The Future of hosted Exchange

If you host Exchange or you’re thinking of hosting Exchange, then you live in interesting times.

Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference hosted a number of sessions which re-enforced the software giant’s view on cloud and why partners should move to all things cloud, however – if you’re an Exchange hosting shop – one session would have stood out markedly.

The session was led by Michael van Dijken, a member of the Exchange marketing team, and subsequently followed up by a blog post, which went live yesterday. WPC and the blog post appear to point to a shift in Microsoft’s current stance: If you host Exchange, then deploy using the /hosting switch, or nothing. I.e. do not deploy the using the typical on-premise configuration.

We know by now that building Exchange using /hosting ends up with less than feature parity compared to the enterprise configuration of Exchange and in particular Office 365, Microsoft’s own hosted productivity offering. As such hosting companies have been less than enthusiastic to build Exchange 2010 based offerings using the /hosting switch, choosing to either sweat their Exchange 2007 assets or deploy Exchange 2010 using the enterprise configuration and fudge tenant visibility using Gal Segmentation principles made available in the Exchange 2007 days. Doing the latter meant the hosting company stood a chance of ending up with a non-supported configuration – not a great place to be when you’re supporting tens of thousands of mailboxes.

Where’s this post headed? Looking at the tone of Michael’s blog post, there’s much less of an absolute stance. Much less of the previous “/hosting mode switch or nothing” message – rather a case of: Evaluate BOTH options, /hosting mode switch or the Address Book Policies features of Exchange 2010 Service pack 2 (Address Book Polices are a much enhanced successor to the manual Exchange 2007 based hack which resulted in GAL segmentation). Along with the call for evaluation, Michael suggests the advice of both System Integrators and Automation Vendors, which could help build a hosted version of Exchange 2010 based on the enterprise configuration, and NOT the/hosted mode switch.

Michaels post appeared on the Exchange Partner blog, not on the Exchange blog, which reveals a focused effort to communicate to the partner ecosystem, as opposed to the generalist Exchange consumer. This post also follows rather soon after both Hosting Summit, and the Worldwide Partner Conference. The timing of all of these in my mind point to a possible change in Microsoft’s stance towards hosting Exchange, and may reveal more options to come for Exchange hosting shops.

My view on the matter is, if you’re looking to host Exchange 2010 in any sort of manner, wait for the release of Service Pack 2. It appears that Exchange 2010 hosting guidance may be changing in ways that allow the average hosting company to achieve feature parity with the enterprise configuration of Exchange and Office 365 in a supported way. Waiting and not deploying based on the /hosting switch today may prevent an expensive migration or redeployment and gain a much larger feature set than previously thought possible.