Time for a Mail Server Switch?

News Analysis: Companies using Exchange 5.5 have many upgrade choices as the clock continues to tick down on this popular mail-server.

Theres little thats sexy about mail servers, but theyre the engines that make businesses run. A business can live without instant-messaging, it can crawl along without network file storage, but without e-mail, todays enterprise is dead in the water.

Therefore, with the popular Microsoft Exchange 5.5 mail servers extended life-cycle support coming to an end on Dec. 31, 2005, its time for even the most loyal Exchange 5.5 customer to start looking for a replacement.

Fortunately, were seeing a new wave of enterprise-class mail servers in 2005 so companies will have a wide variety of choices.

Microsoft, of course, would like you to stay with Exchange. The question many CIOs are dealing with though is: Which Exchange?

On the one hand, you have Exchange 2003. But, Microsoft has been slow off the mark keeping it updated.

This week, for example, Microsoft elected to release a CTP (Community Technology Preview) in lieu of a Server 2003 SP2 beta release.

Still, even hardware vendors, and not just integrators or e-mail outsourcers, are getting into the Exchange 5.5 to 2003 integration business. Dell Inc., for example, is offering fixed-rate, fixed-time and fixed-scope bundles, which start at $5,000 for 100 mailboxes.

On the other hand, the next release of Exchange, Exchange 12, is expected in the 2006 to 2007 time frame. Would a CIO want to move to Exchange 2003, with all the expense and trouble that accompanies any major infrastructure shift, only to face another migration within two years?

Its a tough choice, and many ISVs (independent software vendors) are seeing an opportunity to wean enterprises off Exchange.

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Novell Inc., for example, has just released its latest version of GroupWise. The new GroupWise 7 comes out of the box with enhanced Outlook support. Novell has also made a point of telling potential users that GroupWise will be supported for at least 10 years and Novell will supply free Exchange to GroupWise migration tools.

Novell is far from the only ISV trying to win Exchange 5.5 customers.

eWEEK Labs found that CommuniGate Systems CommuniGate Pro Real-Time Collaboration 4.2 provided not just basic e-mail functionality but an Outlook experience similar to the one youd find with Exchange. For example, Outlook users could manage group calendar and scheduling functions, as well as create and manage groups, discussions and shared folders.

The labs also found that Bynari Inc.s Insight Server 4.2, Gordano Ltd.s Gordano Messaging Suite 11 and Scalix Inc.s Scalix Server 9.2.1 were all good Exchange 5.5 replacements.

IBM is, as ever, also trying to gain Exchange customers. Besides Lotus Notes, IBM has also been pushing its portal-based Workplace Services Express for SMBs.

Additionally, IBM is adding Domino browser-based messaging software for the Firefox browser. Next year, IBM will be releasing a Lotus Notes plug-in that will allow Linux desktop users to access their Notes/Domino system.

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