Today’s post is the first of two guest posts this week by Julia White, Sr. Director of Microsoft Exchange Product Management.
For those of you who don’t know me, I run the Exchange product management team at Microsoft. I often post to the Unified Communications Group Team Blog; but my colleague, Tom Rizzo, suggested I guest blog here. So today and tomorrow, I’ll be posting my thoughts about email, on-premises and in the cloud.
As part of my role, I talk regularly with customers about their email solution. Nearly all of the conversations I’ve had in the past year include a discussion about cloud-based email and how IT departments should think about their next upgrade. The discussions appropriately center around three key areas: control, capabilities and customer support & service. Within the area of control is where discussion of uptime and Service Level Agreement (SLA) comes up.
Get the Truth on Uptime and SLA
Google has attempted to take jabs at Exchange uptime as compared to Gmail and as such, I wanted to take this issue head on. Email is considered a mission critical application at most organizations, so uptime is certainly important and worth understanding. You may hear Google tout that Gmail’s uptime is much better than on-premises Exchange. Through their claims, it is clear that Google is clueless about on-premises email and are insulting to the dedicated IT Pros who run these systems. But, beyond that, I want to make sure you have an apples to apples comparison of uptime.
The majority of Exchange customers have either recently completed their upgrade or are in the process of upgrading to Exchange 2010. Utilizing the latest tools available in Exchange 2010, our customers are seeing up to 99.999% uptime on premises. On the services side, Exchange Online customers get a financially backed, 99.9% uptime guarantee. If you are considering Exchange for your next e-mail system, these are the only two versions that are relevant to you. Make Google talk straight to you – and stick to what they know, which clearly isn’t on premises email.
Customers Need Feature Predictability…with More Than 1 Week Notice!
Getting to aspects of control that are beyond uptime and SLA, a key concern I hear from customers is the predictability of a cloud email service. Over the past 10+ years, Exchange has provided a steady, predictable set of innovations, so it’s no surprise customers have learned to rely on this. We know the cadence of our product release cycles is important to large enterprises and small businesses, because it provides a predictable series of events that our customers can plan for and depend upon. For enterprise products, we generally disclose upcoming features in the next version of the product at least 12 months in advance. We hold a public beta that allows people to test an early version of the product and provide feedback. At the end of this process, we release a fully tested, finished product. Within the next year, we make available a Service Pack that is also made available as a public beta, with minor enhancements and a rollup of bug fixes. We maintain the same disciplined cadence whether we’re releasing an on-premises or online product.
Google takes a different approach, which serves Google well, but not customers. Recently, Google announced some modifications to their release cycle with two tracks: those who get access to features immediately and those who get at least a week’s notice. While it is clear Google is trying to show they are beginning to understand the enterprise, it is also clear they have a long way to go. Not all features will adhere to the new release cycle and not all features will be in beta or even final versions, nor is there a timeline that shows when those features will be pushed out, without a choice. This isn’t the first time customers have experienced ambiguity from Google. Gmail was in beta for four years, Google Wave came and went, Google Docs was available offline with Gears and then offline access was removed. Can you trust Google with your business, and will your employees trust such a haphazard feature release strategy? Google’s release cadence is convenient for Google, painful for consumers and downright disruptive for businesses.
As we release online products, we follow the same predictable process we use when releasing major updates, but with the added benefit of minor software updates, delivered on an ongoing basis. Plus, current Exchange Online customers will have the option to schedule an upgrade to Office 365 for up to one year out. That is the type of control we know our customers need.
Does IT have All Tools Required to Effectively Manage Cloud-based Emails?
Another area of control I hear a lot about is e-mail administration and this comes down to tools. With the upcoming release of Office 365, our customers have the same features available in Exchange Online as they do in Exchange Server:
- Web-based administration through the Exchange Control Panel
- Remote management and automation through Remote PowerShell
- Role Based Access Control, with multiple levels of admin
- Advanced policy management, such as Allow/Block/Quarantine controls that let you manage which mobile devices can connect to your Exchange environment
For those of you who want to read more about the features listed above, visit the management tools page on the Exchange website. With these tools, you have the same rich features in the web interface, and you can use or modify them just like the administration console in Exchange Server.
Check back tomorrow, when I will discuss the flexibility and familiarity you have with Exchange.
Senior Director, Exchange Product Management