The Future of Exchange /hosting Mode

Having /hosting in the title of this post may look cryptic (or potentially a HTML goof), but to many of our hosting service providers (a/k/a hosters), this is a well understood setup switch to enable you to deploy Exchange Server 2010 in a multi-tenant fashion. In the words of our TechNet article on this SP1 capability, “multi-tenant support provides the core feature-set of Exchange Server in a manner that can be deployed to multiple customers in a single installation.”

However, as we learned from an earlier post by Michael van Dijken (my hosting partner guru and main advocate for Exchange hosters on the Exchange Partner Marketing team), while this option was welcomed it also presented some limitations (like not having support for Exchange Unified Messaging). As he covered in both the blog posting referenced above and his interactive session at WPC2011, there area a few things you can take under consideration when thinking about hosting Exchange in a multi-tenant fashion.

Since sharing this guidance, Michael has worked closely with our engineering team, members of the Operator Channel group, and even a bunch of partners to formulate the best strategy for hosters to host Exchange 2010 moving forward.  Today, we shared these details via “The Exchange Team Blog”, and I’ve (once again) asked Michael to provide his thoughts and perspective on the changes we are making:

This morning, Kevin Allison (general manager of Exchange Customer Experience) published a blog post this morning regarding the future of the /hosting mode switch in Exchange. If you are a hoster, or work with hosters, I highly encourage you to give this a read. From my perspective, this change represents excellent news for hosters in the long run.

In summary, the blog post articulates the evolution of our thinking around how hosters should host Exchange going forward. With Exchange 2010 SP1, we recommended that hosters use the /hosting mode switch when hosting multi-tenant Exchange. In fact, we required this for hosters to be supported by Microsoft. With the availability of Exchange 2010 SP2, this will change, and our recommendation to hosters will be to use the on-premises configuration when hosting multi-tenant Exchange. Hosters will be supported using this approach provided the Hosting Guidelines have been followed.

In my previous post on this topic, I outlined the fact that customers upgrading to Exchange 2010 are looking for many of the advanced features offered with Exchange. This was consistent with feedback we have heard from hosters, which made it clear to us that we needed to address concerns with /hosting mode, and do so quickly. Taking this new approach enables hosters to offer a wider set of features to their customers while streamlining deployment and ongoing management of their Exchange 2010 infrastructure – all good news for our partners.

As a result of this change, no further investment in /hosting mode will take place, and it will not be carried into the next version of Exchange. Reinforcing some important points from Kevin’s blog post, here are a few critical things you’ll need to know:

  • /hosting mode will be supported through the standard support lifecycle for Exchange 2010. It will still be available in SP2 and any future service packs or roll-ups.
  • Multi-tenant hosting on the next version of Exchange will be supported, in a similar fashion to the approach we will take with Exchange 2010 SP2.
  • Microsoft will publish guidelines for hosting a multi-tenant environment using the on-premises configuration of Exchange. Microsoft will also publish a step-by-step process for upgrading from Exchange 2007 HMC or migrating from Exchange 2010 SP1 /hosting to Exchange 2010 SP2 using the on-premises configuration.

For hosters who are currently on Exchange 2007 using HMC, upgrading to Exchange 2010 will be a lot easier. You’ll want to do the following:

  1. Wait until Exchange 2010 SP2 ships
  2. Review the Hosting Guidelines and step-by-step upgrade guidance
  3. Plan your upgrade to Exchange 2010 SP2 using the on-premises configuration as per the Hosting Guidelines. Engage with a control panel vendor for hosting automation software as you choose.
  4. Deploy Exchange 2010 SP2 using the on-premises configuration.

For hosters on Exchange 2010 SP1 using the unsupported on-premises configuration, simply upgrade to SP2 following the Hosting Guidelines. The biggest change to your approach will be to use Address Book Policies to segment your GAL.

For hosters on Exchange 2010 /hosting mode, you have a choice. You could migrate to Exchange 2010 SP2 using the on-premises configuration, or you could continue to use /hosting mode throughout the product lifecycle of Exchange 2010. While migrating will have some impact to your business, it does mean that you can offer features like Exchange UM and Public Folders. It also means that you will not need to deploy Lync into a separate forest if you have plans to offer a hosted Lync solution. If you choose to migrate, you’d take the same steps I outlined above.

As part of this new approach, the Exchange team has partnered closely with many of the control panel vendors to ensure that their solutions support Exchange 2010 SP2. In the near future, the team will publish a list of validated solutions – solutions that follow the Hosting Guidelines and are therefore supported by Microsoft. Deploying a hosting automation solution or control panel can dramatically decrease your time to market, and is worth considering.

After careful considering, we found this to be the best approach to addressing the feedback we heard, and putting hosters on a path to success with Exchange. More information as it relates to the specifics will be forthcoming, so please do track both the Exchange Team and this blog.

Michael van Dijken
Senior Product Manager
Exchange Partner Marketing

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