If you ask Australian IT professionals what they think of Microsoft Exchange, you will generally get one of two answers.
Some like it, particularly its standardisation and integration with other Microsoft products. Others hate it, mostly due to its historically bloated desktop companion, Microsoft Outlook.
There is no middle path.
For those who hate Exchange, the business case to drop it is clear-cut. They could dump the monolithic e-mail and collaboration suite for Google's much lighter Gmail offering, which, they argue, is all that most end users really want anyway.
But for those who prefer Exchange -- and there are many valid reasons to do so -- the argument for maintaining and upgrading is a little less clear, apart from the obvious fact that it is by far the incumbent dominant player.
Since October 2009, there has been a new kid on the Microsoft block -- Exchange 2010 -- and nobody has enough experience yet to say for sure whether it'll be a triumph or another Vista-like flop.
Who has already upgraded?
Two large Australian organisations that have already upgraded to Exchange 2010 are Victoria University (VU) and brewer Lion Nathan.
As reported today on iTnews, VU has partnered with Dimension Data to roll out Exchange 2010 to tens of thousands of mailboxes.
The university's director of Information Technology Services, Phil County, says the rollout was undertaken as part of a wider unified communications strategy which is also seeing the university replace its telephone infrastructure with new Cisco IP phones.
The university is also looking to tie the Exchange upgrade to Microsoft's hosted Live@EDU student email system.
"I would see email in the future, particularly in the enterprise, moving into the cloud," says County.
Consequently, one of the "firm criteria" that County's team built into its new email infrastructure was the flexibility to allow the IT team to choose where mailboxes were hosted in the long term.
"If we decided to go for a service offering in the future, from a user perspective they wouldn't notice," he says.
The only features of Exchange 2010 County is unimpressed with is its archiving configuration and business and metadata rules.
"The archiving is actually heaps, heaps better than it was in the past," County says, but he notes VU may still use a third-party archiving solution instead of Exchange 2010's own options.
As for the main rival option -- Gmail -- County says Exchange simply provides a higher level of maturity for enterprise-level features.
"I actually don't think Google is ready," he says, noting the migration to Google's architecture would have required a "major change" for his IT department.
Asked what advice he would pass on to other CIOs or IT managers examining a similar project, County said it was important to realise that Exchange was not simply an email system any more.
"You have to look at it as an ecosystem," he says. "You have to know what systems it interfaces with and the supporting storage area network architecture."
Australia's other early Exchange 2010 adopter is brewer Lion Nathan, which did not want to go on the record for this story. But in a case study Microsoft published in November, the brewer said it expected to save about $90,000 through reducing storage requirements and to have all of its 3,400 staff on Exchange 2010 by December 2009.
Lion Nathan carried out its implementation with the assistance of Microsoft partner JASCO Consulting.
It planned to implement Exchange 2010's database availability group (DAG) -- a new feature which combines on-site and off-site data replication to drive better availability and uptime.
The brewing group has also deployed the Unified Messaging feature of Exchange, so that users can receive their voicemails through email. Exchange 2010 also allows users to preview the text of their voicemail.
Read on for Page Two - Why upgrade?