How Microsoft Exchange Ruined an IT Department

I have seen this happen:

The company executives want to have outlook so they can use it to schedule meetings.  This means they need an Exchange server. This means they need a windows server! Of course, since you have Exchange, all email gets moved over to exchange, even for the devs that still happy using Pine or some other obscure email-reader that Exchange doesn’t support well and can’t take advantage of the calendaring (which may just be smart ploy to avoid meetings).

Well, that should not be the end of the IT department right?  But the problem sets in quickly – you need a real Windows admin to handle Exchange randomly crapping out, especially as the execs keep sending huge powerpoint presentations back and forth and demanding their mailbox sizes get increased so they don’t need to learn what “autoarchive” is.  And this may be the company’s first real IT staff, since the devs used to handle all the unix admin stuff part-time because there is always some dev that enjoys that kind of thing (or at least used to enjoy it, until they had to do it part-time for the company.)  Also, now that you have the windows box, you decide to try to use it for other things since it isn’t at full capacity yet – internal website, shared folders, whatever it is.

And now you are screwed.  Because as the devs give up control over IT stuff, it is taken up by a Windows admin.  Smaller internal projects are solved with windows-only solutions.  And all of a sudden, everyone needs to have a Windows desktop. And use Outlook. And has tiny mailboxes.  And hates the IT department.

So how do you avoid this fate, other than not having execs, which is tempting but difficult to get funded? If you really have to go down the Exchange route, buy it as a hosted service, not as something you will manage internally*.  This is so much easier, and it won’t be able to creep into other parts of your IT structure.  If you are really daring, try to avoid the Exchange thing completely by using a different calendaring server – although, honestly, even these days it is difficult to find something that works as well as Exchange does.

Not that I would ever say that in any official recommendation I would make!

*This is actually the entire solution to how you should manage your IT department as a startup: don’t do it. Don’t rely on your devs to do it. Outsource it with hosted solutions – email, backups, wiki, website hosting, datacenter, whatever.

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