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Dell hopes to round up Exchange 5.5 stragglers

The company is offering a hardware and software bundle of Dell, EMC and Microsoft products to help companies upgrade to the newest version of Microsoft's Exchange Server messaging platform.

There are still a significant number of IT shops running Microsoft's Exchange 5.5, but with extended support for the messaging software ending in December, hardware supplier Dell Inc. has come up with a plan to convert the last of the stragglers.

Today, the Round Rock, Texas-based computer vendor is unveiling an array of pre-configured bundles it hopes will make it easier for IT administrators to upgrade from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange Server 2003. The bundles are available immediately, Dell said.

The bundles are packaged in configurations for those with 100 users and up to 5,000 users. Depending on the configuration, a bundle might consist of a Dell server or servers, SAN switches from EMC Corp. and Exchange software -- Standard or Enterprise Edition -- as well as training and support. Customers can also opt for Dell's professional services arm to help with the migration.

The price for the 150-user configuration, which includes a PowerEdge 2800 server, an AX100 Dell/EMC storage array and Exchange Server 2003 Standard Edition, is $5,000.

Large customer base still running Exchange 5.5

Dell's director of global alliances, Leslie Sobon, said her company estimates that roughly 25% to 30% of Exchange customers are still on Exchange 5.5. "We see it all over the place, in small business and with large customers too," she said. "We have had the services but not the packages. Now we have this last laggard piece to help customers get over the hump."

Analysts agree that if customers don't get off Exchange 5.5 soon, by the time Exchange 12 arrives in 2006, the technology leap will be enormous. "The fact that support for Exchange 5.5 is ending should be enough to get customers to jump to Exchange 2003," said Erica Rugullies, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

Lee Benjamin, a messaging expert and principal at ExchangeGuy Consulting Services, said the biggest challenge for companies like Dell is to "get a 5.5 discussion moving, and these packages are a way to start the conversation."

Benjamin said, however, that he doubted that a company with 5,000 seats would buy an off-the-shelf package, but in the case of a major migration, they might look for consulting services. Dell acquired consulting services when it purchased Plural Inc., an IT services firm, in 2002.

Migration already under way

At least one IT administrator found the package idea to be a good one, though his own migration to Exchange 2003 was too far along to take advantage of the offer. Paul Edwards, a Windows administrator at PHH Corp., a Mt. Laurel, N.J., vehicle fleet management service provider, is preparing to move its 1,400 users off Exchange 5.5 and up to Exchange 2003 beginning next month.

Edwards said he had briefly considered moving to a packaged Exchange cluster, but the only part of the package the vendor sold was the mailbox. "We shied away from this product because it didn't buy us anything," he said. "Two servers [that] we didn't have to watch much -- that's it. The vendor's main sales pitch was that patching would be easier."

"If we were earlier in the process, [Dell's] package might have been an attractive one to pursue," he said.

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