Here’s how Exchange 2013 SP1 is shaking things up

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We’ve seen several shifts over the years with the way that Exchange is updated, making it even more interesting to see how things are shaping up now. As a quick refresher, there was the hotfix model, and then the cumulative model using rollup updates (RUs). But with Exchange 2013, we have yet another new model. Of course, this has led to several questions, including whether we will receive service packs. But that clearly wasn’t the case, because with the release of Cumulative Update 4 (CU4) it was co-branded SP1.

Here’s a quick review of the current RTM/CU releases:

  • Exchange 2013 RTM:  October 2012
  • 2013 CU1:  April 2013
  • 2013 CU2:  July 2013
  • 2013 CU3:  November 2013
  • 2013 CU4 (aka SP1): February 2014
  • 2013 CU5:  May 2014
  • 2013 CU6:  Coming soon

Each cumulative update brings in its own fixes and enhancements. However, what makes CU4 a little different — hence warranting the SP label — is the fact that it comes with some strong feature enhancements that go beyond a typical CU.

The video below will give you a solid overview of  the newest features.

Let’s go over some of the enhancements in detail.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Support: It only makes sense to provide the ability to install Exchange on the latest server, however, there’s often a gap between the latest version of Exchange and the current server. A service pack bridges that gap, as is the case with SP1, where Server 2012 R2 is now supported. Unfortunately, you can’t upgrade to Server 2012 R2; you have to do a fresh install.

Edge Transport 2013: It was a real bummer when Exchange 2013 didn’t include an Edge Transport upgrade. Folks were simply told to keep using ET 2010, and it felt like Microsoft was dropping the perimeter-based security solution completely (as it has done with Forefront Threat Management Gateway). However, the Exchange Team pulled through, as promised, with a 2013 Edge version.  It’s good for those who like to have it in their perimeter and scan for spam through it, but the downside is that it’s a command-line, PowerShell driven solution.

So, although it’s not rocket science to configure and set up, it’s still a pain to have to learn command-line configuration for a server that you typically set and forget. I think it’s just one more reason admins should consider the Edge role dead in the water. vNext, may turn into vNever, so you might want to consider a replacement now for your Edge solution, possibly a cloud-based one that handles both anti-spam, anti-malware and a host of other important broad spectrum security-like features that you can manage through a GUI.  Hey, I’m not hating on the Shell, I just think one-time configuration tools should have an easy-to-use GUI attached.

Exchange Admin Center cmdlet logging: Speaking of the Shell, one of the features within Exchange was the Exchange Management Console; a GUI based administration console that would reveal the hidden PowerShell cmdlets and commands beneath the GUI veneer. It was a great way to learn PowerShell and an easy way to grab commands and tweak them. But this was dropped with Exchange 2013 – nearly all of it. The EMC was yanked (no more MMC-based console for Exchange administration) in favor of the Exchange Admin Center (EAC), a web-based GUI console. The benefits have shown themselves over time with the EAC (although the UI is a little hard on the eyes with all the white space a la Metro UI-esque).  Well, with SP1 we now have the ability to see the command-line PowerShell underneath the hood. You can capture and review recent commands (up to 500), making it easy to learn or brush up on PowerShell.

MAPI over HTTP: Most Exchange admins have known for a while that the various methods for client connectivity to Exchange were in need of an update. Initially with 2013 we saw that change occur when MAPI connectivity was done away with in favor of RPC over HTTP connectivity (or Outlook Anywhere) for both internal and external connectivity from Outlook. However, with SP1 it’s making another option available through MAPI over HTTP. Apparently this will, according to Microsoft, simplify connectivity and improve the user connection experience, specifically for situations like resuming from hibernation or network switching.

DLP Feature Enhancements: With the release of Exchange 2013 we saw a new protective feature called DLP (data loss prevention).  DLP allows admins to prevent end-users from sending private information such as banking information, social security numbers, credit card information and more. Through templates and built on reliable transport rules (already proven to be a solid solution in Exchange), DLP makes it easy to either warn users or block them from sending this type of data. Well, with SP1 we see DLP getting a bit more attention. New features like Policy Tips for OWA users and OWA for Devices are included. And a great feature called DLP Document Fingerprinting, which admins can use to specifically scan for documents that match the fingerprint of the one provided as the base, so that more security can take place through DLP templates and transport rules.

There are a variety of additional features and enhancements that come with Exchange 2013 SP1, and you can learn more about them here.

As you can see, the various features warranted the SP designation. The Exchange Team is continually developing out this messaging server solution – and thank goodness, since we’ve come to rely on it so heavily in the business world.  As we look to the future, however, we will be able to get a glance of next-gen features and enhancements by looking at what’s happening with email in the Office 365/Exchange Online space. Most of the improvements we see online will eventually make their way down to on-premise Exchange in future iterations of the solution. There is much to look forward to in future versions, based on what we’re already seeing being developed in the cloud.

CU5 Enhancements

Being that CU5 has also been released since CU4 (SP1) we thought it might be good to mention that the updates were minor in comparison. According to the Exchange Team, CU5 includes “fixes for customer reported issues, minor product enhancements and previously released security bulletins.” Learn more about the release here.

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