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As a new version of Exchange Server draws near, an enterprise with an on-premises messaging platform must decide if it will upgrade, migrate to the cloud or wait until the next major release of Exchange.
Many organizations that choose to stay on premises generally make this determination due to business requirements or to prolong a significant investment in infrastructure. Some enterprises might hold off on an upgrade to Exchange 2016 since Exchange 2019 isn't far off -- Microsoft says to expect a final release at the end of 2018.
If a business recently moved to Exchange 2013, it may prefer to stay on premises until this new version arrives. But the tradeoff is the company must wait a bit longer to get more modern features and enhanced security capabilities that can benefit the organization now.
But the choice to upgrade also brings challenges. Administrators must prepare their environment, their teams and end users for the substantial change.
So, what are some areas IT must prepare for when they consider an upgrade to Exchange 2016 from a legacy version? And, once the upgrade is done, what can they do to ensure they can adequately support the platform?
Plan and define the Exchange 2016 requirements
Whenever administrators look to upgrade the messaging platform, they should right-size for the latest Exchange environment to ensure the new version functions appropriately, and can accommodate changes and growth. Administrators can use several online resources, but most rely on a useful calculator from Microsoft. The Excel template, named the Exchange Server Role Requirements Calculator, offers IT a way to quickly assess the numerous requirements around the following critical areas:
- Role requirements
- Volume requirements
- Backup requirements
- Replication requirements
- Storage design
- Activation scenarios
Get ready for the new Exchange Server
After designing the environment in the design phase, IT can then build it with the latest updates and patches on all the servers. Microsoft recommends either Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Server 2016 as the server OS for Exchange 2016.
Make sure to update the .NET Framework; it is a crucial component of Exchange 2016 that determines the performance and reliability of Exchange functions.
If responsiveness is an issue after the upgrade to Exchange 2016, administrators will need to dig through the usual suspects. Check the storage and networking hardware configurations, power settings for the CPU or network interfaces, and review the sizing and architecture of the Exchange environment.
Keep up with monitoring and health checks
Once the business completes its upgrade to Exchange 2016, admins must keep the new environment healthy with regular maintenance. This doesn't require expensive software -- just due diligence. Many admins stick with simple tools, such as Paul Cunningham's Health Report for an Exchange Server PowerShell script, System Monitor (Perfmon) counters and other utilities to keep an eye on Exchange logs and monitor the overall health of the system.
Use the right tools to troubleshoot other problems
Even with thorough planning and a flawless upgrade to Exchange 2016, administrators might face some issues or challenges with the system after deployment. Be prepared to troubleshoot any problems that could arise by gaining an understanding of PowerShell and Log Parser, and any Exchange-specific utilities that identify the source of errors or email issues.