Two years ago, Microsoft officials announced the next versions of on-premises Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, Skype for Business Server, and Project Server would be available in the second half of 2021. The catch: All would require a subscription to get support, product updates, and security updates.
SharePoint Server and Project Server Subscription Editions launched as planned. But the other two new on-premises servers did not. Microsoft officials repeatedly have declined to provide an update on the situation until today, June 2 (and so far, they're only talking about what's next for Exchange Server).
Instead of rolling out in 2021 or 2022, the next on-premises release of Exchange Server now is coming in 2025, Microsoft announced today. In the interim, Microsoft plans to offer more new features for Exchange Server 2019 "over the coming months and years." Microsoft also is advising customers who rely on the on-premises version of Exchange to move to the 2019 version as soon as possible. Microsoft will support Exchange Server until October 14, 2025.
Update: A Microsoft spokesperson asked me to reword this last sentence as follows: "Microsoft will support Exchange 2016 and 2019 until October 14, 2025. And after October 14, 2025, only the next version of Exchange Server will be supported." Officials said because of migration enhancements coming to Exchange Server 2019 (which I explain below), the tight support cut-off period between the support end-date and the new version introduction will be doable, in their view.
Microsoft is touting Exchange Server 2019 as including several features not available in previous versions, including a new and improved Outlook on the web, improved security, better performance and scalability, an updated architecture, integration with SharePoint Server and OneDrive, and new and updated message policy and compliance features.
Why didn't the updated Exchange Server debut in 2021 as planned? Microsoft's explanation in today's blog post: Security, security, security.
"Unfortunately, 2021 had other plans for Exchange Server. In March 2021, we confronted a serious reality: state-sponsored threat actors were targeting on-premises Exchange servers." Microsoft responded by releasing a number of out-of-band security updates, cumulative updates and security updates, officials said.
Microsoft officials said today that the version of Exchange Server coming in 2025 will require Server and CAL (Client Access License) licenses and will be accessible only to customers with Software Assurance, similar to the SharePoint Server and Project Server Subscription Editions. Officials said they will provide more details on naming, features, requirements, and pricing in the first half of 2024.
"We are moving the next version of Exchange Server to our Modern Lifecycle Policy, which has no end of support dates. We plan on continuing to support Exchange Server as long as there is substantive market demand," officials said today.
Officials also said they will be adding the ability to do an in-place upgrade from Exchange Server 2019. "This means that you may not have to acquire new hardware or move mailboxes and that upgrading to the next version will by design be much easier than previous upgrades," today's blog post said.
For more details on what Microsoft is doing to try to ease migrations to Exchange Server 2019 and an early look at some of the planned functionality changes, check out today's blog post. And for those wondering about the next on-premises release of Skype for Business Server, a spokesperson told me this: "We'll be disclosing a Skype for Business Server update soon."