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After Slow Start, Exchange 2003 Begins to Take Hold

Microsoft delivered Exchange Server 2003 about a year ago, promising users would be drawn to its spam-fighting prowess, mobile and wireless strength and scalability. Reality has been somewhat different, but analysts say the pace is now picking up.

"We think between 35 percent and 40 percent of the base has at least some Exchange 2003 in place," says analyst David Via with Ferris Research. "Virtually every Exchange admin we surveyed—96 percent—expects to be running at least some Exchange 2003 servers by the first of January 2005."

Having some in place doesn't equate to a wholesale migration. Many of those users are simply dabbling, according to research from Radicati Group. The firm estimates the worldwide corporate Exchange installed base at 114 million mailboxes. By the end of this year, Radicati projects that 40 percent of those mailboxes will be on Exchange 5.5, 43 percent on Exchange 2000 and 14 percent on Exchange 2003.

By the end of 2005, when Microsoft support for Exchange 5.5 is scheduled to formally end, Radicati projects the installed base for that older messaging platform will fall to about 24 percent. Exchange 2003 will also pass Exchange 2000 by the end of 2005, with 37 percent of the installed base compared to 36 percent, Radicati projects.

Pretty clearly, Exchange Server 2003 flopped out of the gate. A number of reasons account for the slow start, but there are likewise a few good reasons to expect the server to become the dominant version of Exchange relatively quickly.

Exchange Server 2003 included no earth-shattering new features. Scalability was much improved over Exchange 5.5 Server, but scalability had already been radically improved between Exchange 5.5 and 2000. Mobile access also was improved incrementally between Exchange 2000 and Exchange 2003.

If there was one great opportunity for a stand-alone feature of Exchange 2003 to make a splash, it was anti-spam. Had Microsoft introduced ground-breaking anti-spam technology, uptake might have been rapid. But the market perception of the technology was that it was a big improvement over Microsoft's previous efforts, but relatively ho-hum compared to leading anti-spam solutions on the market.

Without knock-'em-dead, stand-alone functionality, users were left with a series of incremental enhancements delivered through integration with Windows Server 2003. The combination brings a long list of welcome improvements—better security out of the box, the ability to tap into cross-forest global address lists, support for eight-node clustering and shadow copying for backups.

Incremental enhancements befit mature technologies such as a messaging server, but it translates to little rush to jump up to the next version. Furthering hindering Exchange 2003 is its dependency on Windows Server 2003 for many of its features, meaning users need to upgrade both server and operating system to get the benefits. (It's also noteworthy that many Exchange 2003 improvements also require an upgrade to Outlook 2003, further raising the effort level of a migration.)

On the other hand, all the benefits of running Exchange 2003 on Windows Server 2003 will mean that as organizations slowly but surely move up to the newer server OS, the jump to Exchange 2003 will make more and more sense.

Another thing will contribute to Exchange 2003 uptake over time: There's no new version of Exchange on the horizon. The long-discussed "Kodiak" release, with the SQL Server-based message store, is scrapped. Instead Exchange 2003 looks set to copy SQL Server in a different way. As users waited for the SQL Server 2005 upgrade, Microsoft kept rolling out free add-ons to the SQL Server 2000 version for license holders. Exchange's path looks similar, with Exchange Server Edge services coming next year.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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