Exchange 2003 SP2 Public Folder Administration Changes

Microsoft has promised significant changes for the upcoming Service Pack 2 (SP2) release of Exchange 2003. As usual, the company has been closemouthed about the release schedule for these improvements and the exact nature of the changes, but now Microsoft is starting to loosen its lips a bit. This week, the Exchange team described some of the public folder management and administration changes coming in SP2. These changes will be extremely welcome for administrators who have to migrate public folder data between servers.

The first change is that the Propagate Settings context menu command for folders is now gone. When you right-click a folder in Exchange 2003 SP1 or earlier and choose this command, you get a dialog box that contains 11 checkboxes, each of which lets you specify a setting that you want to propagate from the parent to all its child folders. Examples include deleted item retention times, folder rights, replica settings, and storage limits. Although you can't tell from looking at the UI, when you make such settings changes, Exchange blasts the settings to every subfolder. This could cause unwanted replication traffic for unwitting administrators who make a permissions change and expect only the change to be replicated.

The second improvement is the new Manage Settings wizard. This wizard lets you copy selected properties to all subfolders, just as the Propagate Settings command does. However, it also lets you copy only changes to client permissions and propagate those changes downward. Trying to apply permission changes only is how administrators often got into replication trouble with the original implementation.

The new wizard also lets you replace the contents of replica lists for a folder. For example, let's say you have a server named TORNADO and you want to move all its folders to CYCLONE but you don't know offhand which folders are on TORNADO. No problem. Fire up the new wizard, select to replace TORNADO with CYCLONE in all folder replicas, and watch with glee as the wizard handles updating the replicas of all selected folders.

Another significant SP2 public folder management change is designed to prevent accidental data loss. SP won't let you delete a public store if it contains unreplicated data. This prohibition protects you from the common mistake of deleting a store without checking to see whether any replicas exist only on that particular store; typically, fixing this problem would require you to restore from backup. Coupled with this change is a new context menu command that moves all replicas--including system folders--to the server you select. Want to decommission a public folder server? Right-click the public store, choose Move All Replicas, select a target server, wait for replication, and you're done!

How did Microsoft decide to make these particular changes? The product team regularly examines the data gathered from support calls, including the specific Exchange component (e.g., public folders, Information Store, SMTP engine) discussed, the nature of the problem, and the resolution. Armed with this data, Exchange designers can make changes to address the problems that result in the most support calls (or the most serious support concerns). This process is good for Microsoft because it decreases the company's support costs. It's even better for customers because Microsoft is able to make empirical decisions based on real data instead of on which customers yell the loudest.

As Microsoft releases more information about the SP2 changes, I'll write about them here. TechEd 2005 is less than a month away, and I expect to hear several SP2 announcements at the show.

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