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Versions of Disaster

By Steve Jones,

Today's editorial was originally released on Jan 13, 2009. It is being re-run as Steve is on vacation.

I wrote about versioning of old software recently and how I had to restore an old version of SQL Server in response to a lawsuit. We had some challenges because the backup file that we had was from years before and we weren't sure which version of SQL Server we needed. I forget how we finally determined which service pack was needed, perhaps we read master somehow to get a build.

In any case, when you apply patches or change how SQL Server functions, you can change the way that code is executed or even the results that might be returned to an application. You would hope that code would break and error out rather than return different results than you expect.

Since many of us patch servers when Service Packs come out, or when we find a hot fix we need, and we are constantly deploying and changing code, do we pay enough attention to the server version as we make these deployments? I started thinking about this after the last editorial and I think that we often take it for granted that we can easily recreate our environments.

Consider what would happen in the event of a disaster. Suppose that one of your server instances, any particular instance, died and you had to go back to a backup of the database, would you know what version of SQL Server is needed? Do you know what version each of your instances is using right now?

In some ways this makes me think that only installing RTM and Service Pack versions in your production environment is a good idea. It's easier to track things if you keep all your instances within a very narrow band of versions, and the worst case would be attempting a restore on RTM, then SP1, then SP2, etc. until you hit the correct version. Imagine now if you had to work through the various builds on my build list.

I used to think that I'd want to keep current on my patches. In one large environment, we were actually pretty good about deploying patches to hundreds of instances inside a month, so we always had a large percentage of our servers, and usually all the critical servers, at the same patch level. However if a disaster had occurred within the month, we wouldn't necessarily have been sure of what versions were installed.

I really don't have a great recommendation on how to handle this other than build some automated system that tracks the current build number on a daily basis, perhaps even putting it in each database. At least then you'll have it handy in the event of a disaster.

Steve Jones


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