At Microsoft's grand, new IT ball, Ignite, this year, the company announced that it would be bringing new updating technology to businesses to help them better manage updates for Windows 10. Windows Update for Business was the key announcement and at the time not much was known about it beyond a set of ambitious plans around distribution rings, maintenance windows, peer-to-peer delivery, and integration with existing tools. But, we now know a little more, thanks to my visit to Microsoft's Redmond campus last week and some back and forth tête-à-tête this week to get further clarification. There's just so much misconception about Windows Update for Business – even coming out of last week's meetings in recently published articles – that I wanted to be sure myself.
At the time of the Windows Update for Business announcement, Windows 10 was still in its adolescence, stuck in the Windows Insider beta program and not yet an official OS. But, as far along as Windows 10 was at the time, Windows Update for Business was barely in the infant stage. I was told that just the idea of Windows Update for Business was as recent as a couple weeks prior to the Ignite announcement. Over the months since, Microsoft has had additional time to solidify its plans for Windows Update for Business. But, like Windows 10 itself, is a work in progress and will be evolved over time.
What it is not
Windows Update for Business is not a product. Using Ignite to make the announcement, and the way the announcement was delivered, it sure seemed like Microsoft was working to deliver an actual product. And, this was the first misconception that seemed to catch us all.
So, despite what you may have read or heard, Windows Update for Business the product will not deliver this year. Confused? Read on.
What it is
Windows Update for Business is a set of features (not a product) rolled into Windows 10 that serve only to improve the updating process for Microsoft's new Windows-as-a-Service model. With more and faster updates to the Windows 10 OS, Microsoft needed to develop a solution to help companies manage updates. Windows 10 represents a major modification in how Microsoft's OS is delivered, so changes had to be made in how to successfully handle incremental updates.
A couple pieces of Windows Update for Business are already available in the public build of Windows 10, setting the basis for additional features in the future.
What's available now?
Two of the Windows Update for Business features exist today in Windows 10, with more coming later this year in the next big update.
The features that exist today are:
Defer updates (part of the Current Branch for Business ring). When you defer upgrades, new Windows features won’t be downloaded or installed for several months. Deferring upgrades doesn’t affect security updates. Note that deferring upgrades will prevent you from getting the latest Windows features as soon as they’re available.
Windows Update Delivery Optimization (the peer-to-peer updating mechanism). Windows Update Delivery Optimization lets you get Windows updates and Windows Store apps from sources in addition to Microsoft. This can help you get updates and apps more quickly if you have a limited or unreliable Internet connection. And if you own more than one PC, it can reduce the amount of Internet bandwidth needed to keep all of your PCs up-to-date. Delivery Optimization also sends updates and apps from your PC to other PCs on your local network or PCs on the Internet.
These two features seem like pretty meager offerings, but they are the basis for what Microsoft plans to deliver.
Who is it for?
The Windows Update for Business features will be available for use for Windows 10 editions Pro and Enterprise that are domain connected and managed through an existing patching solution that are WSUS-based – meaning WSUS, Enterprise Mobility Suite, System Center Configuration Manager, and others. Windows Update for Business will be for those business customers that need more control over how Windows 10 is updated.
What's planned for the future?
Just like Windows 10, features for Windows Update for Business are constantly evolving. Additional capabilities have been promised to deliver when the next big Windows 10 update is ready in a couple months (November). It's still fuzzy on which additional pieces will be available, or how many will be provided, but we'll know soon enough. Jim Alkove last week promised that a Windows Insider Build coming very shortly will include them. And, don't expect the next set of features to be the last. Microsoft is taking customer feedback extremely serious these days. If you read through my report on Microsoft's culture and strategy changes, you know that the company is customer obsessed – meaning it's actively listening to customers and no longer making assumptions that it knows what customers actually need. When the new features are exposed you can count on them being tweaked and additional features idealized through customer requests.
I've heard (unofficially) that it may take as long as 2 years for the entire feature-set of Windows Update for Business to coalesce. But, as Windows 10 changes, Windows Update for Business will need to change right along with it.
You should also expect Microsoft's updating systems (WSUS, Configuration Manager, and Enterprise Management Suite) to be updated over time to better take advantage of the new features as Windows 10 feature updates expose them. Microsoft has promised tight integration with the existing systems so that they can each continue to be used as a single pane of glass for systems management. We already know that a new version of System Center Configuration Manager is coming, but I've also heard that WSUS will need some updates, too. In the near term, WSUS needs to be able to support upgrading to the fall 2015 release of Windows 10.
Microsoft's most recent, official statement on Windows Update for Business…
Windows Update for Business is a group of features that helps business customers keep their devices up to date and secure through a connection to Windows Update. Customers can enroll via Current Branch for Business as well as take advantage of Windows Update Delivery Optimization. Taking advantage of Windows Update for Business will reduce management costs, provide control over deploying updates, offer quicker access to security updates and critical fixes, and provide access to the latest innovation from Microsoft on an ongoing basis.
So there probably won't be an official, cutting-of-the-ribbon-release of an actual product called Windows Update for Business, even though there probably needs to be to satisfy customer acceptance. Instead, pieces of technologies will be built directly into Windows 10, and delivered over time, that allow companies to take better advantage of the updating technologies already in place (Windows Update, Enterprise Mobility Suite, WSUS, System Center Configuration Manager).
If all goes well, not much will change about your existing updating processes. You'll just have more and better options for managing to keep Windows 10 secure and feature rich.