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.