Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1

February 27, 2007 at 9:07 am | Posted in Technical | Leave a comment

I don’t think I have ever been so bummed to see a service pack.

It’s not SP1 itself that makes me sad; the contents of the service pack are fine. There’s more stuff for the mobile users, and finally an html viewer for Office documents in the web mail service. Those are good things to add; go, Microsoft, go.

The source of my disappointment is not the contents of the service pack, but the delivery of those contents. Back in December, the Exchange team posted a plan on their blog, which boldly stated their initiative to do away with the “Service Pack + Hotfixes” system. Instead, they proposed a “rollup” release system, wherein all the updates you would get could be designed to be compatible with one another, and to be cumulative and standardized in order to streamline Exchange maintenance for all of us. I adored this idea, and hopped about with childlike glee when I read it. Finally, an update delivery for Exchange that makes sense!

Here’s an example of why I think service packs + hotfixes = badness. Let’s say I have an Exchange server. After I installed it, I must load up a service pack right away, thanks to the demands of my users which were not met in the initial release. That’s fine. Then, as part of my job as a faithful IT staffer, I spend at least some of my time each week browsing the KB for hotfixes and trying to figure out which ones apply to my particular system.

The trouble is, if I load hotfix 1,3,13 and 17 over the course of a few months, I now have a somewhat customized MS Exchange system, which may or may not be reflected in any online support literature I can find. If it starts to behave strangely, I’m forced to wonder which of my hotfixes is not playing well with others, or with the service pack. Also, the next time there is a hotfix, I have to remember which of the other hotfixes I’ve loaded, and try to guess whether I’ll create more problems or fewer problems by loading up another one.

In Exchange 2003, Microsoft used all three delivery methods: hotfixes, rollups and service packs. If I didn’t know better I would have to assume that this system was designed to ensure companies need to hire a full-time person just to maintain Exchange services. The choices are bewildering. You only install one rollup if you haven’t yet installed the service pack, however you can’t install the service pack unless you’ve installed the correct hotfixes, blah, blah, blah. The knowledge base reads like a horoscope. (Install this service pack only if Mercury is in retrograde…)

I loved the “Rollup” release idea, because it would mean that every bunch of fixes I got from Microsoft’s update site would be tested with the others, packaged, and delivered in a way that ensured my system would not choke on any of the fixes. Also, it removes the hurdles from the technical support process; rather than spending a half hour describing to them which hotfixes I have applied in what order, I can simply say “I’m on RU13” and they will know I have installed rollup 13, which includes every single fix going back to the original release. For its part, Microsoft will have plenty of time to test each rollup, and will be able to ensure the quality of the current system, because there will be only one, rather than a thousand variations of cobbled-together fixes. A single rollup version can be rigorously tested and validated, whereas a thousand varieties can not.

The Exchange team’s blogger enthusiastically said, “The end result of all this validation is that each cumulative rollup will be stable, quality releases that only increase the reliability and experience with Exchange Server 2007. It’s an innovative way to service what we are confident is an innovative product. ”

I agree. I think there should be one delivery method for all fixes and upgrades, because a simple solution is always the best one. I also think having one “current” version of the software makes sense from a support perspective, and will simplify Microsoft’s message on the knowledge base, saving everyone a lot of time.

Plus, I need to be careful installing any sort of updates tomorrow, since my star sign will be impacted by the opposition of Saturn and Neptune, opening the door for potential chaos or temporary obstacles. That doesn’t sound like a very hotfix-compatible day.


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