I hope you noticed that Microsoft got Exchange 2000 Server Service Pack 3 (SP3) out the door last week. (If you're still running Exchange Server 5.5, you probably don't care. Even if you're running Exchange 2000, you might not have gotten around yet to deploying SP2.) Is anything in Exchange 2000 SP3 worth getting excited about?
You might recall that Microsoft originally proposed one major Exchange Server release (code-named Mercury) instead of a series of Exchange 2000 service packs. More than a year ago, however, Microsoft listened to customer feedback and realized that Exchange users weren't looking for another major release. So, the planned Mercury enhancements became a series of service packs that will culminate in the upcoming Exchange 2000 Titanium release, due in mid-2003. (For a discussion of what we know about Titanium, see last week's UPDATE commentary, "Fleshing Out Titanium," at the first URL below.)
Originally, Exchange 2000 SP3 was scheduled for release about the same time as Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) and was dubbed the "Windows .NET Server Service Pack." However, as we all know, these things don't always work out as planned. Microsoft couldn't hold up Exchange 2000 SP3 just because the Win.NET Server release slipped. A lot of important planned Win.NET Server-related work hasn't come to fruition in SP3. In addition, Microsoft hasn't performed the extensive testing that's required for full support of SP3 on Win.NET Server. Therefore, Microsoft has delayed complete Win.NET Server support until the Titanium release. However, you can use an Exchange 2000 SP3 server in a forest that deploys Win.NET Server domain controllers (DCs). By doing so, you can take advantage of Win.NET Server features such as the dynamic Name Service Provider Interface (NSPI) protocol, Global Catalog (GC) partition occupancy, and linked value replication. (For information about preparing your forest and Exchange organization before upgrading to Win.NET Server, see the Microsoft article "Windows .NET Server ADPREP Command Causes Mangled Attributes in Windows 2000 Forests That Contain Exchange 2000 Servers" at the second URL below. For information about the specific features I mention, see the Microsoft white paper "Exchange 2000 Server Service Pack 3 Deployment Guide" at the third URL below.) With Win.NET Server support missing in SP3, what else is there? Don't worry—Exchange 2000 has plenty of room for improvement.
Problems with virtual-memory management have plagued Exchange 2000—clustered Exchange 2000 deployments in particular—since the product's initial release. Microsoft has worked continuously to make virtual-memory allocation and management more stable for both clustered and nonclustered Exchange servers. SP3 provides a new and improved virtual-memory allocation scheme that changes the way the Store process (store.exe) allocates and deallocates memory. This change results in fewer instances of Exchange 2000 running out of virtual memory under load and should help many high-end deployments with clusters, or with many users per server, run more smoothly.
Other enhancements include Exchange 2000 DSAccess changes that improve the way Exchange 2000's components (e.g., the Store, SMTP, the Routing service, the System Attendant) find and use Active Directory (AD) GCs and DCs. Microsoft expects these enhancements to drastically improve the efficiency of Exchange 2000 on the network.
No service pack would be complete without a roll-up of bug fixes. SP3 contains several hundred fixes, some of which exist as hotfixes for Exchange 2000 SP2 and earlier versions. (You can find a fairly comprehensive description of the contents of all the Exchange 2000 service packs in the Microsoft article "XGEN: List of Bugs Fixed by Exchange 2000 Server Service Packs" at the fourth URL below.)
Nothing in Exchange 2000 SP3 is earth shattering—Microsoft tries not to put new features in service packs (the company saves such features for the releases it can charge for). However, depending on your deployment and use of Exchange 2000, SP3 might offer certain benefits. For example, if you run large or clustered Exchange 2000 servers, SP3 seems worth a look. Also, the improvements in DSAccess and GC and DC utilization are well worth deploying if you're plagued by related problems. To learn more about SP3 and whether it warrants further investigation, take a look at the SP3 Deployment Guide or review the recent Microsoft Support Webcast at the fifth URL below.