Microsoft have released the first public previews of their next generation of on-premises Office server products – that is:
The next release of Exchange Server will run on Windows Server Core, helping improve security by presenting a smaller attack footprint. Exchange itself will be able to take advantage of up to 48 cores and 256GB of RAM.
Search has also been improved in Exchange Server 2019. Using Bing technology, results will be “faster and…better” and Microsoft claim that failover is faster, and administration is easier.
Some Office 365 calendar features are making their way to the on-premises world, including Simplified Calendar Sharing and Do Not Forward, to make things easier for organisations.
For those of you using Unified Messaging within Exchange on-premises, this feature is being removed with Exchange Server 2019. You will no longer be able to connect Exchange to a 3rd party PBX or Skype for Business Server. Microsoft recommends that organisations:
More information on this will be available closer to launch.
SharePoint Server 2019 sees the introduction of “Modern User Experiences” – aimed at making SharePoint “look great and work flawlessly”. Even after all these years it’s not uncommon to hear the SharePoint interface described as “clunky”, or indeed “SharePointy” used as a pejorative term to describe another app’s look, so I’d say improving the interface should go down well with corporate users.
Team Sites, Pages, Lists, and Libraries will all receive improvements in SharePoint 2019 – both cosmetically but also to “provide a better experience”. It seems Microsoft are focusing on making SharePoint server more mobile friendly and more personalised – both of which make sense in today’s world of mobiles and social media.
The file upload size has been increased by 50% to 15GB and work has been done to simplify the configuration and administration of Data Loss Prevention and security policies for data held within SharePoint Server 2019.
Microsoft’s preference is that as many organisations as possible more as much of their infrastructure to the cloud as possible, and they’re trying to help make this easier in SharePoint 2019. There are many additions and improvements around hybrid deployments between on-premises and Office 365, with Microsoft clearly hoping if they can blur that line – with features such as shared taxonomies, profile redirection and Cloud Search Service – more organisations will be tempted to try Office 365 and, once in the cloud, there will be less reason to remain on-premises long term.
Microsoft start their post by saying “While the future of Unified Communications and collaboration technology is the cloud with Teams and Office 365” but they do also admit that “many customers have reasons for maintaining on-premises deployments”.
There are four main new capabilities introduced in the latest release:
This is the replacement for Unified Messaging, which has been removed from Exchange 2019.
Auto Attendant, the feature that allows you to present callers with various menus and “press this number if” choices, will be available to on-premises organisations – enabling them to always use the latest version.
This enables call quality data to be stored in the cloud and will provide a consolidated view of calling diagnostics.
According to Microsoft, “On-premises customers…recognize they will move eventually to the cloud”, so they have simplified the process for an organisation to migrate from on-premises Skype for Business 2019 to Office 365 Microsoft Teams.
In the cloud, the Teams client is replacing the Skype for Business client and, at their Inspire conference, Microsoft claimed Teams now has feature parity with Skype for Business. Teams is certainly the way Microsoft see voice and collaboration going and are again looking to blur the line between on-premises and cloud with this 2019 release.
The 2019 server releases mean organisations looking to remain on-premises have got another good few years ahead of them. That said, it’s clear that Microsoft’s aim is to entice organisations to the cloud slowly but surely; the various additional features and hybrid options all seem aimed at giving organisations a taste of the cloud and allowing them to see how sweet it can be. Once hooked, those organisations will be more open to moving some or all of their infrastructure into Office 365 and Azure.
Will these be the last on-premises releases for these products? No-one knows. My personal opinion is no – there are still many organisations running completely on-premises or in hybrid deployments and it seems likely many will still be there in 10 years. As long as a large enough set of customers, particularly large customers, need on-premises deployments, Microsoft will continue to provide them. Yes, they’ll probably make them less attractive through increased pricing, lack of new features, harder to license etc. – but I believe they will still make them available.
Who knows though? We’ll have to wait and see!
Exchange Server 2019 – https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/exchange/2018/07/24/exchange-server-2019-public-preview/
SharePoint Server 2019 – https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Microsoft-SharePoint-Blog/Announcing-Availability-of-SharePoint-Server-2019-Preview/ba-p/214427
Skype for Business 2019 – https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Skype-for-Business-Blog/Announcing-the-Skype-for-Business-Server-2019-Preview/ba-p/218435