After a busy summer of Microsoft events meeting with partners, customers and our internal sales organization, I thought I would share some of the discussions I had with these groups around our cloud evolution and specifically around Exchange Online. One of the key things we have evolved is our development cycle for the online service as compared to the server software side. Exchange Online is great example of this change, and it is something I am often asked about in leading customer experiences across both solutions.

There are great lessons from the on-premises server world that we leverage for Exchange Online, such as commitment to enterprise grade quality, security, privacy and above all being grounded on customer needs. And, there are also some key differences between the two offerings, such as the release cadence. With an online service, there is the ability to make changes on a regular basis as many consumer services such as Bing and Windows Live do. For a business service like Exchange Online, we take a slightly different approach to our release cadence that draws from both customer feedback and our experience with enterprise software, while taking advantage of services flexibility.

With Office 365 and Exchange Online, we embrace the services approach and provide the latest and greatest capabilities to our customers because we know that up-to-date features drive customer satisfaction (see our Partner Blog). However, we also recognize that even with Exchange Online, customers often need to manage the IT verification, training and user communications to properly support new capabilities being released. We deeply appreciate this aspect of feature releases based on what customers have told us over the years, and have taken a unique approach to providing on-going features and services capabilities while being sensitive to how it impacts our customers.

Our Exchange Online release cadence has three tiers –

  1. On-going services updates: These happen bi-weekly and are behind the scenes services improvements that are transparent to the customer.
  2. Additive feature and capability releases every 90 days: These are new features or services capabilities that add new value to customers, but don’t necessarily trigger significant new training or disruption in the user experience. Where applicable, service administrators can decide whether to make the feature available to the end users.
  3. Major feature and capabilities releases every 12-24 months: These are significant new features and capabilities that customers typically like to plan for by readying IT staff and/or users. We also offer a 12 month window for customers to receive these upgrades, providing them time to plan. An example of this is the change with Exchange Online in Office 365 as we added archiving, voicemail and revamped the Outlook Web App (OWA) user interface.

There are also important similarities between the release cadence and underlying development cycle of Exchange Server and Exchange Online. Our customers trust us to provide leading, break-through capabilities as the world around them evolves. While services offers the ability to deliver updates faster, a business critical service needs to innovate beyond just incremental frequent, small features. Multi-year release cycles allow for significant engineering investments to stay ahead of changing business needs and take advantage for new technology. Adding voicemail, archiving and compliance capabilities in Exchange are great examples of recent investment areas. Without these big investments, customers are left with only incremental improvements over time. So, while we have embraced the more frequent release cycle available to us with Exchange Online, we will continue to listen to customer feedback and make the big investments that keep Exchange at the head of enterprise grade messaging, calendaring and protection.

Regardless of on-premises server or online service, my team and I remain committed to helping our customers stay productive, and we will help them embrace the cloud in whatever way works for their business. We will do this while delivering industry leading features and capabilities that our customers tell us they need while we invest in break-through technologies that ��wow’ you. You can always expect a clear roadmap of updates so that you can properly plan for upcoming changes, and we will continue to push the industry forward with ambitious investments to deliver the best messaging solution in the market.

Rajesh Jha
Corporate Vice President
Microsoft Exchange