Updating Client Access Servers to Exchange 2010 SP3

Microsoft has released Service Pack 3 for Exchange Server 2010. This is a significant release that delivers some key functionality to customers such as support for Windows Server 2012, support for co-existence with Exchange Server 2013 CU1, and general bug fixes and security updates.

If you are planning to upgrade your Exchange 2010 servers to SP3 you should be aware that there is an Active Directory schema update involved. If that is a concern for your environment, but you still want the bug fixes and security updates, you might consider sticking with Service Pack 2 and applying Update Rollup 6 instead.

At the time of this writing there are some points in the various release notes that aren’t correct or fully updated yet that Microsoft are still working on or that are worth some clarification:

  • Exchange 2010 SP3 is listed as including all security bug fixes up to SP2 UR5-v2. It actually includes all security and bug fixes up to SP2 UR6.
  • The SP3 release notes state you can only install on Windows Server 2008 SP2 or 2008 R2. You can actually install on Windows Server 2012, although exact pre-requisite guidance may not be available yet.
  • The support for Windows Server 2012 includes both the installation of SP3 on Server 2012, and the interoperability of Exchange 2010 SP3 with Server 2012 domain controllers.
  • The support for Windows Server 2012, which ships with PowerShell 3, does not mean that Exchange 2010 SP3 also supports upgrading to PowerShell 3 on other operating systems.
  • The co-existence support for Exchange 2013 does not apply to Exchange 2013 RTM, but rather Exchange 2013 CU1 (cumulative update 1) due for release in Q1 of 2013 (within about 6 weeks from the time of this writing)

Preparing to Upgrade to Exchange 2010 SP3

You can download Exchange 2010 Service Pack 3 here and extract the files ready to be installed on your servers.

Upgrade your servers in the following order:

  1. Client Access servers (beginning with the internet-facing site)
  2. Hub Transport and Edge Transport servers
  3. Mailbox servers
  4. Unified Messaging servers

You should also plan to update any management tools installations you have on admin workstations or servers, and also check your third party applications that integrate with Exchange in case they also need updated management tools.

I’m going to walk through the upgrade process in some more detail next, and also provide some general guidance afterwards about the Service Pack 3 installation steps as well as what to expect in terms of timing and service interruptions.

Applying the Schema Update

If you have an AD forest topology with multiple domains, or process restrictions that require schema updates to be managed a certain way, you can apply the Exchange 2010 SP3 schema update on a 64-bit domain controller that is in the same AD site as the Schema Master, using an account with Schema Admins and Enterprise Admins rights.

C:\Admin\Ex2010SP3>setup.exe /PrepareAD

Otherwise the schema update will be applied when you upgrade the first Exchange server.

Updating Client Access Servers to Exchange 2010 SP3

Client Access servers are the first server role to update, and you should begin with the internet-facing site if you have multiple sites in your organization.

For Client Access servers that are in a CAS Array you should remove some of the servers (eg half of them) from the load balancer configuration, upgrade them, re-add them to the load balancer, then repeat the process with the remaining Client Access servers in that load balanced array.

For an example of how to do this with Windows NLB see the following article:

For other load balancers refer to your vendor documentation for how to take servers out of the load balanced array for maintenance and updates.

Updating Mailbox Servers to Exchange 2010 SP3

I admit I was concerned when I read the release notes for Exchange 2010 SP3 that state:

The database schema has been updated in Exchange 2010 SP3. As a result, when Mailbox servers are upgraded to Exchange 2010 SP3, the databases are upgraded to the Exchange 2010 SP3 version of the database schema…

During the upgrade, the database is dismounted, and all mailboxes in that database are taken offline.

This seemed to be a major issue to me until I performed the upgrade in my test lab. The statement above is correct for standalone mailbox servers, which is expected.

However for an Exchange 2010 Database Availability Group the upgrade process can be performed with no downtime following the normal process of moving active databases off DAG members while they are being updated.

You can use the standard process as demonstrated here:

However, be aware that once a database has been made active on an Exchange 2010 SP3 member of the DAG, it can’t be made active on a pre-SP3 DAG member again. This means that you will need to roll through your entire DAG upgrading to Service Pack 3 to retain the full availability resilience your DAG is designed to provide.

Upgrading Other Server Roles to Exchange 2010 SP3

For Hub Transport, Edge Transport, and Unified Messaging servers there are no special steps required other than to manage your upgrades in a way that aligns with whatever high availability you have in place or those server roles. For example if you have two Hub Transport servers in a site, upgrade them one at a time.

Exchange 2010 Service Pack 3 Step by Step

The upgrades steps are very straightforward and easy to follow. Extract the SP3 files to a folder and run Setup.exe. When the splash dialog appears click Install Microsoft Exchange Server upgrade.


You’ll need to click through the usual introduction and license agreement.



Next the Readiness Checks will be performed. Any errors will prevent you from proceeding. Warnings will not prevent you from proceeding, but you should pay attention to them anyway as they are often important.

Remember, if you’re upgrading CAS Array or DAG members refer to the guidance above.

Click Upgrade when you’re ready to proceed.


The actual installation time will vary depending on the server roles installed, and whether you’re upgrading from a very recent or much older Service Pack level of Exchange.


When the installation has all completed successfully click the Finish button.


Each of my test lab servers took between 20 and 30 minutes to upgrade, but your performance will no doubt vary.


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