If you happen to manage an Exchange Online environment where most or all users (and other objects) are synced from your local Active Directory, you know that, for your management tasks to be executed in a supported and easy way, you need two things:
- The local Active Directory Schema extended to the latest (recommended) Exchange version
- At least one Exchange management server, to execute the management actions from
Because you need the schema extended, to match the cloud Exchange attributes, in your management server, it’s also logic that you would try and keep your management server with the latest version possible. With that said, you should plan to update your Exchange server on premises, whenever a new version is made available.
Seems simple, right? Well it was that simple, until Exchange 2019 came out and Microsoft decided to not provide Exchange Server Hybrid keys for it.
In the past, Microsoft had a specific site where you would get the Hybrid keys from. In theory, to be compliant, for any Exchange on premises version that was used for management and/or hybrid purposes only, and that did not host any mailbox, you would be able to license it for free.
But in July 2018 in the tech community article “Hybrid Configuration Wizard and licensing of your on-premises server used for hybrid” Microsoft explains how you can now use the Hybrid Wizard to license your Exchange server for free, but also states “Please note that HCW does not provide a ‘hybrid key’ for Exchange Server 2019. If you need a hybrid key, the latest version that it is available for is Exchange Server 2016.”
I know this is not new, but managing synced organizations has been and will continue to be a hot topic, for many different reasons, so I decided to blog about it, again.
Why not extend the free licensing to Exchange 2019?
It’s public that Microsoft still has a strong focus on providing Exchange 2019 as the Exchange version for organizations that do not want to move to the cloud, and this licensing decision is for sure related to that, in my opinion.
Is the Hybrid Wizard the best option to license your server?
I think that the Microsoft move from the website to the Wizard, to obtain licenses for hybrid server versions until 2016, is a clever one because it allows the licensing process to be easier to control, however, not all Exchange on premises in this environments can be truly characterized as “Hybrid”.
Many organizations either never had Exchange on premises or don’t rely on any type of interaction with their on premises Exchange, that could truly define it as a “Hybrid server”. Mail flow is fully in the cloud, all hardware and applications on premises interact directly with Exchange Online and free/busy between the cloud and on premises is not required because no objects are hosted from on premises.
So now you not only ask those type of customers to install an Exchange Server, just so they can manage their synced objects in a supported way, but you also ask them to run the Hybrid Wizard in a technically “non-hybrid” environment.
What’s my best option to keep my management server up to date?
The answer is simple: To stay fully up to date, you should update to 2019 and pay for a Standard license.
But if you don’t want to do that, at least for now managing the objects with Exchange 2016 is also a very valid option. Keep the 2016 version for as long as it’s officially supported and tackle the upgrade when you really need to have it done to stay in that supported scenario.