Microsoft is launching yet another major product this week: Exchange Server 2010. But the message should be familiar, if you've been paying attention to how the software giant has been selling its new wares this year: By loading up on the latest Microsoft technologies, the company says, you can save money in the long run. Microsoft calls it "do more with less," but I think of it as the difference between spending money and investing it.
Microsoft's argument for Exchange mirrors the way it's marketing such products as Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2 (the latter of which won't actually ship in final form until next year). These products all achieve cost savings in a variety of ways, including compatibility with cheaper hardware (which often equates to a smaller number of multi-core servers rather than a large numbers of dual-core servers); by eliminating older (often non-Microsoft) technologies, sometimes through consolidation; and by adjusting the product edition lineup to better serve the ever-evolving needs of customers. And then there are the traditional productivity and efficiency improvements.
In the case of Exchange specifically, these methods of savings can all be made more specific. Exchange 2010 supports less-expensive storage devices, whereas previously you were confined to expensive SAN (storage area network) technology. Thanks to its unified messaging prowess, Exchange 2010 can be used to replace proprietary phone and voice mail systems. It also eliminates the need for third party archiving solutions.
And while there's nothing really new on the product edition front, Microsoft is moving all of its hosted Exchange customers over to the new system. And just last week, they announced a huge price break on hosted Exchange (and SharePoint and Office Communications as well).
From a traditional product improvement standpoint, Exchange 2010 delivers in spades. There's a new version of Outlook Web App (formerly Outlook Web Access) that's more like the desktop Outlook than ever. There are new productivity features like Mail Tips and Conversation View—which integrate with Outlook 2010 and OWA 2010—and presence, chat, and contact list integration with Office Communicator.
Microsoft is confident that its customers will "aggressively" deploy Exchange 2010, and says that businesses that do will recoup their deployment costs within 6 months. The question is whether the claimed savings are real. (And whether customers will jump at the chance to save money over time.)
Obviously, the simplest thing to do is nothing. But I think most of Microsoft's current Exchange customers would do well to move as much of their email infrastructure offsite—preferably with Microsoft's hosted Exchange solution—as is possible. The biggest savings around Exchange, I think, are those to be had by not managing this powerful but complex server in house.
So ask for Exchange 2010, yes. But demand that it be hosted whenever possible. That's where the biggest savings and benefits can be had.