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SQL Server 2017 To Get Monthly Feature Updates

Microsoft's new SQL Server 2017 product, which was launched at this week's Ignite conference, will feature a faster update release pace, the company said in an announcement.

This new faster update pace will dispense with service packs. Microsoft had typically released service packs once per year for its SQL Server 2016 product. Instead of continuing with that approach, Microsoft plans to only release monthly cumulative updates (CUs) and monthly general distribution releases (GDRs) to SQL Server 2017.

CUs include all past updates, including both quality- and security-related updates. Microsoft plans to release CUs for SQL Server 2017 when they are needed, but they'll arrive on the third Tuesday of each month. GDR releases, in contrast, just contain security-only fixes.

Organizations that preferred to just install security-only releases and wait for the next service pack to add quality updates won't have that option with SQL Server 2017. In the FAQ within the announcement, Microsoft explained that "now you must apply latest CU and there will not be an opportunity to reset back to receiving GDR updates only."

Many organizations typically wait to deploy new Microsoft server products when the first service pack has been released. The benefit behind this idea is that organizations potentially won't have to suffer through software flaws. They can just wait it out. Moreover, IT pros can ease deployments by adding the service pack to a deployment image via the "slipstream" process.

In the Q&A section of the announcement, though, Microsoft offered a contrarian viewpoint to that commonly held IT understanding. The announcement claimed that there's no need for organizations to hold off deployments after SQL Server 2016 or SQL Server 2017 has reached its general availability (GA) milestone:

Even before GA, the final SQL Server 2016 CTP versions were considered production-ready having gone through exhaustive testing both internally and with many preview customers. So there is no need to wait for an SP to install the latest SQL Server -- you can install confidently as soon as a given version goes GA.

With that, you can still target any CU for Upgrade. For example, you could target CU12 for upgrade, and have slipstream media available.

Microsoft's last point above is that even though service packs have gone away for SQL Server 2017, organizations can get the same year-long delay effect by only applying the last CU release within a year.

"We will provide CU-based slipstream media for CU12 allowing for this," Microsoft's announcement explained.

For the Windows version, Microsoft plans to publish "the most recent CU" for SQL Server 2017 at the "Download Center, Windows Catalog and WSUS [Windows Server Update Services]." The "Windows Catalog" will house the "previous CUs."

For the Linux versions of SQL Server 2017, Microsoft plans to provide "all updates, current and previous" in associated repositories.

Update Nuances
SQL Server 2017 thus joins the faster service-enabled update approach that's been seen of late with Windows 10, Office 365 ProPlus and even Windows Server 2016, which will start a faster update approach next month with version 1709. Each team at Microsoft, though, seems to have particular nuances they follow with regard to feature updates.

For instance, the SQL Server team notably did not describe any so-called "semi-annual channel" release approach for delivering major updates, which is the approach taken by the three products listed above. Moreover, the SQL Server team is sticking with the more traditional "CU" and "GDR" Microsoft nomenclature for describing updates, instead of using the newer "channels" lingo.

The delivery of CUs to SQL Server 2017 will follow a specific pattern. In the first year of product support, CUs will arrive every month. In the remaining four years of SQL Server 2017's five-year mainstream lifecycle, CUs will arrive every quarter. Microsoft is taking that approach because that's the general pattern it sees with hotfix releases, according to its research.

Microsoft is claiming that CUs "will be localized starting with SQL 2017." The idea behind that description seems to be that a single CU file will provide an update within a computing environment even if an organization needs to support multiple languages, according to the FAQ.

The overall lifecycle support scheme for SQL Server 2017 isn't changing. There's still a five-year "mainstream support" support phase followed by a five-year "extended support" phase. On top of that, Microsoft sells a six-year Premium Assurance lifecycle support plan.

As far as support is concerned, IT pros still may be asked to apply the latest CU to SQL Server 2017 to get assistance from Microsoft Support. Such situations are handled on a "case by case basis," though, Microsoft's announcement explained.

About the Author

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

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