The unfortunate truth about Exchange

Up until the last year my workplace used IMAP servers running on Linux and Solaris to manage and deliver mail. Then we decided because of the collaborative benefits, particularly with mobile devices like Blackberrys, to move to Exchange. The results have been dramatic, and this chart made by Google to espouse their GMail product reflects what we saw (taken from this post):

Google Email Chart

As you see the “unplanned” outages go up dramatically with Exchange.

While it’s true that this doesn’t show self-hosted IMAP services, the people I talk to seem to believe that the self-hosted IMAP solution is somewhere near or below Gmail in terms of outages. My own personal IMAP email, hosted at this site, basically never goes down.

These figures also unfortuantely reflect conversations I’ve had with numerous other companies that have gone through similar transitions. While all enjoy the benefits of integrated calendaring and tasks, the email capability and reliability suffers significantly. And let’s face it, what is ultimately most important to a business – calendaring or email?

Moreover, in one example email required a single server to maintain the IMAP email for an entire organization. Now with Exchange it takes six. The installation is also dramatically more complicated, requiring not one admin, but two. Also the data files are in MS-SQL, making them harder to fix and manage.

Do these issues outweigh the benefits of Exchange collaboration? Personally I’m not sure either way. There certainly are advantages to Exchange. However I do feel Microsoft has built a product that is too complicated and too “heavy” for its own good. This particularly considering that much simpler applications can pretty much do the same thing.

In the end I would pass a warning to shops thinking of moving to Exchange because “it’s the thing to do”. Make sure you are really aware of what you’re giving up. Those used to the unreliability of Exchange may think, “Oh, that’s just the way email is,” but those who have come from other solutions, will realize what they’ve given up.


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