microsoft provides qualifying Exchange 2007 administrators with technical assistance for moving from the legacy Exchange 2007 to Office 365. It also provides the steps for a move to Exchange 2013 or 2016 on its website.

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