Exchange 2010 SP3 is released - almost ready for Exchange 2013 deployments

  • After near four and a half months of waiting, Exchange 2010 SP3 is now available
  • The path is nearly clear to prepare the way for Exchange 2013 deployments
  • The mention of a small matter of a database schema upgrade that might vex the minds of some... But not to worry, it's only if you're still running RTM (and who is, anyway?)

At last, the chocks have been released and the runway is almost clear for Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 deployment. The missing places that have stopped existing customers introducing Exchange 2013 into their environment have been provided with the release of:

Basically, these are the versions of Exchange that understand how to play together nicely with Exchange 2013 so that, for instance, an incoming client connection can be proxied by an Exchange 2013 CU1 CAS to an Exchange 2010 SP3 mailbox server. However, the final piece of the puzzle will slot into place when Microsoft releases Exchange 2013 CU1 (cumulative update #1) in Q1 2013, in line with their new servicing strategy for Exchange 2013 announced last week. Once CU1 is available, it can be installed into organizations where servers have been upgraded to Exchange 2010 SP3 or Exchange 2007 SP3 RU10 (no version of Exchange 2003 is supported alongside Exchange 2013). Given that we are mid-way through Q1, you can assume that CU1 is on the way very soon. 

Exchange 2010 SP3 also supports Windows Server 2012, which I think will be the most popular operating system for Exchange 2013 deployment, and it is required to co-exist in a hybrid environment alongside the upcoming Wave 15 refresh for Office 365, when “the service” gets to run datacenter versions of Exchange 2013, Lync 2013, and SharePoint 2013. Clearly a lot is riding on Exchange 2010 SP3.

For those who are upgrading from Exchange 2010 RTM (probably not too many, given how long SP1 and SP2 have been available), you should note the need for a database schema update as this impacts on the preparation for and the execution of the upgrade. As explained in the Exchange 2010 SP3 release notes:

“The database schema has been updated in Exchange 2010 SP3. As a result, when Mailbox servers are upgraded to Exchange 2010 SP3, the databases are upgraded to the Exchange 2010 SP3 version of the database schema. After a database has been updated to the Exchange 2010 SP3 schema, it can't be mounted on a pre-Exchange 2010 SP3 Mailbox server.”

The database schema upgrade process adds time to the overall service pack upgrade process. During the upgrade, the database is dismounted, and all mailboxes in that database are taken offline. If you're upgrading the Mailbox server from the release to manufacturing (RTM) version of Exchange 2010 to Exchange 2010 SP3, the database upgrade process could take an additional 30 minutes or longer per database. This is because the upgrade process converts each database from Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 RTM to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 SP1, from Exchange 2010 SP1 to Exchange 2010 SP2, and then from Exchange 2010 SP2 to Exchange 2010 SP3. If you're upgrading from Exchange 2010 SP2 to Exchange 2010 SP3, the upgrade process takes less time. You can track the progress of the database upgrade process by examining event 1185 in the Application event log on the server you're upgrading.

A database availability group (DAG) member that’s running an older version of Exchange 2010 can move its active databases to a DAG member running a newer version of Exchange 2010, but can’t do the reverse. After a DAG member has been upgraded to a newer Exchange 2010 service pack, its active database copies can't be moved to another DAG member that’s running Exchange 2010 RTM or to a service pack that's older than the service pack installed on the DAG member

The text is actually a bit confusing as it's easy to read it to mean that a database schema update is performed when upgrading to SP3 from any other version. In fact, the update is only necessary from RTM.

However, an Active Directory schema update is necessary to deploy Exchange 2010 SP3 or Exchange 2007 SP3 RU10 so that all of the products understand and know how to deal with the different objects that can exist in an Exchange 2013 world.

Exchange 2010 SP3 has been the most-anticipated and longest-delayed service pack that I can ever recall for Exchange. Announced in October 2012 as a pre-requisite for Exchange 2013 co-existence, it’s obviously that a lot of hard work has been done to prepare SP3 for release. It’s good that SP3 is now here so that the work to prepare the ground for Exchange 2013 deployments can begin.

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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