With the release of Exchange Server 2000, there is little doubt that Microsoft has succeeded in becoming one of the market leaders in enterprise-level messaging and collaboration systems. But what has happened to small and midsize organizations in the aftermath? We’ll take a look at the evolution of Exchange and what the development of Exchange 2000 means for small, medium, and enterprise customers.

The evolution of Exchange
In 1995, Microsoft entered the messaging and collaboration market with Exchange 4.0. The product quickly found its way into many small and medium-size companies but found relatively few seats in the enterprise. Microsoft’s entry into the enterprise market seemed difficult due to the reliability and scalability that larger companies demanded from their messaging systems.

Exchange 5.0 marked a new era for Microsoft as a product that attempted to answer the reliability and scalability questions as well as offer new collaboration solutions. Microsoft’s objective with Exchange 5.5 was even clearer—show that their product could compete on the enterprise messaging level right along with Lotus Notes.

The robust features of Exchange 2000
In my years as a consultant specializing in messaging systems, I often heard from small and medium-size companies that Exchange was “more than they needed.” They didn’t need all the bells and whistles that Exchange offered. Many of these organizations had no electronic mail systems, and those that did used basic POP3 mail applications. They believed they just needed an inexpensive mail solution that got messages from point A to point B. It was my responsibility to show them the economic justification of implementing Exchange rather than other mail systems. I often spoke about short implementation times, increased productivity, better collaboration, and competitive advantage.

Exchange was the solution, and with a little training, the system could be maintained and administered in a cost-effective way. I was rather successful at demonstrating Microsoft Exchange’s rapid economic justification, and I set up Exchange for many of these small to medium-size organizations. Often, the bells and whistles quickly turned into some of their most business-essential components.

Nevertheless, after working extensively with Exchange 2000 for eight months and attending the Microsoft Exchange and Collaboration Conference 2000, I now feel like I may have a harder time with my “sales pitch” for Exchange 2000. The new product introduces concepts and features that are clearly targeted at the Enterprise market. We now have Instant Messaging, Conferencing, Web Storage, XML, and Active Directory Integration. The latest release of Exchange includes all of this, along with the added complexity of Windows 2000.

Clearly, Exchange 2000’s features are signs of a product that has evolved to meet the needs of corporate America. This has made administering a 5,000-user environment easier than ever, and the separation of administrative and system functions allow IT organizations to better focus their people and resources. The problem is that Microsoft’s attempt to make Exchange 2000 easier to implement and maintain for large organizations has turned the product into a system that is out of reach for smaller organizations.

Exchange 2000 limits options for small organizations
Exchange 2000 requires expertise not only in Exchange messaging but also in Windows 2000, Active Directory, and Web publishing. This is simply too much for many smaller companies to handle. From listening to Microsoft and other industry experts, we are to believe that the small and medium-size organizations will simply receive the benefits of Exchange 2000 from an application service provider (ASP). Just as an individual signs up for a Hotmail account, a company can now purchase its mail and collaboration solution over the Web for a monthly fee.

I agree with the idea that this could be a more cost-effective solution for many smaller organizations. However, will smaller companies even have a choice anymore? Will they really have the option of not becoming dependent on an ASP to provide what has now become one of their mission-critical applications? How soon will ASPs truly be ready to step up to the plate and provide this service?

Exchange 2000 is here, and it represents Microsoft’s successful attempt to provide an Enterprise messaging and collaboration solution. Large organizations will find Exchange 2000 well worth migrating to, due to the reduced level of administration and increased reliability and scalability. However, small and medium-size companies will see this newest release of Exchange as a complex messaging system that is more than they need and more than they can handle. Some of these companies may seek out an ASP as the answer to receiving the benefits of Exchange. Others will simply not find that as a cost-effective or viable solution. The void that develops will surely bring a tremendous opportunity for a new player to enter the messaging and collaboration market.
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