Decision Maker

Should Windows Server 2012 R2 Be a Service Pack Instead?

As Microsoft moves toward shorter and shorter release cycles -- meaning a new version of Windows and other server products every 12 to 18 months, in all likelihood -- I'm wondering if their marketing folks are making the right decisions.

Let's review a few facts:

First, despite the company's historical protestations to the obvious, service packs introduce new features and feature changes. Always have. Always will. Heck, Exchange Server 2010 Service Pack 2 eliminated a feature (hosted Exchange) to the great consternation of certain customers.

Second, we're always pretty comfortable deploying service packs to servers, often within less than a year of the service pack's release.

Third, service packs were often on a release cycle of roughly 12 to 18 months.

Hmm.

Does Windows Server 2012 R2 not sound a little bit like a service pack, then? After all, it doesn't introduce any massive, revolutionary new features --  which I personally appreciate, since I can manage a new feature drip a lot more easily than a new feature explosion. Windows Server 2012 R2 isn't a massive change to my environment. It's Windows Server 2012 R2… plus.

Now, I understand why Microsoft might not want to call it a "service pack." The term does kind of downplay the fact that there are new features. And of course they get to charge for a new operating system version… and proudly reassure all those Software Assurance customers that they are indeed getting value for their SA money.

But I'm concerned that customers will react to Windows Server 2012 R2 in much the same way we all react to a new OS release: skip it. Meaning that, after a few of these 12-month release cycles, datacenters are not going to be 1-2 versions behind, but 5-6 versions behind… which sucks.

Given the service-pack-level-scope of these tighter releases (and I mean that in a good way, not as an insult), calling it "Windows Server 2012 SP1" might get more people implementing it sooner rather than later (or skipping it entirely), which would be good for everyone.

Maybe some customer education is all that's needed: with some history of shipping smaller releases with less chance of negative impact, maybe folks will get into the habit of "upgrading" every year, just as we're now more or less in the habit of service packing every year or so (and, with 12 to 18 month cycles, we're unlikely to get service packs like we used to anyway).

Maybe a financial model change is in order, too. If we rent our server software from Microsoft, then they can just ship us a new whatever every 12 to 18 months, and we'll install it -- there's no specific need to name it a new OS version just to make us buy it again or to justify SA costs.

What do you think? It seems to me as if these smaller, more frequent releases are an opportunity for us to continually move the datacenter along in terms of security, stability and functionality -- at least on those servers that aren't running a product tied to a specific OS version. Is an OS released on a service pack-like schedule really much different from the service packs we've seen in the past?

About the Author

With more than fifteen years of IT experience, Don Jones is one of the world’s leading experts on the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 35 books, including Windows PowerShell: TFM, Windows Administrator’s Scripting Toolkit, VBScript WMI and ADSI Unleashed, PHP-Nuke Garage, Special Edition Using Commerce Server 2002, Definitive Guide to SQL Server Performance Optimization, and many more. Don is a top-rated and in-demand speaker and serves on the advisory board for TechMentor. He is an accomplished IT journalist with features and monthly columns in Microsoft TechNet Magazine, Redmond Magazine, and on Web sites such as TechTarget and MCPMag.com. Don is also a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s prestigious Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award, and is the Editor-in-Chief for Realtime Publishers.

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