A little background info first. The company I work for is being put under pressure by their IT consultancy contractors to replace their current dedicated Exchange server. The machine is working perfectly and performing all duties that are required of it. It's not slow or unresponsive, although it's 5 years old. It's running Windows Server 2003 and Exchange System v6. It has 4GB of RAM, a Xeon 3065 (2.33GHz), and 2HDD (1x250GB and 1x150GB), both of which are about two thirds full. It is actually using somewhere between 2-15% of it's CPU and 1.3GB of it's RAM. The exchange server only services about 30 mailboxes and a webmail feature, as far as I am aware.

The reason the IT consultancy is giving for pushing the server being replaced is that support has run out for windows 2003 and they fear hardware failures may be more likely because of the server age. I understand that 2003 is past Microsoft standard support, and that extended support runs out in 2015.

So, my question is... what would be some common reasons to replace the server and should we be replacing it?

Sub questions: Is 2003 support really important? Is hardware failure a concern (even though it's running perfectly)? Would you bother replacing it yet? Are there any cheaper alternatives to solve this issue?

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    5 years is hitting the point when things start failing. Its also, if I recall, the start of the end of the usual useful life span of a lot of components. And the point of time when most hardware replacement cycles start. In short? They're right. The best reason to replace a server is "I don't want to wake up tommorrow and realise its on fire" or worse, its failed and you can't get the parts. – Journeyman Geek Aug 8 '13 at 9:00

Your support company are dead on right - it's all fine now, but the day that it starts randomly blue screening will be the start of a mass panic, with no one to turn to. Do the upgrade now, while you have time to plan it and implement it properly - not when you've just found out that you can't buy a replacement motherboard.

Supportability is important, almost more important than the quality of the software itself.

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    @RudiKershaw Certainly better than nothing, but seriously, you should upgrade. The longer you leave it, the harder it becomes - why are you so adverse to it? Your version is now 3 full versions out of date. – Dan Aug 8 '13 at 8:54
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    Why is he so adverse to it? Why are banks still using COBOL - because it works, does exactly what it needs to, and upgrading involves hassle and cost. So the real question is - has he reached a point where a catastrophic failure would mean more hassle and cost? – Alan B Aug 8 '13 at 9:43
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    It is a good analogy, because languages fall out of usage, capable developers become more scarce and the language development tools themselves become unsupported. So the exact same conundrum faces banks with huge legacy systems - is the effort of replacing these systems with newer technology greater than keeping the old tech and paying aging COBOL programmers a fortune. – Alan B Aug 8 '13 at 10:12
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    @AlanB Fair points, and you're right, that it's the risk/reward/cost trade-off which is the crux of the question. However, I think most SysAdmins consistently see people who try to get by and on gear because "it works". Until the day it doesn't...! – Dan Aug 8 '13 at 10:38
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    Ain't that the truth. – Alan B Aug 8 '13 at 11:03

Part of the reason the upgrade is so costly is because you haven't kept up. Exchange 2003 is ten years old, and there's been a lot of changes in the way both Exchange and the Windows platform both work in that time, and addressing all these at once greatly complicates the upgrade process and therefore the cost of upgrading.

Upgrading from Exchange 2007 to 2013, which I've just done for my employer, involved installing the two systems alongside each other and telling the new exchange servers to move our mailboxes from the old system to the new one then enjoying a refreshing drink of my choice while it finished the migration for me. This is despite the fact that we have several thousand users and mailboxes and a fairly complicated Exchange configuration.

This isn't that difficult for someone with half-decent exchange knowledge and doesn't require too much in the way of fiddling around with hardware or anything like that.

However, there's no direct Exchange 2003 --> 2013 upgrade path, so at best you need to follow something like my process above to go from Exchange 2003 --> Exchange 2010 then again from 2010 --> 2013. This means straight away that you've at least doubled the amount of work and hardware(*) required.

In short, I think it's past time to upgrade. If you're worried about managing the future costs and not wanting to buy into the cost or complexity of upgrading a bit more often in the future then I'd suggest that TomTom's suggestion to go with managed Exchange hosting is a good idea. 30 users is right in the target audience for some of the deals Microsoft are offering for Office 365 these days.

(* - in these days of 'virtualise all the things' you can cut down on the number of server-shaped boxes you need to buy to do this migration by virtualising the new exchange servers, but you still need enough capacity in your virtual server host to run the two new versions of exchange side by side, so yeah, it's still a cost for you).

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30 people - go with hosted exchange. Or just upgrade. Hardware failure IS a conccern - as is the age of the OS because finding drivers for a new server wont get easier with the OS being out of support.

WIth this small amount of people hosted, I would go with eithe something hosted or.... a virtual Server (on my own cloud, that is, just not a physical machine).

You also face pain - Exchange 2003 upgrades will be hard. VERY hard. Your version is too old.

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    A good point too, but hosted email services aren't always appropriate, especially for companies with greater than average security requirements. – Tom O'Connor Aug 8 '13 at 8:38
  • Virtualization to your salvation then. – TomTom Aug 8 '13 at 9:04

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