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Microsoft Warns of Looming Exchange Server 2003 Support Deadline

Microsoft's 10-year-old Exchange Server 2003 product will reach the end of its "extended support" phase on April 8, the company reminded users in a blog post this week.

While Exchange Server 2003 will continue to run after April 8, it will no longer receive security updates from Microsoft, making it a target for attacks and raising possible compliance issue for organizations.

In its blog post on Monday, the Microsoft Exchange team noted that organizations using Exchange 2003 have no direct upgrade path to Microsoft's newest Exchange Server 2013 product. Instead, Microsoft describes getting there as "a two-step migration."

The two-step migration claim may be true only from a very high-level or abstract point of view. Organizations first have to establish "coexistence" with Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010 before they can make the hop to Exchange 2013. Even still, establishing coexistence is just one step of many for organizations making the leap. Moreover, the move optimally needs to be performed without disturbing daily business operations, although it can take some time to complete. For instance, the near final step of moving mailboxes over to the new server can take a day in itself, according to experts.

Hybrid Options
Microsoft's announcement outlined the requirements for organizations planning to run "hybrid" environments. It's possible to run a mix of Exchange 2007, Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013 servers in a computing environment. Alternatively, Exchange Server versions can be run in hybrid architectures with Exchange Online services.

For mixed Exchange Server environments, organizations need to pay attention to the new dual server-role design in Exchange 2013. To make it work with mixed Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010 environments, the Client Access and Mailbox server roles of Exchange 2013 need to be installed on a single physical server, Microsoft warns.

Microsoft is also requiring that the latest cumulative updates or service packs be installed on Exchange 2013 to be compatible in a hybrid deployment with Office 365's Exchange Online service. In addition, the latest Office 365 "tenant v15" build is required for hybrid support with Exchange 2013. Even though Microsoft portrays its Office 365 services as delivering the latest updates to organizations, such environments still have to be upgraded to the latest tenant builds, which usually happens according to a set schedule for organizations. The timing of such upgrades can be an issue when setting up hybrid networks. Microsoft explains that "your Office 365 tenant status must not be transitioning between service versions" when setting up interoperability with Exchange Server versions.

Support Options
Microsoft's complex mix of cautionary notes and warnings about Exchange Server migrations may seem a bit daunting. However, for organizations that signed up for Microsoft Premier support services, there's access to an Exchange Migration Readiness Assessment solution. It checks the preparedness of an organization's Exchange Server and Active Directory installations to make a move. Microsoft Premier support services customers also can get a four-day site visit to assess preparations. No doubt such services come at a premium.

There also are plenty of third-party solution providers out there offering various assessment and migration tools, with some claiming to facilitate "single-step" migrations from Exchange 2003. Using a hosted e-mail solution from a service provider is another option. Microsoft is happy to suggest its own Office 365 services, or there are hosted service providers offering Exchange Online services for those willing to give up premise-based server control over their e-mail systems.

A blog post by SherWeb, Microsoft's world hosting partner of 2013, notes that some service providers will "handle the migration process for free." SherWeb promises "free onboarding services, a 99.999% financially backed uptime guarantee and free 24/7 support" for organizations willing to move to its hosted Exchange 2010 or Exchange 2013 services. The company is also offering free Outlook 2013 licenses through April 30, 2014 as an added cost incentive, according to a press release.

Microsoft partner Dell, which claims to have migrated more than 40 million mailboxes with its software tools, recently helped with a migration of 7,500 mailboxes to Office 365 in five months' time. Dell and its partner InfraScience helped globally distributed textile manufacturer Coats to make the move.

More about Exchange 2003 migrations, including the steps involved, third-party software migration tools and hosting support options, can be found in this Redmond summary article.

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About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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