Smoothing the e-mail upgrade path

Ollie Ross explains what you need to consider before upgrading a Microsoft Exchange system


Ollie Ross explains what you need to consider before upgrading a Microsoft Exchange system

A number of organisations have recently upgraded from Microsoft Exchange 5.5, mostly to Exchange 2003. Their experience suggests that others who are looking to upgrade have a lot to consider.

Upgrading has obvious benefits. For example, with Exchange 5.5 all mailboxes are stored in a single database, but later versions of Exchange allow for multiple databases in several stores, giving greater flexibility and easier maintenance.

However, IT leaders in the Corporate IT Forum have highlighted technical challenges associated with migration that have no easy solutions. These include difficulty in running Exchange in mixed mode, no direct upgrade path, and problems with directory synchronisation. Others said migration has “high transition costs, a high impact on end-
users and a completely different back-end”.

It is common practice for an organisation to migrate its e-mail but not train users in the new system, which can lead to non-technical problems, such as reduced productivity as users try things out, increased call traffic to helpdesks, and decreased IT credibility.

Any change driven by an external supplier is disruptive to some degree, simply because it is not driven by the organisation itself for its own specific needs. But the extent of disruption depends on the size of the project and what the organisation is migrating from and to.

An e-mail upgrade often makes the desktop look and feel very different, so there is inevitably disruption as end-users get used to the new system. This, of course, can be mitigated by training.

Though no one at a Corporate IT Forum e-mail upgrade workshop last year needed to roll back their
upgrades, they had some hard-won advice for those currently migrating from 5.5.

First, Exchange is very memory-hungry and will use whatever is available, so it is essential to plan for plenty of system memory.

Second, it is a good idea to understand your supplier’s roadmap, as well as your own.

Third, you must have a clear business communications strategy, of which e-mail is only one element – it should also include fax, SMS and unified messaging. And old mailboxes should be made available only for a finite period.

One final note for those considering upgrading: all the subscribers attending last year’s workshop had taken an in-house approach to e-mail. And those who had reviewed whether to use a third party had stayed in-house, saying they felt suppliers did not have sufficient economy of scale to make savings.

It is also worth bearing in mind that if you do decide to use a third-party supplier for e-mail migration, you need to establish who ultimately owns the data.

● Ollie Ross is head of research at blue chip IT user organisation the Corporate IT Forum

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