Could Exchange Server 2007 spell the end of the traditional service pack?

Summary:Starting with Exchange Server 2007, the Exchange team is committing to delivering multiple fixes and updates in the form of single "roll up" delivered once every six to eight weeks. Under the current model, the Exchange team has been releasing multiple, near-simultaneous hot fixes, some of which are incompatible with others.

Microsoft announced late Thursday that it finished the development and testing of Exchange Server 2007. The third leg of the EVO (Exchange 2007/Vista/Office 2007) Better Together stool is now in place.

Microsoft's been showing off for months the unified-inbox capabilities of Exchange Server 2007 product. (Is there any Microsoft customer or developer out there who hasn't yet seen the "have your email read to you" demo?)

But what's got a number of company watchers with whom I've been chatting most excited is the so-called servicing model that is making its debut alongside Exchange 2007.

Starting with Exchange Server 2007, the Exchange team is committing to delivering multiple fixes and updates in the form of single "roll up" delivered once every six to eight weeks. Under the current model, the Exchange team has been releasing multiple, near-simultaneous hot fixes, some of which are incompatible with others.

"The biggest story about Exchange 2007, in my opinion, is the new servicing model, and, potentially, the end of service packs," said Jeff Centimano, a principal consultant with a Microsoft Gold partner and a Windows Server Most Valuable Professional (MVP).

"It's a big deal because it could potentially change the way customers and third parties service their software," Centimano said. "Think about it - when you call PSS (Microsoft Product Support Services) now, it's 'what SP are you running? What hotfixes? OK. Those two don't play well together... or wait, you need this other one.' Now it will be "OK, I see you are on Rollup 12 (RU12)... that's over nine months old - can you please apply RU 19?'"

Via their blog, Microsoft's Exchange Team explained how and why the new Exchange Server servicing model came to be:

"One of the big investments we have made in the (Exchange Server 2007) product is actually something customers will never see - a revolutionary test product that builds alongside the shipping code which allows an unprecedented amount of functional tests, validations, and scenario checking. Because of this tight integration and checking, our build system for Exchange 2007 is capable of building ship-quality maintenance releases on a regular basis," blogged Kurt Phillips, group product manager on the Exchange Customer Experience team.

"Our packages will be cumulative, in that they will contain every sustained engineering fix done to the product since the original release to manufacturing," Phillips explained. "They are also cumulative with respect to each other, so if a particular customer decides to skip applying one rollup for any reason (call it RU1) they can apply RU2 when it is released several months later and it will contain every fix present in both RU1 and RU2. They will be completely up to date."

Microsoft plans to make the regularly scheduled Exchange Server rollups available via both Microsoft Update and the Microsoft Download Center on Technet.

There is a potential drawback to the new servicing model, Centimano admitted.

"The down side is that most third parties will also need to change the way their support matrix works as well," he said. "Today many third parties play catch-up with SPs. Think BlackBerry, antivirus vendors, backup vendors. It often takes a while for the vendors to 'certify' Microsoft SPs -- since they are a collection of security fixes AND new functionality. Now we're essentially going to get both (in smaller size) every four to six weeks," if they can hold to the schedule they've set out for themselves.

"But in the end, I'm excited about the change," Centimano said. "It is more logical."

Topics: Microsoft

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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