The cut-off date for Windows XP support next year has been ruffling feathers but another widely-used Microsoft product, Exchange 2003, shares the same end-of-life deadline — and its demise is prompting some IT departments to rethink their whole approach.
Many of the organisations using the venerable email server, still estimated to account for between one-fifth and one-third of installations, may take the 8 April 2014 deadline as a cue to assess whether to stay on-premise or look to a hosted service, according to experts.
Ovum principal analyst Roy Illsley thinks those organisations now need to face up to the issues that come with unsupported products but is unsurprised that so many have stuck with Exchange 2003 for so long.
"The trouble with those sorts of technologies is they don't get upgraded as a matter of course in lots of organisations. If it's there, it's working, it's doing a job, it's forgotten about," Illsley said.
"All these [end-of-support deadlines] are coming and it's a case of all the organisations recognising that they've got either to do something or put up with the risk," he said.
"I suspect in this case they are not going to put up with the risk of having Exchange 2003 unsupported, because it's got information that could potentially be used by anybody and everybody. So most will probably move to a hosted-type service. Some people might go to Google and Gmail and stuff like that but most will stick with Microsoft but move to a more hosted Microsoft product."
David McLeman, managing director at cloud services firm Ancoris, said the hardware upgrade implicit in a move away from Exchange 2003 will also influence people's decisions and cause them to reassess the arguments in favour of staying on-premise.
"What's happening is that you've still got a substantial base of people who have to make a change — and of course moving from Exchange 2003 is largely for most people going to need a hardware change, as well as an OS change and an application change. So it's quite a big decision," McLeman said.
"Many organisations are now saying, 'Actually this is the time — let's revisit the whole thing. Do we need to be on-premise or not?' We're seeing a substantial uptick of people saying, yes, let's go cloud," he said.
"There are a group of organisations that are staying on-premise and upgrading to Exchange 2010. But particularly when you get into the mid-market a really significant number of people are considering cloud and then that boils down to either going Office 365 or Google."
According to McLeman, whose company is a Google Apps reseller, organisations are also taking next year's end-of-support deadlines as an opportunity to rethink the desktop and the assumption that it is going to be Windows only.
"Most people realise that the future desktop is going to be a mixture of Windows PCs. We're seeing some sectors deploy Macs, we're seeing Chromebooks just starting to uptick now that Google has been promoting them more heavily since Christmas, and of course you have tablets," he said.
Unlike a desktop migration involving Windows XP, there is still time before next April to move away from Exchange 2003 either on-premise or into the cloud, according to Ovum's Roy Illsley.
"In terms of Exchange 2003, you've not missed the boat — you've still got time to do it. I'd say, if you wanted a rough figure, three months would be a fair project timescale to move an average number of mailboxes off and stick them somewhere else, probably in the cloud — Office 365 or something like that," he said.
"There are tools and stuff available to do an Exchange migration much more rapidly. That may be part of their desktop move — that may be part of what they do and it may enforce what they do about XP and what they move with the desktop and what they take off the desktop," he said.
Ancoris's David McLeman said his firm's migration business to Google Apps has doubled in the past 12 months.
"We see the tide is coming in very fast now. One of the factors in many cases is organisations are wanting to change the way people are working. Whereas a lot of these projects kick off as an email migration, they very much become a project about better collaborative working," McLeman said.