Measuring success by service packs

Wherever you look in the IT industry you see a continuous atmosphere of change.  Vendors promise that their upgrades will give the enhancements or bug fixes everyone’s been waiting for while entirely new products will apparently give your business capabilities it’s never had, at least they might once you’ve learnt how to use them.

We only have to look at the last 12 months to see Windows Server 2008 R2 pushing a migration to 64-bit platforms, Windows 7 being a credible replacement desktop OS for XP and the arrival of Exchange 2010 bringing not only new client side functionality but also re-introducing the concept of de-centralised commodity storage. (http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/2010/en/my/storage.aspx)  And that’s just the Microsoft part of your stack, let alone the networking, security, server hardware, storage and virtualisation technologies your infrastructure uses.

However, one area that still surprises me is the slow adoption rate of new versions in my native SQL Server world.  I’ve mentioned previously that for a large number of users having a fast, secure and reliable database is all they require of SQL Server.  The core storage, security and indexing functionality they need has been in place since SQL Server 7.  Clustering was improved in SQL Server 2000 and as a result you will find a respectable number of SQL Server 2000 instances still in use today.

Since SQL Server 2000 enhancements to these three areas have either extended the functionality or enriched the management tools rather than radical overhauls like has happened in other Microsoft products over the years.  Obviously we mustn’t overlook the advances in scalability, business intelligence, programmability and high availability that SQL Server has benefited from but what surprised me last week was the announcement by Microsoft that there will be a service pack 4 for SQL Server 2005, as if there was any doubt there wouldn’t be.  (http://blogs.msdn.com/sqlreleaseservices/archive/2010/02/12/sql-server-servicing-plans.aspx)

SQL Server 2005 was the beginning of SQL Server’s second era, with native XML and .net CLR support included the product became a platform rather than just a data store.  It was also the shrink-wrapped version for the period when the current generation of applications were being deployed.  This coupled with the fact that very few people upgrade their database server software once in production means the current SQL Server 2005 install base probably has another 3 to 4 years of life required of it.  It’s only right therefore that despite 2 newer versions being available (almost) this service pack has been announced.  What is perhaps unusual is that it was only agreed to be created after immense vocal demand from the SQL Server community – do Microsoft appreciate how functional their products are meaning version adoption is often based on the “whatever is the current version” approach, rather than the “we must have this feature so must wait for this version”?

Either way, we can hopefully believe that the most critical of bugs and vulnerabilities have been found in SQL Server 2005 by now and that SP4 will give us a single update executable to install, replacing the 14 months of post-SP3 cumulative updates that have been released as required.

SQL Server 7, 2000 and now 2005 all made it to SP4, it will be interesting to see how far SQL Server 2008 gets given that SQL Server 2008 R2 was announced so soon and SQL Server 2012 is already in development.  My guess is SP3 if its lucky which suggests that SQL Server 2008 R2 should probably be in your adoption road map sooner than you may have thought.

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