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My organization currently has a 4 y/o Exchange 2003 email server (32-bit, Intel Pentium D @ 3GHz, 3GB RAM). It's run very well over the past 4 years but it is time to upgrade its hardware. This server would handle email for approximately 30 clients, a few OWA users with iPhones.

My (somewhat ambiguous) question is, when I receive the new hardware should I build out a new Exchange 2003 deployment or should I look at Exchange 2007 / 2010? I've heard that Exchange 2010 requires Sharepoint 2010 (which I am currently not running). Are there benefits that a small-medium sized business can or can't do without? Am I making a horrible mistake staying with antiquated software?

Other details:

  • Exchange 2003 (v6.5 + SP2)
  • single front-end server

All opinions and thoughts are very much appreciated.

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I would consider creating an Exchange 2010 server, virtual - either Hyper-V or vSphere. I have had success with Exchange 2007 with about 300 mailboxes on VMWare vSphere. You should not run into any performance issues going from a 3GHz, 3GB RAM server to any new hardware (even virtual if it is virtual).

Once you have Exchange 2010 up and running, you can migrate mailboxes over the course of several days. Be careful when you decomission your 2003 server as you can not just pull the plug on it once all of the mailboxes are moved over. It needs to be properly uninstalled. Consult MS KBs for further details.

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I neglected to mention that my next instance of Exchange would indeed be virtual, running under Hyper-V. Thanks for the decommission notes, this will all be crucial information when the times comes. Thank you. – JohnyD Dec 22 '10 at 11:32

While I do love Exchange 2003, it is a solid product which has served us well for a long time, I think it's time to move on. Exchange has gone through 2 major revisions since Exchange 2003, and if you're not careful you'll end up with a product which Microsoft don't support any more (yes, it is a few years away, but it comes round VERY quickly!).

Putting software aside for a moment, your server is getting old and sooner or later the hardware will start misbehaving. Consider if you'll still be able to get parts for your server - disks especially. It's always the disks that fail! Consider also the cost of said spare parts - as hardware gets older and less of it is available, it does become more expensive.

This server is 4 years old, so assuming a 4 year server refresh policy, you'd be having this same conversation in 2014. By that time Microsoft will have probably forgotten all about Exchange 2003 and you might find yourself in the unpleasant situation where Microsoft have called end of life on Exchange 2003 and won't support you if you have a problem (which also means no security patches if any vulnerabilities are found). In that case, you'll be limited to third party consultants or community support from those who remember Exchange 2003 and how it worked.

Back to the software. Exchange 2003 is 7 years old now, which in terms of a Microsoft product is pretty old. Exchange 2007 and 2010 both make it pretty easy to migrate from Exchange 2003, but I'm not sure how long Microsoft will continue to make it so easy. There will come a point where it's just not worth Microsoft creating or supporting upgrade paths from older versions of Exchange because they are becoming increasingly rare. You can't migrate Exchange 2000 directly to Exchange 2010, and following that logic (which doesn't mean this is gospel) the next version of Exchange won't support migration from Exchange 2003.

Exchange 2010 does come with a lot of nice new features, which you may or may not use, but they are available nonetheless. One of my favourites is Resource Mailboxes with the calendar attendant, which allows you to create mailboxes for Rooms so you can invite them to meetings and use Exchange as a room scheduler as well. For a better list of new and shiny features, you'd be best looking around the Microsoft Exchange What's new page.

If you do decide to move to Exchange 2010, there are quite a few things you need to consider other than "just upgrading". You'll have to factor in the cost of a new 64-bit server (Exchange 2010 is 64-bit only), Exchange CALs, the cost of a Windows Server 2008 R2 license, Windows Server 2008 CALs, Exchange 2010 training and potentially some consultancy time to migrate you over.

Actually performing the migration from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010 is relatively painless and when it's done right, your users won't even notice. If you do have any other questions or problems, feel free to post another question here - we're a pretty friendly bunch (and we know a thing or two!).

I will be very brief on the Sharepoint requirement, as it's already been covered - definitely not required.

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I could have sworn I read it in a Windows IT Pro magazine... but perhaps I was mistaken. On any note I'm glad to hear that SP2010 is not required. Thank you very much for all your thoughts/suggestions. I must say I was on the fence but after having read through all of the comments here I feel as though it is a good time to upgrade. The company is doing well and money is plentiful. If left for another year or two this situation may change. – JohnyD Dec 22 '10 at 11:34
Another question: am I able to migrate Exchange 2003 CALs or will I have to purchase 2010 CALs? – JohnyD Dec 22 '10 at 12:06
Unfortunately they're only for Exchange 2003, so it'll be new CALs – Ben Pilbrow Dec 22 '10 at 13:12

I've heard that Exchange 2010 requires Sharepoint 2010 (which I am currently not running).

So many people hear so much crap - it is sad. Internet et al. Check system requirements - NO TRACE OF SHAREPOINT 2010. Not required.

I would retire 2003 asap. 2010 is a lot better. Get a proper server, virtualize, put exchange on a virtual instance. You can possibly run it then still on 2-3 gb ram. Go 64 bit while you do this.

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64-bit is mandatory for 2007 and above. Go 2010 if you can. It's supported in a virtual environment, on a consolidated server(all roles, one box)as well, which was mentioned as a possibility. – JohnThePro Jan 21 '11 at 22:25

Similar to what everyone else has suggested. I would replace it with a nice beast of a server and load a hypervisor like ESXi on it. Use the tools to a physical to virtual migration of your existing host, and then at your leisure create a 2007 or 2010 exchange server on the same hardware and migrate over.

Today's hardware purchases are capable of so much more than a single role, that I sometimes encapsulate things under ESXi just for the flexability even if I only intend to run one server on there.

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