Predicting the world of Exchange in 2016

Making predictions about technology is a fool's errand in many ways, especially when you attempt to figure out what a company like Microsoft might do with products like on-premises and cloud Exchange over the next twelve months. But it's fun too, so here goes with a short list of what I think will happen during 2016. One thing is for sure - technology will change and we'll all moan about it.

Last week I looked back on what happened in the world of on-premises and cloud Exchange during 2015. This week it’s time to consider what might come along in 2016. Of course, I don’t work for Microsoft, so anything outlined here is total speculation, all done in the best possible taste.

The easiest prediction to make is that Office 365 will continue to grow at a spectacular rate. More Exchange on-premises mailboxes will move into the cloud to join the tens of millions of active users already there. Microsoft says that over 60 million people actively use Office 365 (in other words, they log on and do something like send a message at least once monthly). If they maintain the 100% growth rate that we’ve seen over the last few years, that figure should be around 120 million by the end of 2016.

Moving workload into the cloud is pretty satisfactory for Microsoft but less so for the ISVs that have grown their business around the on-premises versions of products like SharePoint and Exchange. The problem is that Office 365 (as are all cloud systems) is a far more closed system than on-premises environments and the ISVs have fewer opportunities to find holes that they can fill. However, I expect more ISV activity around Office 365 during 2016 as software developers exploit the REST-based APIs that are now available to help tenants manage and exploit Office 365 better than ever before.

Microsoft has moved their Ignite mega-conference to Atlanta in September. The signs are that Ignite will attract more than 20,000 attendees, which will make it a huge focal point for ISVs to show off new products and capabilities. We saw some of this at Ignite 2015 but I expect much more in September. Meanwhile, Microsoft will use the conference to distribute massive quantities of Kool-Aid to all concerned and the on-premises community will feel lonelier than ever before. I wonder how many sessions will cover Exchange 2016?

Those of you who want to hear an independent voice about whatever Microsoft announced at Ignite could do far worse than to come along to IT/DEV Connections in Las Vegas in October. By that time, the team of speakers that we have lined up will have had the chance to interpret and dissect Microsoft’s pronouncements, so we’ll have some fun discussing those topics in depth at the ARIA Hotel. Connections is much smaller than Ignite so it's a more intimate and less stressful event. Try it and see what you think.

Speaking of Exchange 2016, we’ll see four cumulative updates during the year that will deliver some of the features missing from the RTM software delivered last October. The days of service packs are gone, so don’t expect to see Exchange 2016 SP1 (or indeed, Exchange 2013 SP2). It’s all about a series of quarterly updates from hereon. 

During 2016, Microsoft will do a lot of thinking about the future of on-premises Exchange to conclude whether Exchange 17 (or Exchange 2019 as it would be, assuming the normal release schedule holds) will ever appear. Two factors will influence this debate: first, how quickly customers embrace and deploy Exchange 2016. Second, how many on-premises seats move to Office 365. There’s no point in developing software if customers don’t use it when the size of the installed base is steadily eroding.

I expect Microsoft will throttle back the number of changes introduced into Office 365 during 2016. At least, I hope that they do because it’s really hard for tenant administrators and others to cope with a cadence like the 450-odd changes Microsoft said they made during the year to August 2015. A lot of the changes are relatively minor, like tweaking a feature based on user feedback, but we know that some major new features will become mainstream during the year.

Delve Analytics was introduced with the new E5 plan on December 1, but it takes between four to six weeks of background analysis before custom dashboards can be made available after end users are licensed, so we don’t know yet how well people will take to an in-depth examination of their personal work habits. Office 365 Planner is a lightweight project management tool that was announced some time ago but is only just showing up for first release tenants. I expect the Planner to be pretty popular with many companies. These are major new pieces of functionality that have already been well advertised. I expect to see Microsoft add at least one major new application to Office 365 during the coming year, probably announced at Ignite in September.

We also know that Microsoft is working on a new Office 365 Admin Center and is reformatting the Compliance Center into the Protection Center to reflect more accurately what the functionality available there is all about. These are what I’d call tidying-up or refreshing changes rather than anything dramatic, but important in their own right.

All years bring their own surprises and 2016 will be little different. I’ll continue to do my best to analyze, debate, explain, and interpret what’s going on during the year. Hopefully you’ll keep reading!

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Discuss this Blog Entry 7

on Jan 5, 2016

Hi Tony, many customers that are on Exchange 2007 or 2010 now and have not moved to Exchange 2013 are now planning to move to Exchange 2016 once CU1 is out.

on Jan 5, 2016

I think that's a fair prediction. Those who are on Exchange 2007 or 2010 now should move to 2016. It's the right thing to do.

on May 21, 2016

We want to use separate urls for services OWA and ECP. We want to do that because we want to go trough a Kemp reverse Proxy (in DMZ) and have Internet users and Internal users have the same OWA/ECP experience (use same forms based logon page)
Would it be possible to configure internal DNS to point owa and ecp to the Kemp reverse proxy and the other services to the Exchange Server directly?

on Jan 7, 2016

Is there any functionality not yet present in Exchange Server 2016 that would be missed by Exchange 2010 users?

on Jan 10, 2016

By users, perhaps not - but users are possibly not the best test. They might like modern attachments (or might not), but the core issue might be whether the company needs better high availability or features like data loss prevention that are implemented by administrators and often overlooked by end users.

on Jan 11, 2016

Thanks, Tony. To clarify, our shop is small (only one Exchange 2010 server) and the real questions is whether we should skip 2013 and upgrade to 2016 prior to going hybrid. So as long as users are OK with the new features, they will be able to continue getting their work done and possibly gain something from a subsequent upgrade from Office 2010 to 2016. But they won't be missing any key functionality that they now have. Is that a fair statement?

on Jan 12, 2016

I would skip Exchange 2013 and go direct to Exchange 2016. As I have noted before, it is really just the latest service pack for Exchange 2013 and you'll benefit from the longer support horizon as well as better HA. As to users, they'll only notice differences when the UI in the version of Office they have on their desktop expose the new functionality, like when Outlook 2010 exposed MailTips for the first time. I don't think they will see much difference connecting (say) Outlook 2013 to Exchange 2010 or 2016.

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro. His latest books are Office 365 for Exchange Professionals (eBook, May 2015) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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