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E-mail management:
An Exchange 2010 upgrade is worth considering

Organizations are continuing to invest in ways to allow users to work better together and give them faster access to the information they need—and IT pros have to support that with flexible, reliable, cost-effective infrastructure. Forrester data shows that e-mail is still the dominant tool today (at 83 percent), but online workspaces and employee portals are growing in popularity and criticality. Because tools are becoming increasingly more integrated, plans for each cannot be made in isolation.

E-mail is the business dial tone, and more than one-third of companies are expanding their e-mail infrastructure in 2010. Whether on computers or smartphones, e-mail is the most popular application. Companies of all sizes are opening up to cloud-based alternatives for on-premises e-mail, and the applicability of those services requires a detailed evaluation of user needs, application integration and ongoing operational costs. Hybrid infrastructures, combining a mix of on-premises infrastructure and cloud-based services, are becoming increasingly appealing.

For the on-premise half of the equation, Microsoft Exchange is a popular choice for business e-mail. Microsoft’s recent release of Exchange Server 2010 has material benefits that should prompt some Exchange 2007 and many Exchange 2003 customers to consider an upgrade.

It was a busy autumn in Redmond, Wash. In addition to launching Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft released Exchange Server 2010 in November 2009. Unlike Exchange Server 2007, where performance and availability improvements were noticed mainly by IT administrators and consolidation opportunities appealed to those who held the purse strings, Exchange 2010’s appeal reaches a broader audience. With Exchange Server 2010, Forrester sees key improvements (noticeable when compared with Exchange 2007 and significant when compared with older versions of Exchange) in:

  • backend infrastructure—Exchange 2010 delivers backend performance enhancements including a consolidated approach to high availability and disaster recovery, opportunities to drive down storage costs, and better integration with hybrid cloud and on-premise deployment options. A new approach to the Exchange storage architecture sits squarely in the middle of delivering most of those benefits.
  • information worker experience—The biggest improvement is the potential for much bigger mailboxes. But full-fidelity browser support for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, and a low-cost way to support personal mobile devices are also benefits to the folks who really matter—your employees.
  • archiving—With Exchange 2010, Microsoft is making early investments in archiving and e-discovery capabilities. While significant shortcomings remain on that front, the  advances look promising, especially for organizations with low legal risk profiles and limited storage burdens.

Improvements in that last category help bring Microsoft to pool’s edge, and the company is starting to dip its toe into archiving and e-discovery. Over the past decade, tens of thousands of organizations have adopted message archiving solutions. An array of vendors, providing archiving offerings for Exchange, Notes Domino and other messaging systems, have helped buyers comply with regulations, mitigate legal risk and improve operational efficiency. Now, with new functionality built into its messaging platform, Microsoft makes an initial foray into the market. Exchange 2010 delivers enhancements for archiving, e-discovery and information protection. Key advancements include:

  • personal archive—The latest version of Exchange now includes the ability to create a second mailbox, or Personal Archive, for users. Organizations can move items to personal archives either by setting automated retention policies or by supporting simple drag and drop. Note: Personal Archive functionality in Exchange 2010 requires Enterprise CALs, and organizations will need either Outlook 2010 (which is not yet shipping) or Outlook Web Access to view that archived content.
  • legal risk mitigation—Exchange 2010 adds retention management policies, legal hold functionality and multi-mailbox search capabilities. In the latest release, Exchange administrators can set retention policies that can be applied to specific items, conversations or folders in a mailbox, and information workers can set simple policies for deletion and archiving as well. Exchange 2010 also now enables legal hold, preserving mailbox items in both primary mailboxes and Personal Archives when appropriate for litigation needs. The release also supports new Web-based, multi-mailbox search that can be delegated to specialist users, such as compliance officers, to help meet e-discovery, regulatory and other requirements.
  • information protection—To help prevent unauthorized and accidental distribution of data, Exchange 2010 supports the ability to analyze e-mail and automatically apply the appropriate level of control based on the sensitivity of the message. For less sensitive messages, organizations can allow the message to be delivered, but add alerts, disclaimers or other recipients as needed. For more sensitive data, organizations can apply more rigid controls to encrypt, redirect or block messages.

It’s good to see Microsoft’s focus on archiving and compliance functionality, and we’ll look forward to enhancements of those capabilities in future releases, but for now Exchange 2010 doesn’t deliver for archiving and e-discovery. Organizations should keep a few things in mind regarding the archiving and compliance capabilities of the recent Exchange Server release:

  • storage and access shortcomings—Exchange 2010 supports a greater choice of storage hardware options, from traditional SANs to low-cost DAS. Although the offering’s storage flexibility can cut costs, it doesn’t allow organizations to capture other key potential storage optimization benefits. For example, the current Exchange 2010 release doesn’t include single-instance storage capabilities for attachments, the ability to migrate items across different tiers of storage, or functionality for ingesting high volumes of dispersed .pst files. Also, unlike some third-party archiving applications, Exchange 2010 does not natively offer offline access to archived content.
  • e-discovery and compliance limitations—Mitigating legal risk looms large as a key factor leading many organizations to deploy message archiving solutions. While Exchange 2010 delivers basic retention management, auditing and legal hold functionality, those capabilities may prove insufficient for many firms. For example, organizations can impose legal holds in Exchange 2010, overriding defined retention policy when appropriate for litigation needs, but current capabilities are limited to a mailbox level, not at a mailbox item level. Due to gaps such as that and limited support for other stages of the e-discovery process, solutions provided by the Exchange partner community will remain key.
  • narrow focus on messaging—Today, Exchange 2010 supports simple archiving for Microsoft’s e-mail, instant messaging, voicemail and other content in Exchange. The offering, however, doesn’t support archiving other e-mail or collaboration systems. It also doesn’t have the ability to archive structured data or SharePoint, file servers and other systems. E-discovery and regulations require focus on a broad array of applications and content types, including a variety of unstructured and structured sources. To mitigate legal risk, organizations must ensure that the scope of their efforts and technology investments isn’t just limited to e-mail.

Think it throughIt’s clear that Exchange 2010 moves the ball forward for the platform, but it’s not a slam dunk that an immediate upgrade is right for you. Many Exchange 2003 shops will want to bypass Exchange 2007 and move to 2010, but many Exchange 2007 shops shouldn’t be in a rush to jump. Organizations evaluating Exchange 2010 and their approach to provisioning e-mail should:

Study the storage options and their implications. If you’re using a single SAN for storage that’s shared between two Exchange mailbox servers and use the newer replication approach, that doubles the amount of storage required. If you’re an Exchange 2003 customer wedded to the use of your SAN, but aren’t willing to move to a replicated storage model yet with its associated cost burden, then Exchange 2007 might be a better choice for now. Alternatively, some companies are continuing to use their SAN for their primary mail storage and replicating that to cheaper storage in case of the need for a failover. Sound confusing? Weigh the architectural tradeoffs and model the costs associated with your storage options to help make the right choice for your organization.

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