Should companies upgrade to Exchange Server 2013?

Should companies upgrade to Exchange Server 2013? Definitely yes. Let me explain.

The next version of Exchange Server, Exchange 15, or, formally, Exchange 2013 (like some villains, it goes by several names 🙂 ) has been widely described as an evolutionary version that you may not need to upgrade to.

Indeed, experts find Exchange 2010 good enough, so they suggest that you might as well skip the next version, especially if your requirements do not expand beyond those that the current version of Exchange covers. For example, if you find that you need to include DLP in your Exchange environment, you should, of course, upgrade. In most cases, though, you could avoid the upgrade.

Or so I read. Well, I certainly find merit in this point of view and any chance that can save company money, and most importantly, burden, is always welcome. Indeed, the next version is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. No new technologies or protocols are introduced, so companies can continue operating their environments with Exchange 2010.

But a reason that a company might want to take a closer look at Exchange 2013 (and perhaps also go the extra step and upgrade to it) has to do with Exchange 2013’s refactoring. Microsoft has been refactoring Exchange since it first introduced it in the 90’s. Every version featured massive refactoring, so why should this version’s refactoring be interesting news?

Well, this time Microsoft has reached a point that I consider monumental. This time, Microsoft “nailed” the pieces of the Exchange infrastructure exactly where they should have been all along. I am carried away here, but yes, Microsoft streamlined the pieces of the Exchange infrastructure, sliced them and diced them, stacked them and racked them, until they fitted together perfectly.

Before I explain my enthusiasm, I want to make clear that I expect the version after Exchange 2013 to also feature changes and refactoring. But, again, at this point, Exchange is designed as it ultimately should have been from the start.

Yes, Microsoft achieved the ultimate design. And they did that by preserving the great features from Exchange 2010 and by altering what was not quite perfect in that version. Now, the product is a joy to incorporate into one’s IT infrastructure. Or, it is way more joyful to do this incorporation with Exchange 2013 rather than with previous versions of Exchange.

In Exchange 2013, Microsoft streamlined the performance of various parts of the Exchange infrastructure and eased up on the burden of administration. The store is way more optimized and lean. Fewer namespaces are required and their management is easier. Fewer certificates are required and their management is also easier. CAS arrays are not used any more, so CAS servers are just added one after another and that’s it (CAS arrays did not do load balancing, although lots of people thought that was their purpose; their use was more internal, esoteric, logistical, whatever). In addition, since DAGs have been a really great feature, Microsoft continues to use DAGs for high availability. And Public Folders (for those that still insist on using them 😦 ) are now being stored in mailbox databases. So, these are all great news.

But the most important and groundbreaking change is the refactoring of Exchange Server roles. And this alone is reason enough to at least consider an upgrade to Exchange 2013.

Forget about the Unified Messaging Server role and the Hub Transport Server role. Exchange 2013 only has the Client Access Server and Mailbox Server roles. There is even speculation that the Edge Transport Server role will gradually give its place to Forefront (now renamed to Exchange Online Protection).

Don’t be afraid though; the roles that have gone missing have incorporated their features into the remaining roles, so no functionality is lost.

Not only are there only two roles (Client Access Server and Mailbox Server) that need to be assigned to servers, these roles have been decoupled from each other, so much so, that in the future, there is speculation that it might even be possible to operate with a different version for Client Access servers and a different version for Mailbox servers, with no respect as to which version of the two is the most current.

But the single greatest piece of news concerns the Client Access Server role. The Client Access servers are now stateless. All mailbox activity takes place in the Mailbox servers. This not only leads to the decoupling I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but also makes things like client redirection, site resiliency and load balancing easier to design and administer. For example, since Client Access servers are stateless, they can be load balanced using a layer 4 load balancing solution instead of a layer 7 load balancing solution.

All and all, these are all exciting features. With Exchange 2013, the philosophy of Exchange finally corresponds to what an administrator would have imagined as ideal. Companies that need an on-premises Exchange infrastructure will be well served by Exchange 2013, because by upgrading to Exchange 2013 a company will achieve a much needed refactoring of their Exchange infrastructure. A refactoring that will lead to an infrastructure that is much easier to administer and, also, understand. And, perhaps, the “understanding” part may as well be the most important thing.

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About Dimitrios Kalemis

I am a systems engineer specializing in Microsoft products and technologies. I am also an author. Please visit my blog to see the blog posts I have written, the books I have written and the applications I have created. I definitely recommend my blog posts under the category "Management", all my books and all my applications. I believe that you will find them interesting and useful. I am in the process of writing more blog posts and books, so please visit my blog from time to time to see what I come up with next. I am also active on other sites; links to those you can find in the "About me" page of my blog.
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