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The Service Pack Fiasco

By Steve Jones,

I remember getting a Service Pack years ago that caused a blue screen of death on Windows 2000 servers when it was installed. In fact, a quick search shows that quite a few operating systems (and SQL Server 2005) have had issues with SP2 over the years. Perhaps we shouldn't be waiting for the first service pack to upgrade, but upgrading and then skipping SP2 for various products.

Microsoft has responded fairly well to problems with service packs by removing them quickly from their download sites and re-releasing them. This occurred recently for SQL Server 2014 SP1, where an issue was discovered with the SSIS Catalog. This is disconcerting to me, not because of the bugs, but because these mistakes and problems seem to lead Microsoft in the direction of abandoning Service Packs. The idea floated in the past, and still pushed by many people, is that the Cumulative Updates are good enough for patching SQL Server.

That seems crazy to me. If we have problems with a service pack, wouldn't we still have problems with a CU? Or is Microsoft hoping that the smaller group of people that are impacted with CU issues are good beta testers and limit the impact of issues to the community? I'm assuming the testing is similar for all patches, if not the same. However as we all know, testing can't cover every possible scenario. Microsoft notes this as their latest documentation includes these quotes: 

I really prefer that a service pack is released every year for each product. It can contain all the CUs up to that point, with no additional patches, thought hopefully a bit more testing. It should be a line in the sand that helps administrators manage their systems to keep up with patching and reduce support requirements. I'd actually even suggest Microsoft require vendors that want to certify their products on SQL Server and use any logo, validate their software on an SP within four months of release. In most cases, there isn't any work for vendors, merely the effort to re-run all their tests.

We pay a large licensing cost for SQL Server, and the lifecycle support policy under which many of us purchased our software notes that we'll get ten years of support and the term "service pack" is embedded throughout the SQL Server support pages. We should receive a service pack every year to provide continuing support for our platforms.

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