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Microsoft Puts Dynamics 365 Updates on Semiannual Schedule

Starting this year, Microsoft will update its Dynamics 365 Online products on a twice-yearly basis, with major releases arriving every April and October.

Microsoft announced the new spring/fall feature update cycle last Friday, although it apparently has been in effect since April 2018. This semiannual update release cadence will be an adjustment for users of the online Dynamics 365 CRM and ERP products, though users of Windows 10 and Office 365 have been subject to the faster cycles for a few years now.

This service-enabled feature delivery process also has implications for IT pros, who will be tasked with having to test these major updates before deployment in computing environments. They'll have to keep Dynamics 365 products up to date, too, or risk falling out of support and not getting future product updates, including security updates.

Generation Support and Deadlines
Essentially, Dynamics 365 installations can't be more than two product generations removed from the current release or they'll lose support. Microsoft mapped out what that means in terms of Dynamics 365 versions in its "Manage Updates" document, which uses Microsoft's familiar "n-2" formulation:

Generation Version Name
n 9.0 Dynamics 365 version 9.0
n-1 8.2 Dynamics 365 version 8.2
n-2 8.1 Dynamics CRM Online 2016 Update 1
Dynamics 365 versions as product generations, with "n" indicating the most current "general availability" product release, namely Dynamics 365 version 9.0. (Source: Dynamics 365 "Manage Updates" document)

Organizations running versions of Dynamics 365 older than version 9.0 already are facing upgrade deadlines. Microsoft plans to send update "reminders" to administrators, according to the announcement. However, the exact update timing for organizations also will depend on whether they are using customer engagement apps (Sales, Customer Service, Field Service, PSA and Marketing) with Dynamics 365 or Finance and Operations apps.

Here's how Microsoft described the deadlines for users of customer engagement apps:

  • Users of customer engagement apps with Dynamics 365 version 8.1 were notified back in May that they needed to schedule updates.
  • Users of customer engagement apps with Dynamics 365 version 8.2 "should plan to update to the latest version by January 31, 2019."

Finance and Operations apps users have the following deadlines:

  • Users of Dynamics 365 versions 7.0, 7.1, 7.2 and 8.0 "should update to the latest version by March 31, 2019."
  • However, if an organization has "unfulfilled extension requests by Microsoft," then support for Dynamics 365 version 7.3 "will be available until April 30, 2020."

If an organization hasn't scheduled an update date, "Microsoft will schedule an automatic update for your organization and communicate the dates," according to this Microsoft FAQ document. Support for Dynamics 365 versions 7.1 and 7.2 "will end on April 2019," the document added.

Organizations have experienced notable problems with the faster update releases seen with Microsoft's Windows-as-a-Service approach, but Microsoft's announcement seemed to suggest that the ride might not be as bumpy for Dynamics 365 users. In the FAQ document, Microsoft flat-out denied that there would be compatibility issues with its own applications. The FAQ also denied that organizations would see conflicts with non-Microsoft apps (known as "third-party" apps).

"The continuous product updates will be backward compatible, and hence third-party integrations and apps should continue to work," the FAQ stated.

However, IT pros still have to test everything to affirm the compatibility.

Coming Resources
As with its other service-enabled update releases, Microsoft plans to issue phased deployments of its Dynamics 365 updates, with the idea of holding back updates to some tenancies that aren't deemed ready. Microsoft monitors the updates for any problems using its telemetry reports. With this approach, Microsoft typically fixes the problems after an organization experiences an issue, although it plans to create a new preview program to head off most problems.

For instance, Microsoft has started a "first release program in private preview" for Dynamics 365 users that aims to be more proactive in discovering possible issues. Microsoft plans to describe this program in greater detail "as we roll this out more broadly," according to the FAQ, which didn't specify the timing.

Microsoft described a few other resources to help with the faster update process. Major update releases for Dynamics 365 can be tested (since the last April's release) in a "sandbox environment." Microsoft defines these sandbox environments as "any nonproductive instance of Dynamics 365 Online." It's accessed by Office 365 global administrators using the Office 365 Admin Center portal, according to Microsoft's documentation.

Microsoft also made a big deal of its plans to publish release notes in advance describing its coming Dynamics 365 updates. For instance, "the release notes for the October 2018 update will be published on July 23, 2018," the FAQ noted.

Microsoft also plans to release a preview of a Regression Suite Automation Tool for Finance and Operations. It's aimed at supporting "user acceptance testing" prior to updating a production environment. Microsoft didn't indicate when this tool would be available.

About the Author

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