Hotfixes vs. Service Packs: Blurring the Lines

Last week, my press contacts at Microsoft told me about the company’s new Incremental Servicing Model for SQL Server, a new process for customers to receive scheduled SQL Server hotfix updates that is scheduled to launch April 16. The name and the brief description sure sounded intriguing. But, try as I might, I haven’t been able to get much in the way of real information about what this new initiative really means to customers. Honestly, that’s a bit weird. Typically, Microsoft releases a ton (a very precise journalism term that means a lot) of information about new customer-facing initiatives on its Web sites and blogs. And within a few days, dozens--if not hundreds--of talking heads just like me are sharing their incredibly insightful opinions on the topic. However, at about 9:30 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, April 10, when I Googled “Incremental Servicing Model,” I got just three hits.

I hate to rely too liberally on the “background” information that my Microsoft press contacts provide me, but since there’s not a lot of meat for me to chew on my own, here’s what Microsoft told me. The Incremental Servicing Model is a process that Microsoft developed in response to customer feedback. Presumably, when customers know that they are going to get an update, they can more effectively plan for (and minimize) downtime.

Currently, you can get hotfixes in bundles called Cumulative Updates, which include all the necessary fixes to date and are released every two months. The Incremental Servicing Model lets you opt in to receive automatic notifications when the newest Cumulative Updates become available.

For cases in which users encounter an urgent problem that doesn’t have a workaround, you’ll be able to download “On Demand” hotfixes. You’ll be able to sign up for the Incremental Servicing Model starting April 16. Look for the service’s availability at

You can read the Microsoft blog on this topic, but with the limited information available from my Microsoft contact and this blog, I’m still a bit in dark. The blog does state that the hotfix Cumulative Updates will be released every two months and emphasizes that this program will not replace traditional service pack releases. But historically, hotfixes weren’t widely distributed, so at first glance it does seem like it will be hard to clearly define the difference between a service pack and an every-other-month Incremental Servicing Model release. I also have questions about testing the hotfixes and how to know when an Incremental Service Model update really needs to be applied to all of your enterprise servers and when it’s option, like a Saturday-night bath. I’m certainly looking forward to learning more about this intriguing model. I’m sure you are too.

Normally, I like to think my editorials are informative and make your life easier. This time around, how about a little help? Let me know if you’ve found better resources on the Incremental Servicing Model and I promise to share with other readers. You can post your information in the comments section at the bottom of this article page or send your news directly to me at [email protected]

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