If you're like me, every time Microsoft announces a new service pack for Exchange, I wonder, what's in it for me? The upcoming Exchange 2000 Server Service Pack 3 (SP3) certainly makes me curious because it's shipping so soon after Exchange 2000 SP2. What could Microsoft be thinking?

Microsoft has good reasons for Exchange 2000 SP3 but the reasons matter to you only if you'll be running the upcoming Windows .NET Server (shipping sometime in the first half of 2002). You must have Exchange 2000 SP3 to run Exchange 2000 on .NET Server. Exchange 2000 SP3 will run on Win2K, but without any feature improvements or noticeable differences.

Exchange 2000 SP3's theme is "Better Together," which means that the service pack's goal is to make Exchange 2000 running on .NET Server a better solution—together. Although Microsoft hasn't discussed many specifics about this theme, it likely relates to .NET Framework features, Active Directory (AD), and other improvements in .NET Server that Exchange 2000 deployments can leverage with Exchange 2000 SP3. Unfortunately, Exchange 2000 SP3 probably won't support the .NET Server features that matter most to Exchange 2000 deployments—AD features such as Domain Rename and InetOrgPerson objects, 8-node clustering, and Volume Snapshot Services (VSS). Exchange 2000 SP3 will likely provide support for 4-node Exchange 2000 clusters on .NET Server. Under Win2K Server, you need the Datacenter edition to get 4-node clustering support; .NET Server includes 4-node-clustering support in the Advanced Server version. Exchange 2000 SP3 likely will offer .NET Server 4-node clustering support equivalent to that provided in Exchange 2000 SP1 for 4-node clusters on Win2K Datacenter. And because all service packs offer a Quick Fix Engineering (QFE) rollup of fixes since the last service pack, Exchange 2000 SP3 will include the QFEs that have accumulated since Microsoft released Exchange 2000 SP2 late last year.

If you care about Windows .NET Server support, Exchange 2000 SP3 is an important consideration. But if you aren't planning your .NET Server rollout soon (I can hear you laughing), Exchange 2000 SP3 doesn't offer any features that are worth the upgrade. Microsoft will use Exchange 2000 SP3 as an opportunity to perform more validation testing for Exchange components such as Setup/Admin, Active Directory Connector (ADC), DSAccess, clustering, Outlook Web Access (OWA), and overall reliability. This validation testing will help ensure that Exchange 2000 is more robust and reliable for production deployments.