Customers upgrading to Windows Server 2008 R2, due later this year, will have to upgrade to Exchange Server 2010, which is also due this year. This news, disclosed in the fourth bullet point in a July 17 Microsoft Exchange blog post, means Microsoft partners have to sell Exchange Server 2007 without the promise of support on future OSes and without Windows Server 2008 R2 interoperability with Exchange Server 2007.
Microsoft said it made the decision based on priorities. "We are focusing our resources on getting Exchange Server 2010, which will be fully tested and supported on Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2, customer ready to be released later this year, and we have nothing further to share at this time," said Michael Atalla, group product manager, Microsoft unified communications group at Microsoft, in an emailed statement.
That explanation doesn't sit well with many Microsoft partners.
Pitfalls of product interdependencies hit home
Richard Ayars, executive vice president of Arlington, Texas-based Custom Information Services, emailed his concerns regarding this news. "Policies limiting the compatibility and interoperability between Microsoft Server product release versions within a five-year lifecycle could be the beginning of the end," he said.
"How do I explain to my customer that the product I just sold him will not work with the next release of Microsoft OS?" Ayars said. "I can understand forcing [Windows Server 2008] R2 on customers wanting to upgrade to Exchange 2010, but I cannot understand telling customers that their Exchange 2007 software will not work on the current shipping OS version given that the customer just bought Exchange."
George Hammerschmidt, COO at Nortec Communications in Falls Church, Va., said Microsoft will have to change its stance on support for Exchange Server 2007 on Windows Server 2008 R2 to avoid serious backlash from partners and customers.
"There is interest in [Windows Server 2008] R2 from people interested in virtualizing because it will be the first version to have live migration [for Hyper-V]. So, when people upgrade to R2 for the virtualization features, they are going to get bit when they want to virtualize their Exchange  servers," Hammerschmidt said. "It seems Microsoft hasn't thought through this -- they have to change that stance."
Software Assurance will cushion the blow
On the flip side, companies with Software Assurance or Enterprise licenses won't have to pay for the new version of either software, so migrating to Exchange Server 2010 along with Windows Server 2008 R2 might not be that big of an issue, said Alan "Skip" Gould, CEO of Buffalo, N.Y. -based BrightPlanIT, a Microsoft Gold partner.
"I don't think this will be a big show stopper because so many people have SA on their products or Enterprise licenses, and since there aren't any hardware upgrade requirements with this one -- like going from 32 bit to 64 bit -- it isn't really a cost upgrade," Gould said. "But the smaller customers that don't have either of those [an Enterprise license or SA] and use one-off licensing will be the ones hurt because they'll have to pay."
Gould, whose company focuses on upper midmarket and enterprise customers, said there is a lot of interest in Exchange Server 2010 because of its new features, "so if it doesn't cost anything to upgrade, there is no reason not to," he said.
And companies basing their business on performing upgrades for their clients will be able to cash in on Microsoft's decision.
One Microsoft integrator and partner, Germantown, Md.-based Planet Technologies, builds Exchange environments for customers ranging from universities and government to small businesses. It welcomes the chance to upgrade customers, especially since Exchange upgrades are typically quite slow.
"Once people get onto a mail platform that works, they stick with it for a while. I say this because much of my work lately has been upgrading people from Exchange 2000," said Planet Technologies lead infrastructure engineer Mike Crowley. "If people stick with Exchange 2007 on Windows 2008 because 'it works,' I wouldn't expect them to want to upgrade the underlying OS just because a new one is available."
Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer