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The Road to Office 365 – It’s Not ‘If’ but ‘When’ and ‘How’

If there’s one thing we can be sure about it’s that, at some point in the future, almost nobody will manage mailboxes on premises.  The dominant players look like being Microsoft with Office 365 and Google with Google Apps, though of course others may emerge.

Not surprisingly, then, pretty much every CIO in the world has taken a look at these platforms and adopted a stance.  The stance may involve proactive planning now with a rapid migration in mind, or it might be a case of keeping things as they are until the technology matures further.  Or there might be any number of interim steps that will make a migration easier at some point in the future.  I would wager that there is no CIO that hasn’t started thinking about migrating email, in its entirety, to the cloud.

The Road to Office 365 – It’s Not ‘If’ but ‘When’ and ‘How’

The Road to Office 365 – It’s Not ‘If’ but ‘When’ and ‘How’

For the last few years Mimecast has positioned itself as a companion technology to Microsoft Exchange, optimizing our cloud services to deliver maximum value to on premises or hosted Exchange customers.  And now, of course, we’re also providing services for Office 365 customers, in both cloud-only and hybrid environments.  Of our 9,000 or so customers, almost all of whom are on some form of Exchange, we are seeing a growing number using Mimecast and Office 365 together.  With Office 365, we support very clear use cases that address specific customer needs that can’t be met by Office 365 on its own.  It could be a particular compliance or eDiscovery need, or a desire for a ‘cloud-on-cloud’ High Availability solution to protect against downtime.

Office 365 may be the eventual destination for most businesses, but that doesn’t mean there is a crazy rush to migrate there or indeed that it’s the only short to mid-term option.  For example, we’re seeing the Managed Service Provider (MSP) market booming, as smaller businesses offload their Exchange infrastructures and move to hosted Exchange suppliers.  At the other end of the scale, Exchange 13 is an attractive option for companies who want to keep their mailboxes on-site.  And we’re seeing a fair amount of hybrid deployment, with IT moving a subset of users to the cloud, with an independent archive like Mimecast’s giving them the flexibility to toggle mailboxes back and forth between on premises and cloud as they see fit.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  These are all interim measures, albeit interim measures that will be very profitable for those organizations operating in the space for some years to come.

The point, I guess, is that we’re all preparing for an Office 365 world.  At Mimecast, we are building out and optimizing our Office 365-specific portfolio so the use cases are crystal clear.  It’s not simply a question of offering alternative tools to those that Microsoft includes with its Office 365 SKUs, but showing how we offer additional layers of functionality that support specific customer needs.  That way, over time, we actually see ourselves becoming an accelerator, or enabler for Office 365 adoption, since we effectively remove short-term barriers to adoption.

Naturally, Microsoft is working hard to add functionality of its own and make Office 365 as robust and feature rich as possible.  Many of the ‘gaps’ that Michael Osterman calls out in his paper, Office 365 for the Enterprise: How to Strengthen Security, Compliance and Control, will be filled by Microsoft over the coming years.  So does that mean third parties will find it hard to build businesses within this ecosystem?  No.  In fact, as the platform matures, more use cases will emerge just as happened with Exchange many years ago.

Microsoft will certainly want to make sure that the common elements of customer need are properly served by Office 365 off the shelf, but this is a company, unlike Google, that has always been committed to its partners, and to the creation of a vibrant community of ISVs around its core platforms. Office 365 will be no different, and there will be plenty of room for third parties who can help customers not only see over the short term hurdles, but enjoy a first class, zero compromise cloud experience in the longer term.

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Windows 8 Has Ruined My Life…Oh Wait Maybe Not

If this title sounds familiar, you’re likely to be someone who reads the technology media.

I mean let’s face it, ever since Microsoft announced its new operating system it had more than its share of critics appearing from every corner of the globe offering up their opinions (much like I’m doing now).

Microsoft has released screenshots confirming the return of a Start button to Windows 8

Microsoft has released screenshots confirming the return of a Start button to Windows 8

I don’t understand what the negativity is about.

I’m a Windows 8 professional user and I’ve been very happy with my upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.

Before I continue, I just want to clarify a few things about myself and my history with Operating Systems because I’m not like the average user.

Like most, my first OS was a Microsoft OS (DOS 3.1 to give you an idea of my age) and I stayed within the Microsoft ecosystem for many years until one day in 1998 I decided to run a test to see if Linux was ready for the desktop. That test failed miserably but it instilled a love of all things Linux in me which I still have today.

In 2000, I moved to a fulltime Linux desktop as all the work I was doing was consulting and working around Linux systems. This continued to 2004 when a consulting project I was involved in required documents to be created in Office 2003 (Project and Visio). At that point I migrated from SuSE Linux 9.1 to Windows XP with Office 2003. That project completed and in 2005 I started working at Mimecast. My machine stayed on XP as I didn’t have the time to dedicate to migrate my data again.

My work at Mimecast brought me closer to Microsoft Exchange and Outlook and when they released Windows Phone I was excited to see what their re-imagining of the user interface would be like. The change from my BlackBerry Bold 9000 to the HTC HD7 was remarkable. Never before had I handled a phone that was so intuitive, user friendly and functionally useful to me. Sometime later I got “upgraded” to an iPhone 4s and – in what my wife and many others thought was a backwards step – I returned the iPhone and went back to WP7, this time to a Nokia Lumia 800. The iPhone wasn’t anywhere near as user friendly and intuitive as the Windows Phone was for me.

So when Microsoft announced Windows 8 and that it would be a similar experience to the Windows Phone, I was intrigued. I soon had a Lenovo Twist, a nice little machine with a touch screen that folds over and turns the laptop into a tablet and I began using it and reporting back to the IT department any problems I had or things I thought might be problematic for us as an organization to support.

I love being a guinea pig.

Anyway, barring basic issues like desktop AV clients not yet properly supported and drivers for my obscure Boogie Board Rip not yet working properly, everything has worked pretty much perfectly from day 1.

Yes, I’m not a basic user, but I ‘m a person who uses a lot of applications and is constantly moving between them. I’m someone who should, if the people who cry about the lack of start buttons and booting to desktops are to be believed, be miserable with this new OS.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

All in all, my life hasn’t really changed. I use the machine almost exclusively in desktop mode. Not because I don’t like the apps in the new UI, but because the tools I use on a daily basis are all on my desktop. I use Outlook, not the mail app, I use Word, not some note app, I use Excel not some calculator that can be obtained from the marketplace.

When I start up, I get dropped into the new start screen. Shock and horror, in order to begin my day I do what I’ve ALWAYS done. I start my mail client, Outlook. This is done by clicking or tapping the Outlook tile that I’ve positioned neatly in my direct line of sight on the start screen. Outlook starts and takes me into desktop mode.

I don’t miss the start button at all and it amazes me how much attention this insignificant little feature is getting. The start screen easily replaces the start button but if I am too lazy to jump around, I just use shortcuts. My taskbar in desktop mode has shortcuts to all my frequently used apps on it. (Microsoft have just announced that Windows 8.1 will include a start button but no start menu, among other much more exciting features but more on that later).

Both in my home office and my work office I’m connected to external displays and in almost every instance of using the machine I’m working with my keyboard and mouse.

My son uses the touch interface to play games. I don’t play games on this, I prefer to save the battery for more boring things like connectivity and spreadsheets.

That’s not to say I don’t go into the new UI ever because I do. My password management app is in the new UI.

So let’s recap.

I can do everything I need to do.

I don’t care that I’ve no start button because it doesn’t impact me in any way.

I work in desktop mode all day and the start screen doesn’t magically stop me being able to do this.

I switch between new UI and desktop all the time and I haven’t gone crazy.

So why’s everyone so anti this new operating system?

Beats me!

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Microsoft Exchange Server: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Microsoft Exchange Server 4.0We don’t yet know what the next version of Microsoft Exchange Server will be called. Exchange 15 is an assumption based on the version number, the last being Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 which was version 14 (14.01.0218.015 for SP1, to be specific). We also don’t yet know when Exchange 15, or Exchange Server 2013 (based on the three year cycle) will be released into the wild.

So while we are waiting, here’s a quick look at the versions that have come before:

 

The Younger Half-Cousin Done Good – Exchange 1.0

Actually not a server product at all, Exchange 1.0 or Windows Messaging to give it its real name was an email client included in Windows 95, 98 and NT4. The fashion at the time, 1996, was to lack support for Internet email so if you were looking for SMTP or POP3 support you were out of luck unless you installed the separate Microsoft Plus! pack, codename ‘Frosting’. Frosting included other delights such as Space Cadet Pinball, DriveSpace 3 and some space-age screensaver and wallpaper files.

Windows Messaging had us hooked though; we never looked back. In 1996 HTML messages were evil, our marketing departments hadn’t yet realized how to brand plan text emails yet. It was de rigueur to include an obscure quote in your footer, and if you were really out to impress, a string of special characters on the verge of ASCII art. There was no support for international characters either; sorry, the rest of the world you lose.

The First Server, Server Product – Exchange 4.0

The server side of the business came crashing through the door one day wanting in on the new funky Windows Messaging action. Exchange Server 4.0 was born as an upgrade to Microsoft Mail 3.5, which in 1991 was slowly turning into something called Network Courier in. Lotus were very excited about acquiring cc:Mail at about the same time, so the race was on.

Our CEO, Peter Bauer still proudly displays his Microsoft Mail 3.5 certifications on the office wall.

Exchange Server 4.0 was a wholly new system, designed on the X400 client-server model, supported by a single database and an X500 directory service, which later morphed into Active Directory.

1997 Microsoft Valued at $261 Billion and Exchange Server 5.0

In the year Microsoft becomes the World’s most valuable company, and Bill Clinton is returned to office for a second term, as is Steve Jobs; Microsoft release Exchange 5.0 and the new Exchange Administrator Console.

Adding the new Internet Mail Connector allowed your new shiny Exchange 5.0 server to communicate over the internet via SMTP, for the first time allowing your users to arrange their days around the send/receive button. Exchange 5.0 also introduced a new-fangled web-based email interface uninspiringly called, Exchange Web Access.

A Few Short Months Later – Exchange Server 5.5

In November 1997 while the tech world was distracted by the $37 Billion merger of WorldCom and MCI Communications, Microsoft snuck out Exchange 5.5, which was sold in two editions, Standard and Enterprise. Standard was limited to a 16GB database which was a throwback to previous versions, whereas Enterprise Edition had a database limit of 16TB. I remember building a business case for Enterprise Edition and having to explain to the business why 16GB wasn’t enough – if only we knew then what we know now.

Drum Roll Please, Ladies and Gentlemen Exchange 2000 Server

By November 2000 we’re on Exchange Server version 6.0, codename Platinum. A big leap forward with changes to support clustering and database size limitations. But, the upgrade required there to be a complete Microsoft Active Directory infrastructure on the network as there was no built-in directory. There was no in-place upgrade from previous versions of Exchange, so consultants and Microsoft Partners made merry with the consulting hours as customers required both platforms to be online at once.

Codename Titanium – Exchange Server 2003

Version 6.5 added some useful migration tools that helped companies consolidate their distributed Exchange environments; I have a true story that demonstrates this perfectly.  One client of mine, who had twenty different Exchange Servers, one for each letter of the alphabet, distributed users depending on their surname, doubling up for some of the less common letters like X, Y & Z. All twenty servers, none of which were virtualized, sat in the same datacenter in central London. How they got to this stage was a long story, but the realization that Exchange Server 2003 could help them resolve this problem saw twenty servers whittled down to a handful of streamlined clusters in four locations across the globe.

Bells and Whistles and a Big Fanfare – Exchange Server 2007

Exchange Server 2007 was released amid much fanfare and marketing by Microsoft, and rightly too, this version brought some wonderful new technologies and functionality. Sadly though some users chose not to upgrade and stayed languishing on Exchange Server 2000 and 2003, I even knew a few still on 5.5!

64 bit support was a bit of a struggle for some customers, but eventually gave every IT department the budget to upgrade their old Exchange Server to a new, faster one. The 2007 release was version 8, codename E12 and brought and Enterprise Edition which allowed a whopping 16TB maximum database size.

HA Database Clustering was given a whole new batch of TLAs;, SCC, LCR, SCR and CCR. The Exchange Management Shell arrived as did Unified Messaging and Outlook Anywhere (which was really called RPC over HTTP).

However Microsoft announced the death of Public folders in the next release, due to what they call a ‘Wild West’ of public folders.

Which Brings us Right up to Today – Exchange Server 2010

November 2009: Exchange Server 2010, or Exchange 14 to those in the know, hit the market brimming with cool new features. Database Availability Groups or DAGs became even more popular than ever before replacing the Clustering options from Exchange Server 2007. Server Roles became important to Exchange Architects everywhere and sparked much debate about where in the network to put the CAS.

Luckily large mailbox support was extended after its initial introduction to Exchange Server 2007, which was good news for most as their end users had been using disk space like there was no tomorrow and databases everywhere were getting rather full. To this day I know an end user who refuses to ‘clean out’ their 32GB mailbox on the basis that he “needs” all of that email and knows “exactly where it all is” – you know who you are sir, if you’re reading this.

Public Folders are included in 2010 and not deprecated as planned.

Unfortunately some businesses are still languishing on old versions like Exchange Server 2000 and 2003. You also know who you are, and you know how keen we are to get you to Exchange Server 2010.

Enter the Cloud – Office 365

Luckily for administrators dealing with “Mr. I’ve got a Huge Mailbox & I don’t Care” the Cloud started to make life easier, by offloading some of those Big Data and Email Management issues. Microsoft have just launched Office 365 and introduced Exchange Online. Although EO has been around since about 2005 and mainstream since 2008, it’s only now that users are beginning to see the real benefits of the Cloud.

Enter Exchange 15

What Exchange 15 or Exchange Server 2013 will bring is still shrouded in Mystery, even the Servers real name is unknown (I hoping for “Philip”) but it’s just round the corner and slowly information is trickling out of Redmond.

Personally, I can’t wait.

 

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Future-proofing your Microsoft Exchange Upgrade & Migration Strategy

Back to the Future time machineThe future… if we actually had an endless supply of dilithium crystals or flux capacitors, gadgets like floating skateboards and Tricoders might be more common. But sadly they’re not; so the only real prediction I can make for the future (that’s relevant to this blog post anyway) is that Microsoft are planning to release a new version of their Exchange Server software every three years. We should be seeing the next version towards the end of next year, currently being called Exchange 15.

Like Christmas, it feels like new versions of core server software come round far too quickly, especially such valuable services like Microsoft Exchange. We’ve previously mentioned the lengthy procurement cycles that keep such services a constant version behind before, which generated some good feedback and discussion; many Exchange admins told me those delays adversely impact their own deployment plans, which is intensely frustrating for them and often forces their migration project into the red.

So, rather than roll out the ubiquitous predictions for 2012; I’m going to suggest that in the absence of 1.21 Gigawatts you can take a stab at future-proofing your Exchange environment now, so you’re not left thinking in future -

“I’m migrating again. Surely not? Didn’t I just finish the last upgrade?”

However the last migration or upgrade you performed was probably a little easier; the requirements were different then, and there was dramatically less data than today. The move from Exchange 2003 to 2007 was mostly about the new 64 bit hardware required, but the move to Exchange 2010 is often about the volume of data instead.

As your users make merry with the disk space allocated to the Exchange Stores, their mailboxes have grown and grown, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to move several Terabytes of data to the new Exchange platform; but, more importantly wondering when you might have to do this again. The short-term nature of IT and the constant cycle of upgrades and migrations means you may have to answer those question sooner than you expected.

One simple solution that future-proofs your migration and upgrade strategy is to deal with the data now by augmenting your on-premise Exchange with a Cloud based email management solution. Using this Cloud based email management solution is simple; the elastic and scalable nature of the Cloud lets you ‘dump’ your oversize email stores into a secure, scalable, flexible and resilient solution that will grow with you, but at the same time allow the users to have direct access to that email data through Outlook as though it was still on Exchange.

Now here’s the part of plan we don’t talk about very much, but one that provides a great degree of flexibility. When the next migration or upgrade comes around, or if you want to move from one platform to another, having already dealt with the data means your core email service i.e. Exchange, can be anywhere or anything. Upgrade, downgrade, move to Office 365 and back again, migrate some users or all users, the choice is yours; Augmenting Exchange with the cloud means you’re not tied to any one solution or version, both today and next year when it’s time to upgrade again.