You might be familiar with the supposed Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." It's considered a curse because living in uninteresting times would theoretically be more peaceful and satisfying. If you work in IT, you might think of yourself as cursed much of the time because there's never any peace, but the coming year or so looks to be interesting, indeed, what with the huge wave of major Microsoft releases to potentially dilute your IT spending, continuing momentum for cloud-based computing, and the uncertainties in the economy.

In the messaging sphere, we've got the forthcoming release of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 to look forward to, with all the upheaval and chaos that testing and implementing a new system brings, should you decide to go that route. Obviously, Microsoft hopes you will, and to encourage you—to get you to jump on the bandwagon, as it were—in its fourth quarter earnings call last week, the company included numbers about how many IBM Lotus Notes and Domino customers had begun the switch to Exchange Server and SharePoint during the last fiscal year: 4.7 million.

Julia White, director of Exchange marketing, posted this migration news to the Microsoft Unified Communications blog. My first impression reading this post was how disparaging it was toward Notes, of which I'm certainly no fan. However, call me naïve, but it seems to me that if you're truly the market leader, you can focus on highlighting your product's strengths rather than on belittling the competition. Apparently, this rivalry is rather bitter. Fortunately, the post does offer some specifics about why Microsoft sees people choosing Exchange over Notes.

Cost savings was the top reason cited for organizations making the switch. Certainly any significant changes in IT infrastructure need to show a definite ROI in today's economic climate: It's not about liking one company better than another. Microsoft cites a Ferris Research survey that indicates Notes deployments can cost twice as much to operate than Exchange 2007.

Interestingly, a recent comparative review of Exchange Server 2010 (with Outlook 2007) and Lotus Domino 8.5 (with Lotus Notes 8) was released by CRN.com. In the primary areas the reviewer considered, the two platforms came out nearly equal—some wins to Exchange, some to Lotus. So the final analysis came down to price—and gave the edge to Lotus, not Exchange. The reasoning here is that Exchange relies on a Windows OS—and licensing—but Lotus runs on multiple platforms, including open source, so could be deployed for considerably less. Of course, if you're already operating in a Windows environment, this is probably a moot point.

If you take a closer look at the comparison, you'll see that the Lotus wins come in the categories of "installation and deployment" and "interoperability and customization" while Exchange scores big with "feature set" and "performance." Now, on which of those categories do you think most buying decisions will be made? The ability to customize your environment—develop your own applications and so forth—is certainly a feature to be praised, but I'm guessing most businesses will put up with some hiccups in installation to get the product that already has the features they need and gets superior performance.

The other big reason cited by Microsoft for Notes to Exchange migrations was the launch of Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) adds Office Live Meeting and Office Communications Online to Exchange and SharePoint, letting organizations create a complete hosted messaging and collaborations solution—which can also be quite flexible and cost effective. Companies switching from on premises Notes installations to hosted Microsoft services might simply indicate that Microsoft has the best package deal in place.

White's blog post names Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline, and Ingersoll Rand as three major enterprises that left Notes for Microsoft's hosted offerings. Ingo Elfering, vice president of IT strategy for GlaxoSmithKline, mentions one reason for switching to Microsoft's services: "we have an 'evergreen' IT strategy where the latest technologies are always at our disposal via the cloud." I'm sure Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, and any other new developments will be available soonest to Microsoft's hosted customers.

Other hosted providers might not be so quick to offer the latest versions. Just like many business users, some providers might even wait until the release of the first service pack before making Exchange 2010 part of their offerings. Of course, if you're on an older version of Outlook—that is, before Outlook 2007—you might not be all that eager for your provider to upgrade to Exchange 2010 because that would require a client-side upgrade for you as well. Or a switch to a using only Outlook Web Access (OWA).

See, each development causes more decisions, which could mean more spending—which most organizations are trying to avoid. And so, that leads us back where we started: Interesting times. Have you figured out where your organization's messaging needs and infrastructure are going over the next year?

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