Exchange 2003 users are best suited to kick the Office 365 tires

The appeal of Office 365 depends very much on who you are and what you already have in place

Now that Office 365 is in public beta, it's time to start thinking about your strategy on whether or how to deploy it. The scale of your business plays a big part in that plan.

if you're interested in using the new Small Business Server Essentials (for companies with fewer than 25 users that don't need in-house Exchange or SharePoint deployment), you're probably also looking at Office 365 and trying to figure out which path to take. You can start exploring Office 365 now, but will need to wait until its May release to test out SBS Essentials with Office 365. That may be frustrating, but it ensures you didn't waste time starting your SBS Essentials evaluation on Business POS, then switch to Office 365 later.

[ Read Woody Leonhard's hands-on preview of Office 365. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in InfoWorld's Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

Current Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) users, even if they appreciate what they get in that hosted offering, are no doubt interested in Office 365, wondering if it delivers a sleeker UI and better performance.

But the one group that is likely most curious about Office 365 are administrators of Exchange 2003. If you are running Exchange 2007 or 2010, Office 365 may not have much appeal right now -- you've already made the jump in hardware expenses and have probably settled in. But not so for the Exchange 2003 crowd -- and a big crowd it is.

If you are using Exchange 2003 (or even Exchange 5.5 or 2000), you know that support days are numbered for the nearly nine-year-old messaging server. You're looking at hardware upgrades and learning a whole new world of Exchange roles, disaster recovery methods, and high-availability group solutions.

When I speak at conferences about Exchange 2010, I find the majority of the audience is running Exchange 2003 and seeking to better understand what a migration to Exchange 2010 will mean. With Office 365, they may have two new migration paths: a hosted Exchange service into which they can put all their eggs to get their entire organization up and running, or a hybrid approach where they have some mailboxes in the Microsoft cloud and some in-house.

If you're migrating from Exchange 2003, here are your options:

  • Move all mailboxes to Office 365.
  • Move some mailboxes to Office 365 and maintain an on-premises environment.
  • Transition your environment from 2003 to Exchange 2010.
  • Consider other third-party hosting or in-house solutions. Many users mention Google Apps, which to me looks dated and is handicapped by a hard-to-use interface.

In his hands-on preview, Woody Leonhard says, "Microsoft isn't betting the farm on Office 365" -- and that's true. It doesn't have to bet the farm. Microsoft has enough of a market base to simply upgrade its BPOS environment. It has enough buzz generated around Office 365 to make money from it. SBS Essentials will perhaps bring in smaller (smallest) businesses to the hosted Office 365 world.

Office 365 doesn't spell the end of on-premises servers. If nothing else, it shows renewed marketing ability at Microsoft. BPOS was launched with barely a whimper (I hadn't heard about it until it was already a year old). But everyone has Office 365 on the lips and brain; that in itself is a huge win for Microsoft -- and maybe even for users.

This article, "Exchange 2003 users are best suited to kick the Office 365 tires," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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