While it's too early for Microsoft to divulge any details, based on my research on technology trends, I'm going to venture a guess as to what the future will hold for Microsoft customers. It's a slightly educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. You have been warned.
Prediction: Microsoft will revamp its entire server line to operate in the cloud.
Consider Microsoft Exchange Server for organizational email. Exchange Server can be deployed using four main architectures: Simple, Standard, Large, and Complex.
In the Simple architecture, you have a single version of Exchange 2007 running on a single computer, consisting of at least five "servers" in one box: Global Catalog server, Hub Transport server, Client Access server, Mailbox server, and Unified Messaging server. Most small businesses start here, and it works fine up to a point.
The Standard architecture answers scalability concerns for growing businesses. When your employees begin to run out of space on the Mailbox servers, or when the Client Access servers become too slow for the number of users working at home, or if your Hub Transport servers can't handle the file traffic within your organization, you can add more of the type of servers you need.
The Large organization, spanning countries and divisions, needs multiple Global Catalog servers, with the other servers pooled and shared as appropriate. Accordingly, a single Mailbox server may contain email for several divisions, even if those divisions are otherwise separate. (Click the links and follow along with the charts at MSDN TechNet if you want the details.)
Finally, the Complex Exchange Organization has multiple Active Directory "forests," such as you might get through a merger. Here, you can essentially add a synchronization process between two Large organizations that are using the architectures described previously.
Those are the choices for today's email server architecture. Each stage is progressively more complex, requiring more servers and more administrators. It's a barrier to growth that adds nothing to the mission of most companies.
The Future Is Cloudy
In the future, I believe you'll be able to visit Microsoft.com to register your business, large or small, for Exchange Online. And that's pretty much it. The rest of the software you need will be contained in the Outlook client. Want to add more users or disk space, or increase response time? Just add users, and behind the scenes the servers will follow. You'll probably pay by the seat, and I wouldn't be surprised if the bulk of the cost was included with the purchase of Microsoft Office.
Perhaps to boost speed for local fire transfers, your administrator can download a Hub Transport accelerator for use inside of your firewall. Or maybe you'll want to keep your Mailbox servers local for compliance reasons, or maintain a standby server or two in case of a connection failure. Still, these situations will become the exception rather than the rule. Most companies gain nothing from managing server farms themselves. Your email network should work just fine with most of the capability residing on the Web. You'd stop worrying about updates, patches, and viruses, and leave the rest up to Redmond.
If Microsoft doesn't go this route, they'll have ceded the market to Amazon Web Services with its Elastic Compute Cloud, and to providers such as Zimbra that are already taking a blended desktop-server approach to email management. But I have a hunch that Microsoft will be hitting the airwaves before too long with a competitive response.
It won't be just email. If Microsoft can take every server product that it offers and slice it into pieces that work partially in the cloud and partially on the desktop, it'll have a real shot at the big time in the emerging software industry.
And who will benefit most from the industry pursuit of simplicity-driven, cost-reducing innovations in IT? Small businesses, of course!
Disclosure: I do business with Microsoft partners and customers, and I am a Microsoft Registered Member and a member of the IAMCP Puget Sound chapter.
— Ivan Schneider recently set out to start his own business, ivantohelpyou, helping others with theirs. You can write to him here.
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