Microsoft Gives Exchange 2010 Nine More Months

In a somewhat surprising but also totally understandable decision, Microsoft has moved the date when extended support ceases for Exchange 2010 out by nine months to October 13, 2020. It’s surprising because Microsoft likes to retire old server versions, especially those running on old versions of Windows (like Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2). It’s understandable because many large organizations haven’t grasped the cloud nettle and decided to go with Exchange Online or stay on-premises. Their dithering has kept Exchange 2010 in business, powering email like it’s done for the best part of a decade.

Of course, Microsoft only made the decision “After investigating and analyzing the deployment state of an extensive number of Exchange customers.” This is another way of saying that Microsoft looked at the tea leaves and decided that nine months extra wouldn’t make any difference, especially as it aligned Exchange 2010 neatly with the end of extended support for SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010.

So Much Technology, So Much Impact

Exchange 2010 was a big release. So much new technology was introduced that it took me forever (or so it seemed) to write the Exchange 2010 Inside Out book. Much of that technology is still very much in use in both cloud and on-premises versions today, like the role-based access control model, while some is still in use but a better alternative exists, like Exchange-specific in-place holds and searches (Office 365 content searches are faster, scale higher, and cover multiple workloads).

But by far the biggest and most important piece of functionality introduced in Exchange 2010 was the Database Availability Group (DAG). Today, thousands of DAGs spanning hundreds of thousands of mailbox servers underpin Native Data Protection for Exchange Online, the reason why Microsoft feels safe in not offering backups for Exchange Online. There’s no doubt that without the robustness of the DAG, the reliability and the economics of Office 365 wouldn’t be where they are today.

All in all, the amount of functionality in Exchange 2010 means that it is a highly-capable email server, which might account for why some organizations find it so difficult to move on. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix the email server? Just reboot and on we go… The reason to do something is that Exchange 2010 will degrade slowly from this point with no security updates and no assistance from Microsoft. If you choose to stay with Exchange 2010, you’re very much on your own.

The Migration Conundrum

No one likes migrations. In this case, the options are to move to Office 365 or to stay on-premises with Exchange 2016. You can’t migrate from Exchange 2010 to Exchange 2019 and if you’re going to undertake the work to execute a migration (including new servers and a new Windows server O/S), you might at least go as far as you can in terms of modern software. If enough high-quality network capacity exists (to the internet) to support your organization’s interaction with cloud applications, Office 365 is always the better option. That is, assuming any in-house apps that you’ve integrated with Exchange can survive the transition.

No Excuse to Avoid the Cloud

The old canards that alleged cloud apps are insecure, prone to failure, and poor-performing have been laid firmly to rest since Office 365 debuted in June 2011. Exchange Online is where new functionality shows up; it is more secure than the average Exchange on-premises installation; and the root of most performance issues tend to be “last mile” network glitches. In a nutshell, there is nothing to fear in moving email to Office 365 and a lot to gain, as proven by the 200 million or so active Office 365 users.

Exchange on-premises administrators shouldn’t be afraid of the cloud. Microsoft sagely pointed out that moving to Office 365 “gets you out of the upgrade business.” I can’t think of any time when I missed the need to apply a cumulative update to a server.

What’s more important is that the time released from mundane server maintenance can be better applied to growing skills and experience across a range of Office 365 and associated technologies. There’s no shortage of work to do to master the details of Azure Active Directory, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, Office 365 Groups, and Teams… and Office 365 administration.

Office 2013 and Office 365

If you do decide to go with Office 365, your desktop Office suite might need to be refreshed too. Microsoft reminded Office 365 tenants this week that “Office 2013 client connections to commercial Office 365 services will not be supported after October 13, 2020.” After the deadline, Office 2013 clients will still be able to connect to Office 365 as Microsoft “will not take any active measures to block older Office clients, such as Office 2013 and Office 2010, from connecting to Office 365 services.”

However, the writing is on the wall and connections will eventually run into difficulty. In any case, if you run old clients like Outlook 2013, you won’t be able to access all the functionality offered by Exchange Online. Microsoft’s preference is for Office 365 tenants to use the Office ProPlus (click to run) suite, which is included in the Office 365 E3 and E5 plans.

Downhill from 2010

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, Exchange 2010 marked the zenith of on-premises email software. Sure, Exchange 2013, 2016, and 2019 all benefit from ongoing engineering effort and are better software, but none generated the same technical impact or excitement as Exchange 2010 did when Microsoft released it into the wild in November 2009. And anyway, once Exchange 2010 was done, the focus of the engineering group turned to the cloud and stayed there ever since.

Exchange 2010 is from another era, clinging on bravely until its new end date in October 2020. Not that this will see the end of Exchange 2010: I suspect that this most significant version of Exchange will be running on Windows 2008 servers for many years to come.