Upgrade and Refresh, or Not?

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Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is away on vacation.

If you’re an IT professional, then the odds are that you are in favor of refreshing your environment on a continuous/rolling cycle. For most of us that means being no more than one version back on software and using hardware that is no more than three years old.

We’ve gotten better (even good) at doing these upgrades and refreshes. Virtualization has certainly made it easier, both in terms of hardware isolation and encouraging better provisioning practices, but maybe more so in terms of encouraging single purpose VM’s. Having data on a SAN helps too. We’re better at scripting and standardizing builds and installs. Testing? Well, perhaps we’re better at that too, but it remains the weakest part of the game and the most worrisome. Upgrades are supposed to be seamless, but we know that sometimes they aren’t and without a really good test we just hope for the best and that our rollback plan works.

Businesses don’t seem to mind paying the cost. The part they do mind is the risk and the distraction from the “real” work of serving customers and making money. I suspect few businesses would complain if the upgrade/refresh model went away. Some have figured out a way around it – they don’t upgrade! Others look at the cloud and see relatively the same costs, but no more versions.

The datacenter/server model we have today allows for granular upgrades and managing risk. The cloud model takes away the granularity and the option to run on an older version. Maybe the middle ground is running a cloud OS in our data center so that we have some control? Is that more risk or less? Or do we need a middle ground at all?

Upgrades require skill, coordination, experience, and knowing the little gotchas of the business. The best way to do that is to have the teams doing upgrades frequently enough to be proficient.  I wish it was easier – how many of you are comfortable with doing an in-place upgrade of the OS, or of SQL Server? What does it say about our business that we’re not comfortable with in place upgrades?

Are you in favor of refresh and upgrade, or do you think we spend time and effort on it for not enough gain?

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