Microsoft recently released the first Cumulative Update for SQL Server 2012 SP3 This CU addresses 8 issues in the product. But more importantly, it also marks a big shift in the Cumulative Update message sent by Microsoft.
For a long time, there was a discussion between DBAs about when/if we should apply a cumulative update. The Microsoft official message always have been that we should apply a cumulative update only if we were facing an issue in our environment caused by a know and fixed bug. This was also evident by the fact that to be able to download a cumulative update it was necessary to register on their website, provide an email address and they would send a link to download the package to your email address.
So, what has changed? Starting now, the latest cumulative update package will be maintained in the Download Center instead of the hotfix server. This will eliminate the need to register to get the latest package, but this is not the only thing that has changed, the entire message that you can read in the knowledge base article has changed, and instead of a warning message saying that we should not install the package unless it was necessary, now we have:
“ Microsoft recommends ongoing, proactive installation of SQL Server CUs as they become available:
SQL Server CUs are certified to the same levels as Service Packs, and should be installed with the same level of confidence
Historical data show a significant number of support cases involve an issue that has already been addressed in a released CU
CUs may contain added value over and above hotfixes such as supportability, manageability, and reliability updates
As with SQL Server Service packs, Microsoft recommends that you test CUs before deploying to production environments”
This is a big change from what we had before. The concerns we had in the past were necessary because the hotfixes were not tested in the same levels as the service packs were. There were no regression tests and not all possible integration tests were executed. So there was a real concern that something could go wrong in specific scenarios that were not tested. But this has changed and now every cumulative update goes through all the same certification levels that are applied to Service Packs.
This is a trend that is happening not only with SQL Server, this is the result of an agile development effort that is happening throughout the entire Microsoft stack of products. Windows, both personal and server editions already have constant updates instead of Service Packs for some time now and it seems SQL Server will soon follow this road.
This big change in how Microsoft deliver updates bring us to an interesting discussion: how to manage frequent and constant product updates in your environment? The last item in the Microsoft message clearly says that you need to test CUs, just like you test Service Packs before applying. Are customers willing to go through testing and patching processes every couple of months when a new CU is released? How can we convince customers of the benefit of having the latest version of the product?
I believe people will eventually get used to this new model of constant updates and catch up, creating plans to update more often their environments, maybe not apply every single CU, but apply them every 2 releases, or every half year, etc.
What do you think? How do you see this new model fitting in your existing environment? I would love to know other people experience on this subject.
Oh, and before I forget: you can download the latest CU for SQL 2012 SP3 that I mentioned in the beginning of the article. The link will not change for every release, so you will always be able to download the latest version using this link.