With all the hype that surrounds Office 365 and other cloud services you might be forgiven if you assumed that on-premises software is dead. In the case of Exchange, that would mean that Exchange 2013 is the last version that Microsoft will release to its on-premises customers as from here on in we'll all be assimilated by the cloud. But economics and little things like preserving customer loyalty mean that Exchange 2016 will appear sometime toward the end of 2015. And it will be great - we know this because everything it will include will be available to Office 365 users for months beforehand.
I know that it might seem that I have been "hard" on Microsoft recently. But it's right to document and discuss problems when they arise, which is what happened with the Outlook Web App bug that can affect item retention for mailboxes under hold and the now-resolved hybrid connectivity and co-existence issues that have shown up for CU6. Sorry guys, I'd like to be more positive about my favorite email server, but it's been difficult recently.
So in an attempt to move away from negative vibes, let's consider how things have evolved since April's Microsoft Exchange Conference and the many wonderful things then promised for as described in Microsoft’s “Evolution of Email” post. Those of us who use Office 365 will, of course, have no opportunity to vote on the matter because we have to accept what and when "the service" delivers. This is part of the devil’s pact that you sign when you go “all in” with cloud services. The good thing is that innovation happens at a rapid pace; the bad is that you have no control.
Yet control is a really big concern for many CIOs. Terry Myerson, who used to run Exchange development and is now in charge of all operating systems, admitted this when he discussed the different cadences of delivery during an interview with Mary Jo Foley. Essentially, whereas some users (like Terry’s 12 year old son) can consume new features as soon as Microsoft can provide them, other users, especially those in the enterprise space, value stability and don’t like it when change is forced upon them. This is one reason why the demise of the trio of Windows XP, Office 2003, and Exchange 2003 brought such pain to enterprises: these applications did the job and people would have been quite happy to remain using them if Microsoft would have supported the software for longer.
In short, those who run IT services for large companies like to know what they are dealing with because, at the end of the day, they are responsible for delivery of IT to end users. In some examples, even very large companies are able to deal with the changing landscape the cloud, but in others, the prospect of losing control is one factor that stops them moving to use Office 365, Azure, and other cloud services.
Which brings me to the point that Microsoft has a lot of these customers and they have to be helped, supported, and kept interested or else the connection that exists between Microsoft and these customers might be broken. And that might mean that customers embrace other choices, which would be bad for Microsoft’s bottom line.
New software releases are the weapon used to keep customers who eschew the cloud happy. Sheer economics (like maintaining the income flow from enterprise agreements and support contracts from a very substantial on-premises installed base) mean that Microsoft has to produce new versions of on-premises software applications at regular intervals. This allows Microsoft to meet customer expectations and satisfy the agreements that were made, possibly a long time ago when cloud services were so much vaporware.
A new software release also helps customers to manage IT. For years, we have been educated to expect on-premises releases to follow a predictable lifecycle that eventually brings each version to a natural end-of-support state. Desktop and server refreshes are often associated with major server software releases in a cadence that IT departments know how to manage, not just in terms of the technology but also in the more subtle art of user preparation and management.
Releasing new software for an on-premises product reinforces customer loyalty and prevents them looking elsewhere for replacement technology. The new version invariably comes complete with sufficient new features to make everyone happy, even if nowadays those new features have been available in the cloud for several months past.
A new on-premises release for a major product like Exchange is still a very big thing for both Microsoft and its customers, at least those who like to exert some control over IT. This is why we will see Exchange 2016, or whatever the release will be called (the engineers will call it Exchange 16 because Exchange 2013 is Exchange 15), along with Office 2016, SharePoint 2016, etc. in a coordinated and much-hyped exercise sometime toward the end of 2015. Heck, we'll even know how good the new features included in Exchange 2016 really are because we will have the chance to use them for months inside Office 365 before beta versions of Exchange 2016 appear outside Microsoft.
Assuming that Microsoft gets its current quality issues under control, Exchange 2016 will keep everyone happy because the three-year release cycle has been maintained. We can sleep soundly in our beds knowing that Exchange 2016 will be supported until 2026 or thereabouts.
P.S. Congratulations to Exchange MVP Steve Goodman and his wife Lisa on the birth of their daughter Olivia Faith today. Steve, you have a great excuse not to be at Exchange Connections with the rest of the MVP gang, but we shall miss your smiling presence there.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna