What to Expect from Exchange 2007 SP1

Even Microsoft doesn't have unlimited resources. Although hundreds of programmers, testers, and program managers work on the Exchange team, they had their hands full creating Exchange Server 2007 because it was essentially a complete reimplementation of the core components of Exchange. The product team had to pick a ship date and then work to meet the date. As a result, some planned features were cut, including the ability to use public folders with OWA and the ability to manage POP and IMAP servers from the Exchange management GUI.

The cuts engendered a lot of discussion. Companies that depend heavily on a particular feature, such as Secure MIME (S/MIME) support for OWA, were unhappy with the cuts; others were more interested in new features such as Windows PowerShell and unified messaging and didn't mind the cuts in features that they weren't using. Most of my customers fall into the latter camp, but I've heard from many readers who felt that the lack of a particular feature would slow or block their deployment. On February 23, Microsoft posted an announcement about the upcoming release of Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1 (SP1) on the Exchange Team Blog. We now know which features will be returning—plus there are a few surprises.

Let's start with what's arguably the biggest new feature. Exchange 2007 introduced two new modes of continuous data protection (CDP): local continuous replication (LCR) and cluster continuous replication (CCR). In SP1, LCR and CCR will be joined by standby continuous replication (SCR), a new mode in which data from one Exchange server can be replicated to another server in another site, with an optional time delay for replay of the replicated logs. The source and target servers can be in different subnets (unlike CCR), which means that you can use SCR to add offsite protection to a CCR cluster or a standalone server. You might think of SCR as a nonlocal version of LCR because it doesn't provide the automatic failover of CCR. Look for more details about this feature in a future UPDATE.

The second biggest piece of SP1 news is the extensive list of features added to OWA 2007. The monthly calendar view is back, as are support for S/MIME and access to public folders. SP1 will also include personal distribution list support and the ability to recover deleted items. Also, the HTML transcoding engine that provides HTML versions of Microsoft Office documents can now handle Office 2007 documents—a welcome bonus.

The SP1 change most likely to get a round of applause from administrators is that the Move-Mailbox cmdlet in Exchange Management Shell now supports importing from and exporting to PSTs. Not everyone needs the ability to move mailbox contents to and from PSTs, but those who do tend to need it greatly, and they've been very vocal about its omission from the release to manufacturing version of the product.

There are other new features, too, such as support for Windows Longhorn Server, but for space reasons I'll save these updates for a future column.

Microsoft has flip-flopped several times on the issue of whether service packs should contain new features or merely bug fixes. The direction seems to be trending toward the features end of things, although I expect SP1 to include bug fixes for Exchange components as well. In my Exchange 2007 testing to date, I haven't found any serious bugs, so I'm more interested in the bug fixes in Windows Vista SP1!

Microsoft hasn't publicly set an exact date for the release of Exchange 2007 SP1 (the February announcement said "second half of this year"), but the company has said that TechNet Plus subscribers will have access to the beta version in April. I'm interested to know if you've held off planning for Exchange 2007 deployment because of a missing feature, and if the feature set announced for SP1 changes your mind. Drop me a note and let me know.

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