On January 19, 2011 HP and Microsoft announced the HP E5000 Messaging System for Microsoft Exchange. The name is a mouthful but the important point is the creation of a solution designed to make Exchange 2010 easier to deploy. This product is part of a set of four appliances that HP and Microsoft will ship during 2011 with the second announced as the HP Business Decision Appliance, a SQL solution.
Few would argue that most small-to-medium IT shops struggle to cope with new technology. It’s hard enough to keep applications running to satisfy users while also coping with security updates, service packs, roll-up updates, hot fixes, security threats and new viruses, and all the other demands that arise on a daily basis. With little free time available to review and assess new technology, it’s not surprising that it takes companies a long time to get around to considering an upgrade to a new version of a product like Exchange unless there’s an obvious and clear business requirement or other driver (such as reduced cost).
The problem becomes even more emphasized when a software application goes through a generational change. We saw this happen when Exchange transitioned from its first generation products (Exchange 4.0 to 5.5) to Exchange 2000. The requirement to deploy Windows 2000 and the Active Directory was a real problem for many because the two generations of Exchange were very different. The same is true when the latest generational change occurred with the introduction of Exchange 2007. Although there wasn’t the same fundamental upheaval as we experienced in the changeover from Exchange’s own Directory Service to the Active Directory, the degree of technological difference between Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2007 created a barrier to migration that caused companies to decide to stay with the platform that a) worked and b) they knew well. There was no obvious business benefit to move to Exchange 2007 to compensate for the work required and this is possibly the reason why a very large chunk of the current installed base remains on Exchange 2003 today.
With all this in mind, it makes a huge amount of sense to attempt to help companies move to new technology by making it easier and faster to deploy. Time is money and the amount of hours that can be absorbed in preparation for the deployment of a new version of an application can be staggering. An appliance-type approach that promises to get a server up and running in a couple of hours, correctly configured as if it had been installed by experts from the hardware and software vendors makes a heap of sense.
HP is still about 45 days away from shipping final versions of their appliance. However, the information available from the solution brief and the press release posted on the HP web site indicate that you’ll be able to buy prepackaged service and storage configurations sized for different user communities (the solution brief mentions 500 to 15,000 mailboxes) that are ready to deploy into an Exchange 2010 organization. The appliance is built around HP c-class ProLiant blade servers and integrated with the HP storage necessary to support “large mailboxes” for the chosen user population.
The actual work of deploying the servers is handled by an HP Quick Deployment Tool that has been designed in conjunction with Microsoft and input from with HP’s own experts who have tons of experience of deploying some of the world’s largest Exchange deployments.
Best of all, the appliance aims to deliver the right server, storage, and network components to create a “DAG in a box”, meaning that you end up with two mailbox servers configured into a Database Availability Group that’s ready to deliver native high availability. This will be popular with any administrator who wants to move from Exchange 2003 and has struggled in the past with the complexity of deploying and operating single-copy Exchange 2003 clusters.
This is the first appliance-type device that I’ve heard of for Exchange 2010 and while the initial details that are available show great promise, there are many questions to be answered. For example, can you use these appliances as building blocks for DAGs that contain more than two mailbox servers? Can you install them into existing DAGs? Can you create stretched DAGs across two datacenters or is the appliance restricted in any way?
I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the HP E5000 to see whether it lives up to the advance billing. If it works as well as I think that it can, the HP E5000 and other similar appliances will eliminate cost and complexity from Exchange 2010 deployments. And while HP may be the first to the appliance party, the appearance of these solutions will encourage other hardware vendors to bring out their own products to create competition and drive innovation in the space and that can’t be a bad thing.