Will The Mandatory Exchange Update See Businesses Jump The Microsoft Ship?

In April 2014, Microsoft will end its extended support for Exchange 2003 mail server and a fifth of businesses that still run Exchange 2003 will need to make a move, or face the obvious security risks that come with having out-of-date software.

Moving to the latest version of Exchange will be complicated and expensive so a significant number of businesses will be looking to migrate to a new email platform; many will use this forced move as a springboard for adopting cloud computing.

Although Exchange 2010 offers new features, easier administration, improved security and support for larger mailboxes compared with Exchange 2003, there’s no single compelling financial or business benefit in staying with an on-premise implementation; whereas moving to cloud-based email and office applications offers a range of benefits that will have a significant impact on the ability of businesses to innovate, collaborate and become more efficient.

Integrated social tools

People are now coming into the workplace increasingly expecting to be able to use “social” tools such as chat, video conferencing and concurrent editing. Although the driver for moving to the cloud may be the need to migrate away from an end-of-life email system, this is a chance to embrace this new future to the full.

Cloud enterprise communication and collaboration tools enable the workforce to collaborate effortlessly. Businesses can benefit from social tools that are completely integrated into the applications staff are using, making them immediately accessible whatever they’re doing and no matter which device they’re using.

Mobility

Meanwhile, research company Quocirca found at the start of 2012 that 40% of businesses report that tablet PCs such as iPads are being used to access company IT systems, and predicts that this will rise to 70% within a year. From my experience of working with companies who’ve moved to Google Apps, I know that if your IT system does not support user devices there’s an increasing risk they may break company policies to get the job done, creating risks, making staff less efficient and adding to costs.

Google Apps was designed to be device-independent and work with any browser, giving users access to the full range of collaboration and innovation tools from any device, and making it easy for them to switch between devices as they work. This allows the IT department to keep control of who has access while giving users the freedom they need.

Security

Cloud solutions enable collaboration and mobility whilst placing a high emphasis on the security of users’ data. With major financial institutions like Spanish banking giant BBVA moving to Google Apps, it’s clear that the cloud can be the right choice for even the most security-minded organisations.

In the case of a hybrid cloud, such as Office 365, some data is stored in the data centre but some is still kept on users’ local machines. This puts it at much greater risk of being lost, stolen or corrupted. With cloud computing, data won’t be lost if a user’s computer crashes, is stolen, or is damaged in a fire or flood.

Cost benefit

Cloud computing is all about helping businesses to focus on innovation, growth and competitive advantage, by making “business as usual” as simple as possible. It eliminates further disruptive “forklift” upgrades, offering incremental upgrades instead of forcing users to adapt to new interfaces or multiple updates when applications are finally updated. Although Microsoft promises to update Office 365 more frequently than in the past, they have not outlined how frequently these changes will be made.

Removing the need to install and maintain specialised hardware or client software, cloud computing is also flexible and affordable. Cloud customers generally offer payment per user per year, which can easily scale a business’ costs up and down at each annual renewal point to match the actual numbers of staff in the organisation.

Not surprisingly, some companies will assume the best upgrade path from Exchange 2003 will be to Microsoft’s cloud-based offering, Office 365. But, whilst another Microsoft solution might look like it would be the most straightforward, the underlying architecture of Office 365 — currently based on Exchange 2010 — is completely different.

Of course, moving to a cloud-based service means you won’t have to worry about some of the issues you’d face with moving to an on-premise implementation of Exchange 2010, such as replacing all your servers. However, you’ll still face a number of risks, including data being lost or corrupted as it’s moved across; disruption to business activities if you experience extended downtime during the migration; and the need to train users in the new features and tools provided by modern cloud services.

Your business may be forced to migrate away from Exchange 2003, but that doesn’t mean your options are limited. The inevitable disruption of switching your email system is an excellent time to grasp the nettle and make the transition to a new approach to IT.

Five million businesses have already chosen Google Apps as their cloud-based email and collaboration platform. Many have been helped to make the move by Google partners, who are highly experienced in the issues you’ll face when making the switch, and who have the tools and skills to make the transition as quick and smooth as possible. And a move to Google Apps comes with the extra reassurance that even the largest companies, in industries with strict requirements for security and data integrity, are happy to trust their operations to the cloud.

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David McLeman is the Managing Director of Ancoris, a leading providerof cloud computing and enterprise security management solutions and one of the UK’s leading Google Enterprise Partners. David has an extensive background in Internet services and IT service management having held senior European management positions with opensystems pioneer Sequent (now IBM), Data General (now EMC) and service level management specialists NetIQ. David has been involved with Software-as-a-Service since 1999 when he was part of the executive team at Netstore, the UK's first "Application Service Provider", delivering multi-tenanted hosted messaging services based on Microsoft Exchange.