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Exchange 5.5 Support: Get It While It Lasts?

Underwhelmed by the feature set of Exchange Server 2003? There’s still a bogeyman that could push you, the entrenched Exchange 5.5 user, to make the move to the new version of Exchange: The probability that Microsoft will phase out support for the aging messaging system by the end of 2003.

Microsoft last year announced that mainstream support for Exchange 5.5 will end on December 31st, 2003. Thereafter, customers who opt to remain on Exchange 5.5 have the option of purchasing extended support from Microsoft. The problem, analysts say, is that a sizeable number of Exchange shops -- anywhere between 40 and 60 percent -- are still running on version 5.5. Melissa Stern, Microsoft Exchange product manager, acknowledges that this is a problem, but argues that many legacy shops are in the midst of planning Exchange 2000 or Exchange 2003 migration: “We know that a lot of customers are currently migrating or are planning their migrations to 2003.”

Microsoft has extended its service and support deadlines for other products in the face of mounting customer pressure. Earlier this year Microsoft gave Windows NT 4.0 customers a reprieve until December 31st, 2004 on mainstream support for the OS. Stern declines to disclose whether Microsoft has built similar flexibility into its Exchange 5.5 service and support deadline, however.

Instead, Stern stresses, in Exchange 2003, Microsoft has concentrated on making it easier for customers to migrate from previous versions. “We have made a lot of investments in Exchange Server 2003, with new deployment and migration tools that are really going to make the migration process easier, smoother, faster,” she argues, citing new prescriptive guidance documents, wizards and other tools that “step users through every single phase of the process, everything from pre-planning to deployment.”

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For example, says Stern, Exchange Server 2003 features a new tool for use with the Active Directory Connector that can automatically set up connection agreements between Exchange 5.5 and Exchange 2003 systems.

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  • Even if Microsoft does extend the service and support deadline for Exchange 5.5, David Ferris, president of messaging and collaboration consultancy Ferris Research, says organizations need to start thinking about their Exchange 5.5 escape plans. “The problem is that [Exchange] 5.5 is getting to be an old product now, and Microsoft will want to get rid of support, and will need to, because it’s expensive for them to support the old product,” he says.

    About the Author

    Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.