Exchange 2010 SP2 . . . Coming Soon?

I've been wondering whatever happened to that next service pack for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 that was announced way back at TechEd 2011 in May. The lack of information lately almost makes it feel as if this update has been forgotten. Microsoft said at the time that Exchange 2010 SP2 would be available "in the second half of calendar year 2011," which is where we find ourselves now, with time quickly running out.

Microsoft has a history of releasing Exchange Server updates in early November, so I wouldn't be surprised to see SP2 make its debut within the next few weeks. That would also be in keeping with the idea of having Exchange releases and updates adhere to a regular rhythm, a notion espoused by Exchange General Manager Kevin Allison.

So, as a reminder, Exchange 2010 SP2 will include a plethora of bug fixes—naturally. But in keeping with the recent standard of service packs being about fixes and new features, SP2 also includes a few noteworthy additions:

  • OWA Mini—You might remember Outlook Mobile Access (OMA), a feature previously dropped from Exchange. Apparently, the Exchange developers discovered there was still a large subset of users out there who want to access email on browser-based phones (i.e., feature phones, or non-smartphones). OWA Mini is written as a set of OWA forms as opposed to re-using OMA code. It will fully support all the features that OWA does, just in a text-based UI. Exchange ActiveSync policies don't apply to OWA Mini, however.
  • Hybrid Configuration Wizard—This new wizard is designed to make it easier to set up coexistence scenarios with on-premises Exchange environments and Microsoft Office 365. It's reported that the wizard reduces the number of administrator steps required to establish coexistence environments from around 46 down to 6, which is certainly an improvement. This feature will be of interest only if you're planning a move to Office 365, and will likely be most beneficial to larger organizations that will stage migrations over time or will have need for keeping some mailboxes on-premises permanently while using Office 365 for others.
  • GAL Segmentaion—There are several good reasons for needing to segregate your Global Address List (GAL), from simply separating logical groups from viewing other user' information (with possible legal/compliance implications) to helping optimize performance. GAL Segmentation in SP2 is based on Address Book Policies (ABPs) that you assign to users. The downside here is that ABPs work only for mailboxes on Exchange 2010 SP2; if you're working in an environment with legacy servers, it's not going to work too well for you.
  • OWA Cross-Site Silent Redirection—This feature will save users from logging in to OWA twice in certain situations—that is, when you're attempting to connect through a Client Access server in the wrong Active Directory (AD) site and the target site has an ExternalURL. Although this is certainly useful, it's kind of hard to think of it as a "feature" on par with the other new stuff.

Overall, Exchange 2010 SP2 offers some interesting new tidbits, but doesn't seem to have the excitement around it that, say, SP1 did. I'm sure there are plenty of reasons for that—and maybe one of them is because the Exchange team is already deeply engaged in developing the next full release version of Exchange Sever. SP2 does provide some useful new tools, and should further improve the overall stability of the product.

In a comment on a recent post on the Exchange Team Blog, Microsoft's Greg Taylor wrote in response to questions about when SP2 would be released: "SP2 is still on schedule for this calendar year. We realize that's not the specific date you want, but we really want to make sure we get SP2 thoroughly ready before we release. There are a lot of great features in SP2 covering a lot of different scenarios, and as soon as we have a date we can commit to 100%, we'll let you know."

I'm sure many admins will be a bit hesitant about applying this update when it becomes available, considering the recent problems with rollup updates coming out for Exchange. Let's hope they've learned a valuable lesson from those failures and will be able to release Exchange 2010 SP2 without incident.

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on Dec 28, 2011
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