What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT

Brien Posey, Freelance Writer and Former CIO | 10/10/2013 | 13 comments

Brien Posey
Are you ready for a new Windows OS release every year?

A couple of months ago during the BUILD conference in San Francisco, Steve Ballmer publicly said that rapid release is going to become the new norm for Microsoft. This represents a radical departure from the way that Microsoft has released its flagship products over the last decade or more. Where there used to be a gap of two or three years between Windows releases, Microsoft is planning on releasing new operating systems much more frequently.

Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 serve as strong evidence of Microsoft’s commitment to the rapid-release cycle. Both operating systems are being released roughly a year after the previous operating system.

Obviously, Microsoft developers have their work cut out for them, but they aren’t the only ones who will be feeling the pressure. IT pros in shops where Microsoft products are used are also going to be feeling the heat and will have to rethink the way the way they deploy new releases. There are some things that will have to be considered.

It is commonly repeated wisdom that it is a bad idea to deploy any new Microsoft product until the first service pack is released. The idea behind this philosophy is that by the time the first service pack comes out, the most critical bugs will have been discovered and fixed. Waiting for the first service pack theoretically means a stable product and an easier migration.

The problem is that Microsoft is poised to release Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 within the next few weeks. The first service packs have yet to be released for Windows Server 2012 or for Windows 8.

Microsoft isn’t doing away with service packs altogether. There have been recent service pack releases for some other Microsoft products. Microsoft has released service packs for SQL Server 2012 and System Center 2012. If Microsoft’s goal is to perform rapid releases, then it is going to be stretching its development team thin. There might not be enough resources available to create new operating systems and new service packs for old ones.

In some cases, I think that the next operating system release will essentially be the service pack. Microsoft is making Windows 8.1 available for free to customers who have purchased Windows 8. As such, the argument could be made that Windows 8.1 is more of a service release than a major operating system release (although the other argument can also be made).

In any case, waiting for a service pack release may no longer be an option. As such, organizations are going to have to come up with a policy governing which operating systems (and other new product versions) they are going to deploy.

On one hand, deploying the latest operating system immediately means getting all the latest features and capabilities. On the other hand, operating system deployments are expensive. Even if you take the licensing costs out of the equation, there are a lot of man-hours that go into planning, testing, and performing operating system upgrades.

Another consideration is training and education. If Microsoft is releasing new operating systems on a frequent basis, then it stands to reason that Microsoft certifications will quickly become dated. IT pros may find themselves taking certification exams on a more frequent basis.

I haven’t seen any official information from Redmond as to how the certification process will be handled with regard to rapid release. However, I do think that there are numerous clues buried in the past.

One thing that I expect to see is exam content simply being updated to cover the latest operating systems. For example, when Microsoft released Windows Server 2008 R2, it updated the Windows Server 2008 exam to include material specific to the new operating system. This threw a monkey wrench into the works for anyone who was studying for a Windows Server 2008 exam and was not expecting to see the new material. I think that we will see this trend continue, because it is less expensive for Microsoft to add new questions to an existing exam then for it to develop an entirely new exam.

Another thing that Microsoft has done in the past is to offer upgrade exams. That way, those who are already certified do not have to take an entire battery of certification exams just to become certified on the latest operating system. Instead, Microsoft provides eligible exam candidates with a single exam that covers the most important aspects of the new operating system. As rapid release builds up steam, I think that upgrade exams will probably become a lot more common.

As of right now, the new rapid-release cycle is still too new to know exactly how it will play out. It may be that as releases come faster, shops will adapt to them. Otherwise they may choose to skip releases (which of course has its own risks, especially around security). Cycles are getting faster around mobile devices as well, so Microsoft isn’t the only company forcing you to adapt to quicker releases. You need to start rethinking your plan for deploying updates.

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batye   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/14/2013 3:30:32 AM
Re: Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle
with Microsoft and Apple you never know... as they play they own games...
batye   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/14/2013 3:29:18 AM
Re: Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle
in Canada I still see Win98SE running in some shops... XP will be staying for a long time...
batye   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/14/2013 3:28:15 AM
Re: Applesoft
yes, Joe I miss MS-Dos to, life was much simpler in the past... it work or it do not... but now... I have on my screen it works but with error... sad 
Joe Stanganelli   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/12/2013 11:53:30 AM
This strikes me as another way Microsoft is trying to be like Apple (what with Apple's all-too-frequent (and all-too-buggy) iOS updates).  Le sigh.  I miss MS-DOS.
eethtworkz   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/12/2013 11:02:06 AM
Re: Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle

Its quite interesting actually.

Many Older Enterprises don't use Virtualization and Extensive Cloud Computing in such a Massive Way to ensure that they need to Upgrade.

As far as BYOD is concerned;Most Devices still come with Support for XP(including Drivers);Hardware Manufacturers are not stupid-They know where their Market is and will take whatever steps are essential to gain as much market-share as possible and since XP has a very significant market-share,I see no reason why Anyone would not provide support for that OS.

Hospice_Houngbo   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/11/2013 6:50:55 PM
Re: Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle
"Plus if something is working properly,Why would you want to upgrade it?" -- It depends. Windows XP can't easily support most of the new techonologies such as BYOD, new requirements for virtualization and cloud computing. So companies will need to upgrade their systems from WinXP to newer OSes for compatibility and efficiency reasons.
eethtworkz   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/11/2013 12:10:54 PM
Re: Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle

Things are'nt as simple as they seem.

As the Following Study from Fiberlink clearly demonstrates ;Windows XP still remains a Dominant OS in the Enterprise.


I was giving it some Thought as to why that was so,And the only real answer that kept coming back was the Costs involved in Upgrades.

Plus if something is working properly,Why would you want to upgrade it?

IT should be a Profit-Centre and not a Cost-Centre in the Enterprise.

Unfortunately with this Super-Fast Release Cycle from Microsoft the Latter becomes true more often than not.

Then there are also some Serious Security Issues involved with Windows 8 which they have'nt addressed effectively enough so far.


All in all,A lot of work still needs to be done from Microsoft.

zerox203   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/10/2013 11:20:22 PM
Re: Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle
That's very true, Hospice. That's a good example of saying a lot with a little right there. People are quick to lump Microsoft into broad or simple categories - IE 'microsoft isn't what it used to be' or 'microsoft can't keep up'. It's not like there's no amount of truth to these, but they're gross oversimplifications. They're a huge company with massive resources that few other in the world can match. Of course there is a huge internal plan there and awareness of everything that's going on in modern computing - a few strange choices here and there notwithstanding.

I also want to second what Dave is saying. There's definitely a little bit of intentional PR spin going on here. Of course, I'll wait to have the software in my hands to say anything, but the changes don't seem all that different from what might be offered in a service pack. This goes hand in hand with what I'm saying above, though - it's an intentional plan with broad implications. Even a company as big as Microsoft can't deny that the refresh cycle is changing.... but they're determined to put their own spin on it.
Nicky48   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/10/2013 8:55:08 PM
Re: Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle
"Microsoft has the money and the resources to remain competitive in the sofware and IT business. So competitors such as Apple and Google had better watch out."


I don't think Apple has much to be scared of.
Hospice_Houngbo   What Microsoft’s Rapid-Release Cycle Means for IT   10/10/2013 7:57:29 PM
Microsoft's Rapid-Release Cycle
Microsoft has the money and the resources to remain competitive in the sofware and IT business. So competitors such as Apple and Google had better watch out.
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