Is this the end of Exchange UM?

In a post on the MS Exchange Team blog, the Exchange team lays out alternatives to a service that is being discontinued. The service in question is using a SBC (session border controller) to connect a 3rd Party PBX (Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, anything not SfB) to Exchange UM online. The sunset date for this service is July 2018. The alternatives listed were to move to SfB, use an API, or to use a different voicemail system.

A couple of days ago, an update was provided that indicated that the 3rd option, to use an API, was no longer recommended. After some time, the wording was changed to indicate that it was only recommended as an interim solution. A little bit later, the post vanished. Throughout, there was anger and confusion expressed online over the change in guidance, and the lack of notice provided. Some people have since reported that they’d be informed that the post was an error.

What are we to make of this? First, if the post was in error, I find it challenging to believe that the content was in error, vs the timing of the post.

I say this, because Exchange UM is going away. Let’s look at the facts:

  • SfB is the #1 voice platform that uses Exchange UM. SfB Online has its own voicemail platform now, including auto-attendant functionality.
  • I went looking to see the last time a feature was added to, or updated in, Exchange UM. I went waaaay back, far enough back that I was convinced that the Exchange team would really appreciate it if someone could take UM responsibility off their hands.
  • According to https://products.office.com/en-us/exchange/microsoft-exchange-server-licensing-licensing-overview users should have an Exchange Enterprise CAL to utilize Unified Message. For organizations who only needed the license for UM, this was a tough payment to make.

The leaked/early announcement that 3rd Party PBX support via API was no longer recommended is, to me, the nail in the ExUM coffin. If the only recommended solutions from the Exchange team are “move to SfB” and “go find another voicemail platform”, then I can’t see that ExUM is sticking around.

Getting rid of Exchange UM online is a huge task. Microsoft is slowly chipping away at the number of organizations doing 3rd party integrations, to make the eventual service termination have the least impact possible. Providing this kind of guidance before service termination plans are finalized and announced is smart. It allows Microsoft to track their success in reducing the use of the services. If the use of the services is too high, they can adjust the messaging and deprecation tactics to increase the number of organizations pursuing alternatives. Dates for service termination can also be adjusted much more easily on internal roadmaps that haven’t been announced.

I expect that we’ll see more details once the specific features for SfB Server and Exchange Server 2019 are released, though online roadmaps may have a different timeline than their on-prem counterparts.

Microsoft did provide one year of notice before the planned retirement of the “SBC to Exchange UM” solution. While I expect at least a similar amount of notice before the loss of all 3rd party connectivity to Exum, I would also expect to see a block put in place on new organizations using this functionality, while those using it are encouraged to find alternate solutions.

If you are an organization with a 3rd party PBX and you are using Exchange UM online, you should be proactive and consider your possible next steps now. Don’t wait for Microsoft to re-post this announcement, you’ll only have less time to plan.

If you are an organization with a 3rd party PBX and you’re considering using Exchange UM online, you should move quickly to avoid any block that may be put into place. You must also consider this as an interim solution while you migrate to another (like SfB) lest you suffer the indignity of having to migrate off of a solution that you’ve just rolled out.

In either case, there’s no need to panic, but you do need to make sure you’ve got this on your roadmap. You can keep an eye on here for updates on this, as well as the pending 2019 release of SfB and Exchange.

 

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