zombie mode

In my last blog I discussed the information security concerns about Microsoft’s end-of-life notice for Windows XP. Let’s not forget however, a key part of many people’s infrastructure is the Exchange 2003 mail server. Unleashed have been working on a number of upgrades for many companies that has really brought this to the top of my mind…

If like many companies through the recession, you’ve not kept up on your Software Assurance or postponed upgrade programmes and made-do and mended, then the chances are you’re in a precarious position. Exchange 2003, which was also part of Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2003 and 2003 R2, has been a workhorse of many organisations and unsurprisingly still very much in use in many companies we come across.

Unfortunately for many IT managers, much like the impending doom and gloom the industry has spread about the XP end-of-life notice, telling your none IT savvy MD, FD or business owner doesn’t really hold any real tangibility for them, given you’ve done a sterling job keeping old software running for so long. In some cases with the IT professionals we’ve spoken to – they’ve done such a good job, they won’t be getting the budget to upgrade now the recession is allegedly over either! I’ve even heard stories of insurance companies advising their clients that their IT is ready to fall over and still no budget is made available.

Exchange 2003 came from a much simpler time, the stable mate of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Over ten years has passed and we’re into the cloud or at the very least have our heads stuck there, but the vast majority of company email is still carried out by on premise servers with a splodge of some cloud antivirus / anti-spam here and there.

Again the problem is with such a product is that Microsoft will make patches for its younger siblings, Exchange 2007, 2010 and 2013 available with a very real and distinct possibility that the patch will be reverse engineered and the same vulnerability used against 2003. The risks are quite large, especially when it comes to something as critical as the businesses email server.

When I started as an IT Manager, email was a nice-to-have, these days anything more than a few seconds downtime and the phone rings hot with angry users. I feel for any IT pro who has to struggle to get through the consequences of not upgrading to their board of directors and owners. I speak to and hear tales of IT people in these situations and I have nothing but sympathy – it’s easy for us in reseller land and turn up with a load of new kit and software and help get it installed – but the people who have kept companies functional during the recession with MacGyver like skills really need special praise. In many instances, I often feel they’ve done their jobs too well and a breakdown and some lost business here and there is about the only wake-up call some businesses will understand in order to take preventative action on what is universally accepted as a severe problem.

The longer you leave to upgrade is also a problem too. There is no straight upgrade path from Exchange 2003 to 2013 and we’ve had to work with our clients on selecting the best method of carrying out a migration – none are straightforward, they all have risks to weigh up and mitigate and require some challenging work to get right.

When you have this problem, it is always worth sounding out IT companies who have carried out the task before. Moving forward and assuming an improvement in economic conditions – investing in software assurance or subscription licensing (or even the dreaded cloud!) would allow an IT department to set a policy of being no more than two versions behind (including service packs and second releases).

If your company is currently looking how to plan, budget and carry out an upgrade activity such as this – why not give us a call for some impartial advice.