Service Packs have become the way that many of us patch the various Microsoft products we use. Many administrators find patching to be time consuming and difficult to justify, even for security patches, and as a result, often wait for a Service Pack before they inform clients and schedule testing. Most people used to always wait for Service Pack 1 before installing a new version of a server product, but I don't think that's necessary anymore. The quality of Microsoft server products has gone up quite a bit in the last 5 years.
However, I don't like the way that the servicing, or patching, of products has evolved. For SQL Server, we get patches every other month, known as Cumulative Updates. Exchange Server has also moved to this format, though it seems many of the other server products (Windows Server, Sharepoint, System Center, etc) still release Service Packs. A few years ago it was rumored that Microsoft would not release Service Pack 3 for SQL Server 2005. A number of us voted on this patch and it was eventually released.
The strategy announced at that time was that SQL Server would receive a service pack 6 months after the RTM release and thereafter annual service packs until support expired for the product. In between, Cumulative Updates would be released. That seemed to be the case for a few years, but once again Microsoft seems to have quietly decided not to move forward with Service Packs. We've been getting cumulative updates, but no service packs in over a year and a half. The last SPs we have are SP1 for 2012 (Nov 2012), SP2 for 2008 R2 (July 2012), and SP3 for 2008 (Oct 2011).
If you're like to express your opinion, take a moment and vote for these items:
It just takes a moment to click on them, and I'd also ask that you pass along the URL (or this editorial) to friends that work with SQL Server.
Personally I'd also like to see a solid strategy moving forward that includes annual service packs, especially with a 2 year release cycle. I know some of my fellow MVPs and writers like the CU strategy and wish more people would adopt it, but I don't agree. It's time consuming to test and prepare for updates, and as long as this paragraph appears on CU pages, I do not think we should recommend CUs to DBAs.
"This cumulative package is intended to correct only the problems that are described in this article. Apply it only to systems that are experiencing these specific problems. The updates in this package may receive additional testing. Therefore, if you are not severely affected by any of these problems, we recommend that you wait for the next SQL Server 2012 service pack that contains the hotfixes in this package."
To me that shows even Microsoft doesn't completely want to stand behind their cumulative updates.