Windows Server

What you need to know about Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 1

While some service packs aren't worth worrying about right away, Service Pack 1 for Exchange Server 2003 has some important updates that demand the attention of administrators. Here are the details.

When a service pack is released, there's often little reason to immediately install it. Even with the added emphasis on security these days, I know plenty of administrators who still believe in the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach to network management. They'll often wait for up to six months after a service pack is released before installing it, because they want to find out if it's causing problems for other administrators.

Even if you fall into this category of admins, you might want to go ahead and install Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 1. In addition to fixing a lot of obscure bugs like most other service packs do, this service pack includes some attractive new features and important updates to Exchange 2003.

One caveat

Before I show you the cool new features in Exchange Server 2003 SP1, you should know that the service pack does contain a bug. This particular bug applies to systems running Exchange Server 2003 on top of Windows Server 2003 (the standard configuration). Unless Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 has been installed on the server, the new Exchange service pack will not install. (At the time I wrote this article, Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 was scheduled to be released in the second half of 2004.)

If you attempt to install the new Exchange service pack on a Windows Server 2003 system without Windows Server 2003 SP1, you'll get a message stating that the Microsoft Exchange Messaging and Collaboration Services can’t be updated because of a missing hot fix. If you're hesitant to install the Windows Server service pack, you can download the hot fix, which will rectify the problem (this hot fix requires a reboot of the server).

New stuff

As I mentioned, the service pack fixes some obscure bugs and adds quite a few new features to Exchange. At least one of the bugs it addresses isn’t so obscure, though. Exchange has always supported running on systems with multiple processors. However, because of the way Exchange makes use of hyperthreading technology, Exchange Server 2003 actually ran more slowly on some four- and eight-processor systems than it did on comparable single processor systems. This bug has been corrected in SP1.

So what about the new features?  Some of them simply build on what’s already there. For example, once the service pack is installed, Exchange will support many additional mobile devices, making it easier for your users to access the server through the Outlook Mobile Access feature.

Another area in which Microsoft has simply enhanced an existing feature is Outlook Web Access. OWA’s spell checker has been overhauled to support spell-checking messages written in additional languages. OWA also allows you to block more types of attachments than ever before.

Migrations

Service Pack 1 offers a lot of improvements when it comes to various types of migrations. For example, you can now move mailboxes across administrative groups. If Exchange Server is running in mixed mode, the new service pack will allow you to move mailboxes across sites.

Migrations are also simplified in several ways. For starters, if you perform a cross-forest migration, mailbox permissions (including delegated permissions) are preserved. Another simplification affects the Profile Update Tool, a utility that a user can run after a migration. The utility will reconfigure Outlook so that it points to the mailbox’s new location.

Back up and restore

One of the nice things about Windows Server 2003 is the Volume Shadow Copy feature, which allows you to back up open files. Windows takes a snapshot of the open files and backs up the snapshot. This prevents Windows from having to skip open files during a backup.

So what does this have to do with Exchange Server 2003? Well, the Exchange service pack allows Volume Shadow Copy to be used for backups of the information store. In fact, the new Volume Shadow Copy option is enabled by default because, in many cases, it greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to back up your server’s information store. There is, however, an option for disabling Volume Shadow Copy for Exchange if you prefer to back up your server the old-fashioned way.

Mailbox recovery

In the past, recovering mail data often involved running the EXMERGE utility. In Service Pack 1, however, Microsoft has wizardized EXMERGE. Well, sort of…. The new wizard can be used to merge or copy mailbox items from the Recovery Storage Group to the user’s current mailbox. The operation will allow you to merge messages, tasks, appointments, contacts, and just about anything else that might have been lost.

To initiate the merge, simply select a mailbox within the Recovery Storage Group, right-click on it, and select the Exchange Tasks command from the resulting shortcut menu. Exchange will launch the Exchange Task Wizard. Next, simply select the wizard’s Recover Mailbox Data option, follow the prompts, and you can easily merge recovered data with the user’s existing data without having to run EXMERGE.

RPC over HTTP

One of the new features originally introduced in Exchange Server 2003 was RPC over HTTP. Although RPC over HTTP works, its original implementation was not exactly intuitive. In fact, you had to manually make some configuration changes through IIS.

Now, with Exchange 2003 SP1, RPC over HTTP has been simplified and is configurable directly through the Exchange System Manager. There's a new option that will allow Outlook users to access an Exchange server using HTTPS even if there's no front-end/back-end configuration in place.

End sum

As you can see, Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 1 adds a lot to the capabilities of the latest version of Microsoft Exchange. If you decide to install this service pack (try it on your test network first), you can download it here.

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