Along with Windows XP, life support is running out for Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. If your business is still running this 11-year-old mail, contact and calendar server, prepare to face a black hole when it comes to future problems.

With many businesses already using one of the server's three future generations — and with alternatives like Zimbra, Novell GroupWise and others — what will laggards pick when they finally move on? Cloud-based office solutions are just one appealing option.

Exchange Options

MIcrosoft's support for its retiring mail server product, Exchange 2003, ends on 8 April along with support for Windows XP. While fewer people use Exchange 2003 than Windows XP, it will still create problems for an estimated 6.3 million users in small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) in North America, leaving them open to future security issues and the loss of modern features of current-generation products.

While big business is well drilled in the art of upgrading, thanks to volume licensing, Microsoft is less pushy with its SMB clients, making it easier for them to be left behind. Any decision rests largely on the individual company, which needs to look at its current and future requirements as well as cost and accessibility. Just one natural path for these lagging users would be to upgrade to a later version of Exchange, with 2010 and 2013 the most likely options.

These offer the added benefits of improved security, anti-malware and data loss prevention, plus ongoing support and updates from Microsoft and better administration features. Mobility is a major feature in these versions, plus SharePoint and Lync integration. 

That's assuming these smaller businesses have the IT infrastructure and support to manage such an on-premises upgrade. If not, there's the option to move to the low-cost, per-user per-month, hosted versions of Exchange, reducing the likely need for additional IT and management costs, or any new hardware. 

Learning Opportunities

To Stay or to Leave Microsoft

If companies want to move away from Exchange, but remain within the Microsoft family, there is the option to move to Office 365 with its cloud email, Microsoft Office and collaboration features including Yammer, SkyDrive and Skype. There are claims that this is a better option than Exchange, especially for smaller businesses, with less of the overhead. 

Office 365 has dedicated small (up to 10 workers) and medium (10 to 250 workers) business options, which could appeal to the type of operation likely to still be using the old version of Exchange. Note, that the cloud-based Exchange Online is an option for Office 365, if a company still needs it for a particular purpose. 

There are also opportunities to move from Microsoft completely to other services such as Zimbra — acquired by Telligent last year — with added collaboration features. Or small companies can abandon email servers completely and move to the likes of Google Apps, Zoho or other small office solution providers.

Growing businesses can turn to the likes of IBM Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise (a tech preview of the new 2014 version is now available) or turn to open source solutions like Postfix. With many options out there, Intermedia has a webinar next Tuesday on Exchange 2003 End of Support that some may find helpful.