Why I'm letting someone else run my Exchange 2010 server

Why I'm letting someone else run my Exchange 2010 server

Summary: Microsoft officially released Exchange Server 2010 today. I could go download the code from my MSDN or TechNet account and install it in-house. Instead, I'm planning to let someone else handle the heavy lifting for me, and I suspect I have a lot of company. The biggest objection to a complex but powerful server product like Exchange is the hassle of managing it locally. Using a third-party hosting company eliminates those hassles and adds benefits like redundant data storage and simplified administration.

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Microsoft officially released Exchange Server 2010 today. As an MSDN and TechNet subscriber, I could go download the code for free and install it on my in-house Windows Server 2008 R2 box. But I have no plans to download those bits or install them.

Instead, I'm planning to let someone else handle the heavy lifting for me, and I suspect I have a lot of company. The biggest objection to a complex but powerful server product like Exchange is the hassle of managing it locally. Using a third-party hosting company eliminates those hassles and adds benefits like redundant data storage and simplified administration.

For the past few years, I've kept all my personal and business e-mail, calendar, and contact information in an Exchange account hosted by Mailstreet, a division of Apptix. (Previously, I used unmanaged POP/SMTP servers for e-mail and stored messages, contacts, and calendar information locally in Outlook PST files.) Mailstreet's service has been first-rate, including a recent trouble-free upgrade from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007. For our collaborative work on recent book projects, my co-authors and I have also been using SharePoint and Exchange 2007 as part of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite, which has also been easy to use and extremely reliable.

The first third-party hosting company to cross the Exchange 2010 finish line is Intermedia, which announced availability of its hosted Exchange 2010 product (a custom-developed solution) within a few seconds of Microsoft's announcement. So far, neither Apptix nor Microsoft's BPOS division have announced definitive plans to make the latest version of Exchange available as a hosted offering. According to an Apptix spokesperson, being first isn't necessarily that big of a deal:

Microsoft has not announced an official release date for the hosted version for Exchange 2010, but as a long-time member of Microsoft's Technical Adoption Program, Apptix has been working successfully with Exchange 2010 in their lab for over a year.  They will be more than ready to offer Exchange 2010 to customers once the hosted version, with the appropriate features and functionality for multitenancy incorporated, is made available - sometime next year.

Until that time, Apptix will continue to offer its proven hosted Exchange 2007 service that customers can rely on for mission-critical email communication needs. … Most end-users won’t even notice the enhancements of Exchange 2010, as the new features are primarily datacenter-centric. Microsoft’s new end-user benefits are really available in Outlook 2010, which Apptix will offer immediately to customers when it is commercially available.

I spoke last week with Intermedia's Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan McCormick, about the company's plans and its infrastructure. They currently boast a quarter-million users and expect the biggest source of growth in the hosted Exchange market – the "sweet spot" – to be companies with 200 to 500 users that are currently running the aging Exchange 2000 or Exchange 2003 and dread the prospect of an in-house migration.

Cost is an issue, of course, but data integrity is even more important to those business customers, McCormick told me: "They care about their data," he said. Those Exchange repositories don't just contain simple e-mail threads; they also include PowerPoint presentations, business contacts, and details of contracts. A server crash can paralyze the business for days, which is why Intermedia has multiple replicated platforms in data centers on opposite coasts, with rapid restore capabilities and a 100% Data Protection Guarantee.

Intermedia also touts its custom development skills, which allow them to simplify administration tasks via a custom control panel (shown here) instead of using the generic Microsoft-provided admin tools. One example is the ability to quickly perform a remote wipe of a stolen or compromised mobile device such as a Blackberry.

One misconception I had when I started investigating hosted Exchange options is that they are expensive and only appropriate for large businesses. As it turns out, most hosting companies offer plans for small companies, and both Mailstreet and Intermedia have single-user plans appropriate for sole proprietors like me. Including ActiveSync support (which works with both Windows Mobile and the iPhone) and spam filtering, I pay roughly $14 a month for a 2GB mailbox. Businesses with multiple users can get significantly lower per-user pricing.

Speaking personally, the biggest advantage of the Exchange platform for me as a small business owner is its ability to work on multiple platforms. Ironically, my recent experiments with Apple products have been especially successful with Exchange. After Mailstreet migrated my hosted account to a server running Exchange 2007, I was able to connect the Snow Leopard Mail client and an iPhone to the server and begin syncing immediately. If I send or receive a message, create or edit an appointment or contact, or trim the contents of my inbox on any PC, Mac, or mobile device (including a Windows Mobile phone), those changes are reflected on any other device. I don't have to think about synchronization, and I don't have to worry about a local server failure causing me to lose important data. Given how well my setup is working, I'm in no hurry to migrate to Exchange 2010, but will probably take a closer hands-on look at Intermedia's offfering shortly.

Clearly, Google's entry into the market (along with some very clever marketing and a halo effect from their search success) has made an impact on competitors for managed e-mail and apps, especially for small businesses. Their presence is undoubtedly responsible for Microsoft's decision to slash its BPOS prices in half recently. It wouldn't surprise me to see third-party hosting companies start cutting their prices as well.

Topics: Hardware, Collaboration, Microsoft, Servers

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94 comments
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  • Why ironic?

    Given that exchange is the de facto standard in business email/cal having their products working as
    perfectly as possible with exchange is a must. Not only that, they advertise this functionality. Did you
    expect it to fail miserably? Your expectations must have been low. Heh.
    isulzer
    • It took years

      Native Exchange support was only added in Snow Leopard, less than two months ago. It took a very, very long time. But it is ironic that this particular bit of Microsoft software works so well with Apple's software. That isn't always the case, as the many, many iTunes-related episodes show.
      Ed Bott
      • Lost me there.

        It's out of beta. They added it. They advertise it. It works. Not surprising. I do agree
        that Apple has long testing periods...

        They also have to license this tech from Microsoft. Mayhap this is the reason it took so
        long? They did this for the iPhone, recently, and have added it to snow leopard, the
        most recent release. I'm sure they could have added it to leopard... but that would
        remove incentive to upgrade wouldn't it?

        But you did lose me with the iTunes mention... what are you referring to?
        isulzer
        • They could have licensed it years ago

          And as for iTunes, you're kidding right? I've personally experienced data loss and serious crashes caused by iTunes.

          Blue Screen Of Death caused by iTunes:
          http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=536
          http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=543

          Not to mention the unwanted software installed without consent:
          http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=554

          The Bonjour service (installed with no notice or consent along with iTunes) has wreaked havoc on some networks. I had a client who lost all internet access via their DSL modem thanks to Bonjour (quick uninstall fixed it).

          So, no, I don't expect an initial release of an Apple program to work well.
          Ed Bott
          • K.

            'They could have licensed it years ago' is not a fact, is it? Don't treat is as one. It is
            only a few years ago that the EU forced microsoft to open up many of it's server
            protocols to the competition to prevent 'lock in', whatever they really meant. We do
            know that it was first implemented for the iPhone due to the need to use it in a
            business environment, and that the iPhone isn't THAT old. Furthermore go check
            microsoft press releases for a date:

            http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2008/dec08/12-
            18EASLicencingPR.mspx?rss_fdn=Press%20Releases

            The earliest it could have occurred was early 2008, but Microsoft only finished
            publishing documentation for active sync by december 2008. So less than one year for
            adding and testing support in the iPhone is a pretty fast rate. Add a bit more for the
            release of Snow Leopard.

            Your examples have nothing to do with OS X though. Given that it's in their best
            interest to provide working, but not so great software for the Windows ecosystem...
            Just like Microsoft does for the Mac OS ecosystem. Which in turn forces Apple to
            license exchange just to get decent exchange support for their OS... get the picture?
            Just two corporations fencing... why should you expect them to release software with
            massive problems for their own OS?

            None of the links you posted were initial releases. Furthermore none of these were on
            OS X. Why would you expect their initial release of exchange support on Mac OS to be
            bad then? Especially when they had been testing support on the iPhone for quite a
            while. It already worked. Why would it suddenly have a crop of problems pop up?

            I think you were just projecting. But thanks for explaining why you were surprised.
            isulzer
          • Nokias have worked with ActiveSync

            since shortly after SP2 for Exchange 2003, which is when they added push e-mail support. In fact they worked before but you had to check mail from the phone every so often.
            LiquidLearner
          • 2003 is my understanding

            I think you're confusing a few issues. As LiquidLearner points out separately, there were other devices that licensed ActiveSync as early as 2003.

            But I am not well versed on this issue and think it's mostly a sidetrack. My original point was that I was pleasantly surprised and found it ironic that Exchange support on Apple hardware made this platform even more valuable to me. For some reason you saw that word as a negative. That certainly wasn't my intent.
            Ed Bott
          • iTunes is crapware, bloatware, whatever you want to call it

            Not sure what iTunes has to do with an Exchange discussion but since you mentioned it...

            Never has a bigger piece of junk ever been installed on my Windows machine. It literally brings to a halt everything else I am trying to do whenever I launch the thing. I wish there was something "else" I could use to manage the stuff on my iPhone, especially since it "forgot" everything in my iTunes library and now I have to build it again from scratch before I can sync again.
            PepperdotNet
      • re: Native Exchange Support

        Ed, I haven't used Snow Leopard much yet because our servers are still Leopard, but I know in Leopard it has Exchange support -- email anyway. I presume by native support, you mean that iCal works alongside Mail and such to integrate seamlessly with Exchange?
        WarhavenSC
        • Differences

          Leopard supports Exchange via IMAP. SL adds native support. Works very well (tho not perfectly).
          Ed Bott
      • RE: Why I'm letting someone else run my Exchange 2010 server

        @Ed Bott

        You complete a acceptable assumption arrange <a href="http://www.shoppharmacycounter.com/">weight loss pills</a>, advantageous job!
        weightlosspills
    • Exchage is Not The De Facto Standard

      Roughly 40% or so of Corporations use the "other" e-mail Platform, IBM/Lotus Notes.

      Roughly 40% run the POS known as Exchange.

      The other 20% use other solutions.

      Exchange = JUNK.
      itguy08
      • Found a GREAT Email server

        http://www.icewarp.com

        Awesome!

        It runs on RHEL/Cent...
        use_linux
        • A very poor record of actually delivering

          So, I have to download this server and run it in my shop? And be responsible for data backup and security and management? How many third-party hosting companies are offering this awesome software as a service to enterprises? How much does it cost on a per-user basis?

          Did you actualy read this post or just use your caveman "Ugh, Exchange BAD!" button?

          Did you notice that IceWarp proudly offers Exchange ActiveSync compatibility? Oh wait. No they don't. An August 2008 press release said they would be including that much-needed feature in version 10, which the press release said was due in October 2008. Then in May 2009 they said it would be coming in "summer 2009."

          And yet here it is November 2009 (I am pretty sure summer is over now) and no sign of version 10 or ActiveSync support. The download page is still offering version 9.4.2.

          Go ahead, read the press releases for yourself:

          http://www.icewarp.com/press/

          Sheesh.
          Ed Bott
          • IceWarp is superior to Exchange

            So in your words, MS is the best nothing
            is better, so I guess the amount of downtime
            from Worms/Viruses from MS based OS'es is
            of no concern.

            IceWarp is used by Nortel, Cisco, MIT, Siemans
            oh yeah they can't deliver!

            Whatever.... Another paid MS bot...

            http://www.icewarp.com/about_us/customers/
            Use_More_OIL_NOW
          • Another ad for IceWarp

            Sorry but Exchange is an excellent product and one that has continually improved.

            PS: Exchange is used by as many and more big companies than IceWarp...and no downtime due to worms/viruses is not a big issue.
            otaddy
        • Icewarp is okay

          but as a comparison to Exchange? Not even close. Sendmail is perhaps on the same playing field.

          You have two big players, Notes and Exchange. Note has its uses but if you think Exchange requires "a lot" of management you have no idea what you're in for with Notes.
          LiquidLearner
          • IceWarp is > than Exchange

            IceWarp is awesome, at least it can
            run without being down with Viruses/worms.
            Use_More_OIL_NOW
      • Why even bother, anymore

        You are so anti-Microsoft, that you have been found to make many things up to support your "facts"

        Comments are allways welcome, but yours are the ususall "LET ME TELL YOU ONCE AGAIN THAT I HATE, HATE, HATE, MICROSOFT"

        Fact: IBM/Lotus Notes =[b]JUNK[/b]

        ;)
        GuidingLight
        • If it helps...

          Most everyone I know will bag on Exchange, or Notes, whichever they are using. So, I'd add to the mix:

          Fact: Exchange = Notes = Junk :P
          zkiwi