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Microsoft Switches Exchange 2013 to 'Cumulative Update' Schedule

In a major procedural shift, Exchange 2013 updates will be released as quarterly cumulative updates (CU) starting sometime in this first quarter, Microsoft announced on Friday.

"The Exchange team is targeting a release date of 2013 Q1 for the first CU package," according to a detailed Exchange team blog post. The release of service packs will also continue to happen.

Although Microsoft adopted the CU delivery model with Exchange 2007, this new approach will deliver "a full refresh of the Exchange product" on a quarterly basis. That means that IT professionals can expect see fatter Exchange 2013 update packages delivered when the new policy takes effect. Microsoft is promising that the timing of the releases will be more predictable.

The Exchange team indicated that Microsoft plans to include security patches in the CUs if there are multiple fixes. If the fix is just for a particular problem, then the security patch will be delivered separately, according to the blog post. This issue of whether the security patch should be separate from the CU appeared to be a matter of controversy among IT pros when Microsoft issued Update Rollup 5 v2 for Exchange Service Pack 2. Some IT organizations apparently like to separate the CU process from the security patch process.

The exact date when the new CUs will start arriving wasn't specified by Microsoft. The CUs will be distributed via the Microsoft Download Center. Security patches will be identified as applying to specific CUs, and they will be distributed via Microsoft Update and the Microsoft Download Center.

The new policy pulls CU releases for Exchange Online and premises-based Exchange 2013 server closer together. Microsoft is promising that it will coordinate its Exchange Online changes with Exchange 2013 changes in the new CUs. "System requirements will be better aligned because the on-Premises server and datacenter servers will be running identical code," the blog states. According to the Exchange team, this coordination should help organizations that have hybrid deployments, tapping both Exchange 2013 on premises and Exchange Online through Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365.

However, while that coordinated approach implies that Microsoft will have tested the CUs with its Office 365 online service first before delivering them to its server customers, IT pros aren't off the hook. The blog still insists that IT pros should test the CUs first before going live in a production environment.

"The added benefit of a CU being validated in O365 prior to release to the general public does not replace the need for customers to complete due diligence in their own environments," the blog states.

Some pitfalls will remain under the new approach. For instance, installing CUs "will not preserve web.config, registry changes or other custom configuration applied to servers," according to the blog. Moreover, if the installation of a CU fails, IT pros will have to reinstall Exchange 2013. Microsoft claims that reinstalling Exchange 2013 should not affect the user data.

The Exchange team appears to be taking some steps to better address the sort of Update Rollup (RU) failures that were becoming a recurring problem for IT pros with older Exchange products. However, this new CU policy, as announced, only applies to Exchange 2013.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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