Exchange 2003 SP2 goes mobile
I'm addicted to my CrackBerry—I mean BlackBerry. That's a difficult admission to make when you write for a Windows publication. But I happily accepted a Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry after years of frustration with synching various models of Pocket PCs and not having continuous email or up-to-date calendar access when away from my laptop. As a frequent traveler and a remote worker, I depend on email, phone, and Internet access to do my job. I loved being able to keep up with email while on vacation in Greece last summer. Or maybe I just fit in the category that one of this month's survey respondents summed up as "email obsessive—certain managers can't stand the thought they might miss an important email while they're away from their desk." Be that as it may, our survey this month shows that zealous users like me are causing IT pros like you support headaches and making you demand better management and security tools.
Interestingly, according to our survey, as a mobile-device user I'm in the minority. Although more than 70 percent of IT pros surveyed support mobile devices, nearly 66 percent of those respondents report that less than 25 percent of their workforce uses such devices. Only 6 percent said that more than three-quarters of their workforce uses mobile devices.
So most of you are supporting a small group of mobile-device users, consisting mainly of managers and sales and service professionals. And you're likely using Exchange, which is the messaging server for 84 percent of respondents. The question this month is whether Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2) and the complementary Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging and Security Feature Pack will make Exchange competitive with RIM and other mobile solutions and allow you to consolidate your email and messaging technology with an end-to-end Microsoft solution. I took the survey results and your questions to Microsoft's Exchange and Mobility teams.
SP2 and Windows Mobile Enhancements
I started by asking how IT needs match up with SP2's features. (For an evaluation of SP2, see "Exploring Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2," November 2005, InstantDoc ID 47792.)
Martha DeAmicis (product manager, Exchange) responded. "A lot of your survey feedback related directly to enhancements we put into SP2 and the feature pack. For example, we're enabling mobile email using the existing Exchange infrastructure. We want deploying mobile email to be a simple check box, and we want security so folks can lock down devices. A lot of feedback related to RIM."
Much of that RIM-related feedback was about RIM's server infrastructure and BlackBerry devices—all of which Microsoft is eager to replace with Exchange and Windows Mobile. For instance, survey respondents asked Microsoft for features such as "push technology— the need to synch (even wirelessly) is annoying when RIM and \[Good Technology's\] GoodLink offer more" than Microsoft.
Microsoft's message to RIM users, explained John Starkweather (group product manager, Mobile and Embedded Devices—MED), is that unlike RIM's solution, Exchange SP2 does not require you "to add servers at additional cost and licensing to extend information that's on your Exchange server. You have a license for your employees to access information from Exchange in any way, from any device. BlackBerry, Palm OS, and Symbian OS have features that particular users enjoy, and we'll continue to compete with those devices and on user experience. The Windows Mobile platform includes a variety of devices and the ability to view attachments and applications. We think BlackBerry users will eventually come over."
IT Pro vs. Mobile User Concerns
Getting users to switch to Microsoft's offerings could be hard. Many survey responses indicate that IT has to support the devices users want. Typical comments were "I had no choice. I have to support whichever devices management decides to use," and "We were not consulted. The devices were forced on us."
When users are comfortable with a particular device, not only are they loath to switch, but introducing new technology causes additional work for IT. The most frequently cited challenge by survey respondents was that lack of end-user competence and the need for training are a drain on IT. One reader said, "End users should have a certain level of technical competence." Another respondent was exasperated trying to "keep users from pushing every button on the device and then saying it's acting funny."
Because Microsoft product teams generally think of themselves as either IT oriented or end-user oriented, it's often difficult to find Microsoft people who think in terms of helping IT deal with user training needs. Such needs are considered Help desk issues and therefore tend not to be a priority for Microsoft because Help desk personnel are not perceived as having purchasing influence.
Microsoft wanted me to tell you that this attitude is starting to change. The company claims a significant portion of the new enhancements available in SP2 and coming in the next version of Exchange (code-named Exchange 12) specifically target improving and simplifying the end-user experience, and thus relieving the burden placed upon IT.
In my opinion, which is informed by the surveys I've done, simplifying end-user training is a way that Microsoft could help IT pros reduce Help desk calls and improve ROI. Simplifying the end-user experience doesn't address the need to help IT transfer skills to users. How much money would you save if you could reduce Help desk calls related to Microsoft products and focus your IT staff on infrastructure?
Management and Security
Of course, end-user training isn't the only way Microsoft can make mobility support easier. IT pros also need integrated tools for managing devices and infrastructure. "I want to manage devices with Systems Management Server (SMS), Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), unattended installations, scripts, and all the other tools already available," said one respondent.
Warren Ashton (group product manager, Exchange) agreed. "A hodge-podge of solutions has been cobbled together because end users are bringing devices to the table and IT has to figure out how to deal with them."
Chuck Sabin (product manager, MED) asked, "Would you rather manage from Exchange or a separate solution? There's something to be said for managing users from Exchange—managing preferences or managing them as mobile users with the ability to connect to mail. But some customers want to use the same existing solution that manages software updates, or policies, or similar things for laptops, and leverage that management solution for mobile devices. We've been trying to figure out what that tradeoff point is. At what point are you managing the devices or preferences within the messaging profile, versus at what point do you manage through SMS? There's a whole set of policies associated with battery life or tweaking certain settings or security. So, there's a balance. We've added some of those capabilities to SP2 for doing password enforcement, local and remote wipe \[i.e., erasing the contents of a mobile device\], and enforcing certificate authentication versus using corporate credentials. But we think the trend is going more toward leveraging the existing management solution and less toward a separate infrastructure for mobile versus an infrastructure for laptops and everything else in the network."
Kristi Larsen (IT pro marketing manager, MED) said, "Going back to the survey and the business needs for mobility, two things were interesting. One was network monitoring. A question about MOM was whether a MOM client could be on a mobile device so that the admin could see what's on that device from the MOM console. For me that's a good thing to learn, because we always talk about the end user being up-to-date with email, but the IT person's life is the network console."
Warren summarized the management discussion. "The IT pro can now say, 'I need to make this simpler. I need to lower the cost of operating this convoluted, cobbled-together approach that's been going on for the past 5 years. I'm putting a line in the sand. This is how we are going to manage mobile devices. Users have options, but IT will build more structure, simplification, and lower cost into how we maintain this technology.'"
Meeting the Needs?
The Microsoft teams I interviewed were pleased that the survey results supported their findings about what you want from Exchange and Windows Mobile. Indeed, one reader said, "I think the features in Exchange 2003 SP2 are addressing most of my concerns." Do you agree? If you're deploying SP2, tell me your experiences. Oh, and let me know if your users are willing to trade in their BlackBerries for Windows Mobile devices.