Dreading the Exchange 2007 upgrade? Alternatives abound

A major upgrade of your email system is not for the faint hearted, so it IT professionals will be examining alternative products and alternative sourcing options.

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Microsoft’s recently released 2007 upgrade to its market-leading Exchange e-mail server provides faster 64-bit-powered performance along with many other new features, especially when users are paired with the latest Outlook 2007 e-mail client.

At the same time, Exchange 2007’s arrival leads to a fork in the road for many IT departments.

For one, Exchange 2007, with its ability to let end users get voice mails and faxes in their e-mail in-boxes, starts IT departments down Microsoft’s vision of unified communications - whether they like it or not, according to Maurene Grey, a former longtime Gartner analyst currently heading her own independent firm, Grey Consulting.

"Unified communication is not a bandwagon that everyone is trying to clamber onto," she said. As a result, while most Exchange users will choose to cope with complex implementation processes and high costs and continue forging ahead with Exchange 2007, many others are starting to look in earnest at alternatives to the straight and narrow Exchange path.

A "major upgrade" like Exchange 2007 "is not for the faint of heart," Grey said. "Many organizations that are using Exchange today are questioning [the choice] - with Exchange 2007, should we stay in an Exchange environment, or is this the right time to move off?"

Exchanging Exchange

One obvious alternative is to switch to another e-mail server. Both IBM and Novell are planning to release upgraded e-mail products this year. Version 8 of Lotus Notes and Domino server boasts a revamped user interface for Notes and improved Web services connectivity for Domino.

Meanwhile, Novell said at its annual Brainshare show this week that its upcoming version of Groupwise, now codenamed "Sequoia," will include open-source-based teaming and collaboration features.

Both e-mail servers support Microsoft’s Outlook client and offer their own best-of-breed features that they claim beat Exchange. Neither, however, is significantly cheaper than Exchange, especially after migration and retraining costs are factored in.

For lower price and nearly equivalent functionality, many advocate open-source e-mail servers. Vendors such as Scalix, Zimbra, Open Xchange and ostPath. all all claim to offer near-100 percent compatibility with Exchange at significantly cheaper prices.

The open-source vendors aren’t shy about tooting their own horn. PostPath says its use of the Linux file system allows it to store and e-mail databases more efficiently than Exchange as well as access the files faster, while Scalix and Zimbra both tout their AJAX-based Web clients for being powerful and easy to use.

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