Exchange 2007 SP1 packed with goodies

Better security and OWA enhancements top the list of improvements

This is what happens when your friends have kids. The kids get sick; your friend gets sick. He comes over to help with rebuilding your deck. You get sick. Or, rather, I get sick. As a dog -- which is an expression I've never fully understood. But does that dissuade editors from asking for a column? Heck no. I could have been tagged in a drive-by and they'd still be looking for copy. So despite a head that feels like a beach ball stuffed with sand, I've managed to put together some details on Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1, which officially popped out from behind the secret beta earlier this week.

Exchange 2007 SP1 adds a bunch of new goodies to your Exchange setup. First, there's the additional security we were all expecting. This time, Microsoft says that Exchange Server-side security has been beefed up to support requirements from the military. That's good for our men and women in green, but of more interest to IT managers will be the new S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) support Redmond has dropped into Outlook Web Access (OWA). In fact, OWA gets a bunch of new stuff with SP1, security being only a start.

Microsoft has taken yet more steps to make OWA as Outlook-like as possible. The company has already done a good job with the basic package, but SP1 will also provide support for custom forms, which will make it much easier to extend any custom app hooks you may have built into Exchange. Additionally, OWA gets new and much better mobile-device management. OWA users can now manage their mobile devices on an account basis, whether or not those devices are currently logged on. You can add, delete, or wipe devices, all from the OWA interface. On a lighter note, Microsoft has added themes to OWA. You've got your Zune and Xbox 360 themes for the self-serving Redmond crowd, but there are others, and Microsoft says more will be available for download shortly.

With SP1, it isn't all OWA, though. Admins get some help, too. For instance, OWA's ActiveSync capabilities on the front are mirrored on the back, giving Exchange workers tighter controls over mobile devices. They can now control hardware functions on the device such as the camera or encryption. They can also more easily enforce e-mail policy, such as being able to control the number and kinds of e-mail accounts a device can have as well as how that e-mail is routed. This is handy for making sure some user isn't routing his mobile mail through a random POP server somewhere just so he can, for example, access it from a home computer.

Admins also get a new fail-over option called Standby with SP1. Previously you had the Local version where backup data was dropped on a nearby hard disk, or Cluster, which required a full-on server cluster to function. Standby is a compromise, allowing admins to set up a separate Exchange Server that mirrors the active box in production. The good part is that this server can be a Standard Exchange license even if it's backing up an Enterprise box. The compromise comes at fail-over time. Under Cluster, a dead box would be backed up by another machine automatically; under Standby, it's a manual switch. Still, it's a good price-performance option for the SMB set.

There's more to SP1, but this gives you a taste. We'll take a closer look at this software in our upcoming full-on review of Exchange Server 2007 and Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 later this fall. SP1 has special goodies for users looking to combine OCS and Exchange, and we'll explore them there.

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