Exchange 2010 SP2: don't forget the rest of the ecosystem

Now that Exchange 2010 SP2 is available in the wild I’m sure that you’re considering the issue of how and when to deploy the new update. Life would be easy if we only had to update Exchange servers with the bits that Microsoft has provided because running the Setup program to update a server is a relatively straightforward process. But few Exchange servers run in a vacuum and almost every production server that I have ever seen has some dependencies or associations with other software that has to be taken into consideration.

Anti-virus and anti-spam software is probably the most common example as it’s run to check messages on mailbox and hub transport servers. There is a definite trend to use cloud-based services for this purpose as this ensures that a specialized company will take responsibility for protecting messages and suppressing incoming spam, but I think that a majority still run on-premises protection. If you run ForeFront Security for Exchange, you should follow the advice in KB929076 to ensure that you disconnect Forefront from Exchange to allow the SP2 upgrade to proceed. On the other hand, if you run different AV software, now’s a good time to consult with the vendor to get their advice about whether you need a software upgrade to support SP2 as well as any particular steps that should be taken to disable AV scanning before you apply SP2.

Apart from AV software and possibly BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), it’s impossible to provide a complete list of everything that you should check to prepare for the deployment of Exchange 2010 SP2. The best advice is to prepare an inventory of everything that runs alongside Exchange and to use that as a checklist to validate that the software is capable of supporting SP2. RIM hasn’t yet released any advice for running BES alongside SP2 but I expect that they will soon. Other companies will follow suit after they complete testing against SP2.

Microsoft has released a number of updates to go alongside Exchange 2010 SP2. For example, you can download a new version of the Exchange 2010 compiled help file (CHM) that contains details of all the changes made to Exchange 2010 including new features such as Address Book Policies (ABPs) and the cmdlets that are used to create and manipulate these objects. My recommendation is that you keep a copy of the CHM on your workstation so that it’s easily accessible.

Even if you don’t plan to deploy SP2 for a while, you’ll get great value from the Exchange 2010 SP2 20.5MB CHM, if only because like the rest of the service pack, the new CHM contains all the fixes for documentation errors that have been found to date. Complex products like Exchange are terrifically difficult to document in-depth and some errors are always likely to creep in, even when articles are reviewed and checked by developers.

Although there’s no doubt that online searches have become the go-to method for discovering the latest and greatest information about any technology, there’s something comforting about having an authoritative source of information about a product on your own PC. And that advice is valid for all products, not just Exchange.

The Exchange User Monitor is another example of a newly released updated component of the Exchange ecosystem. The monitor allows administrators to see what’s happening on the black box called the Client Access Server (CAS) in terms of details of the clients that are connected to the server. The documentation for the User Monitor explains that you can see the following data:

  • IP addresses used by clients
  • Microsoft Office Outlook® versions and mode, such as Cached Exchange Mode and classic online mode
  • Outlook client-side monitoring data
  • Resource use, such as:
  • CPU usage
  • Server-side processor latency
  • Total latency for network and processing with Outlook 2003 and later versions of MAPI
  • Network bytes

I’m surprised that the User Monitor is not a formal part of the Exchange kit. You should download a copy and have it in your Exchange administrator toolkit.

Software is a complex beast and the devil is usually in the detail when the time comes for deployment into production. Take the time to prepare and you won’t be surprised.

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