In 2020, Microsoft announced the vNext editions of their popular SharePoint, Skype for Business, Project, and Exchange Server applications, due for release in the second half of 2021. However, as of the time of publication, only SharePoint and Project Server Subscription Editions are available.
The other products have had their delays greeted with a wall of silence from Microsoft, until now. Whilst there’s still no word on if/when we’ll see Skype for Business Subscription Edition, the Microsoft Exchange team have provided an in-depth breakdown of what’s going on with Exchange Server Subscription Edition, and honestly, I’m impressed with their transparency.
The Exchange Team Recommend Exchange Online, and 2019?
It should come as no surprise that Microsoft recommend Exchange Online, after all, who knows Exchange better than Microsoft? But in Microsoft’s latest Exchange blog post, we see Microsoft also endorsing Exchange Server 2019 where there is a requirement to not utilise Exchange Online.
So When IS Exchange Server vNext Going to be Released?
Microsoft have announced that Exchange Server vNext is scheduled for H2 2025.
Wait, doesn’t Exchange Server 2019 go End of Extended Support in 2025?
Yes it does! 14th October 2025 will see the end of Exchange Server 2019 support, whilst the Mainstream support end date is the 9th January 2024, as confirmed in Exchange Server 2019’s lifecycle documentation. This does raise the question of feature parity between Exchange Online and Exchange Server, once the mainstream end of support date is reached, but worse, this leaves precious little time to upgrade from 2019 to the Subscription Edition when it becomes available.
That’s a Tight Timeframe, Surely There’s Something Microsoft can do to Help?
There is, and we’ll see how well Microsoft’s plan executes as the time comes, but Microsoft are planning to introduce an in-place upgrade from Exchange Server 2019 to vNext.
Based on Microsoft’s track history of OS & application support, I predict some caveats to this:
Firstly, Exchange Server 2019 is supported on Windows Server 2019 and 2022. Windows Server 2019 has a mainstream end of support on the 9th January 2024 however, over a year before the release of Exchange Server vNext. Microsoft wouldn’t support SQL Server 2016 with Windows Server 2022, and SQL Server 2016 ended mainstream support approximately one month before Windows Server 2022 was made available. I confirmed this was Microsoft’s stance for support with their SQL Server team at the time, so I’d be more surprised if the Microsoft Exchange team deviated from this approach, though it’s not impossible of course.
Secondly, Microsoft are migrating the vNext edition of Exchange Server to the modern lifecycle policy, and have committed to supporting this product “as long as there is substantive market demand”. I’m hoping we see minimum commitments from Microsoft on how much notice will be provided, should Microsoft deem the market demand insubstantial. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend of Microsoft providing notice periods in the form of months, instead of years, for substantial changes. Historically this has been tied to their Microsoft 365 platform, where this behaviour can be expected, but now with a limited overlap window between Exchange Server 2019 and vNext, it could be a sign of Microsoft’s unwillingness to maintain substantial quality assurance efforts and focus on a more agile methodology for development and support.
Finally, there is going to be some urgency around ensuring the appropriate licenses have been acquired, which, combined with the limited support co-existence between 2019 and vNext, will drive demand for Exchange Online. This is because Exchange Server vNext is also adopting the subscription model, requiring server licensing and CALs with software assurance. Microsoft no doubt recognise that some organisations don’t wish to adopt the recurring revenue model that makes the Microsoft 365 platform so profitable for Microsoft, and when organisations are forced to this recurring revenue model with their Exchange Server deployments, it’s not unlikely to expect organisations opting to have a managed solution for their money, instead of likely paying a similar amount for a platform they also need to maintain.
When the time comes to decide whether to upgrade to Exchange Server vNext or Exchange Online, Microsoft will be supplying additional guidance, and if you decide you wish to migrate to Exchange Online, remember that in addition to the huge Microsoft partner ecosystem, Microsoft also offer FastTrack to help get you up and running.
Within Microsoft’s blog post, the Exchange Server team have provided insights into upcoming features for Exchange Server 2019, including TLS 1.3 support with Windows Server 2022, details on further security features and mitigations, and, crucially, modern authentication support for Exchange Server only environments (no hybrid or Exchange Online). You can read the entire blog post here.