Over the next several months Microsoft will deploy the Exchange Online December 2011 Service Update. As a part of this update, we will also make high availability architecture enhancements in all datacenters that host Office 365 tenant domains. These updates will be staggered globally, beginning in December 2011, and we expect full deployment to complete within six months. Approximately one week before the service update is deployed to your region we will post more information in the Planned Maintenance section in your Service Health Dashboard portal. Please check this resource for awareness of when your update is scheduled to begin.

The changes contained in this update are summarized below.

  • High Availability Architecture Enhancements: We are extending our high availability architecture across additional sites to provide greater resilience in the event of network failures. Administrators and end users may notice changes to server names in URLs and in protocol settings. The connection for client applications and devices, including those configured to connect directly to server addresses, will automatically redirect when the mailbox is migrated to the latest software. A very small percentage of mobile devices are not 100% compliant and may have to be reconfigured to connect to a changed pod address. Please refer users to the Mobile Phone Setup Wizard for connection procedures.
  • Sender Photos in Outlook Web App: You can now match faces to names in your organization with photos displayed next to sender information in emails. Display of photos is enabled by default, but you can modify the settings of your Outlook Web App mailbox policy to disable this feature. Picture size limit for Sender Photos is 10K.
  • Outlook Web App in Internet Explorer 9 App Mode: Outlook Web App can now be pinned to the task bar using Internet Explorer 9 App Mode. This gives you the ability to launch Outlook Web App with one click and run it with fewer distractions, separated from other browsing sessions. It also keeps you informed of incoming email and IM when minimized or hidden and offers quick access to common Outlook Web App commands from the taskbar.
  • Group Naming Policy: You can now standardize and manage the names of distribution groups, also known as public groups, created by users in your organization. You can require a specific prefix and suffix be added to the name for a distribution group when it's created, and you can block specific words from being used. This helps you minimize the use of inappropriate words in group names.
  • Retention Policy and Tag Management: We have made it easier than ever to manage retention settings for the user mailboxes in your organization. You can now use the mail control settings in Exchange Control Panel to create and manage retention tags and policies.
  • Multi-Mailbox Search Enhancements: You can now launch a separate window to preview message hits and statistics for each query. Search performance has also been improved with reduced impact of retried query failures, as well as enhancements to scalability and availability.
  • Migration Enhancements:Two new enhancements to migration features will bring greater efficiency to e-mail migrations.
    • Enhanced Management Capabilities: The new Exchange Online migration dashboard helps to improve administrative efficiency during a cutover Exchange migration, a staged Exchange migration, or an IMAP migration. Tenant administrators can schedule multiple migration batches, obtain migration status information for migration batches, view per user details, and see skipped items. Improved reporting and diagnostics tools provide an improved troubleshooting experience.
    • Number of Concurrent Migrations: Administrators can now use Exchange Management Shell to increase the value for a migration batch to as high as 50.
  • Exchange Hybrid Configuration Wizard: This wizard will help streamline the hybrid deployment process by simplifying configuration of features and services such as calendar and free/busy information sharing, mailbox moves, secure mail flow and Exchange Online Archiving. This feature is not included as part of the Exchange Online December 2011 Service Update, but will be available in December 2011 as part of the Exchange Server 2010 SP2 release.

We look forward to delivering these updates to you, and as always, let us know what you think!

Cheers,

Steve Chew
Technical Product Manager