How Microsoft Is Changing Its Dynamics 365 Update Process
Following Microsoft's recent announcement that the Dynamics 365 update cadence is moving to a continuous delivery cycle, administrators will see some changes in how the next major updates are released.
For some time minor Dynamics updates have been rolled out most weeks that provide bug fixes, make performance improvements and introduce minor new features that don't significantly alter the end user experience.
By contrast, major cloud updates for Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement apps have reflected a 'big bang' approach with multiple versions in active support. This is out of kilter with the way that most SaaS apps are updated with Office 365 one obvious example of a solution where continual, automatic updates are applied.
Once remaining v8.2 customers are upgraded to v9 (before 31 January 2019), Dynamics 365 Online will support one version where all users are on the latest version.
This will benefit users who will have immediate access to performance improvements and new features as they are released, while the wider Dynamics community should gain as Microsoft is better able to focus its resources on supporting a single version.
Microsoft will deliver two major Dynamics 365 Online updates each year in April and October.
For these releases, Microsoft says it will disable potentially disruptive new features and changes by default enabling administrators to test these before applying these in their environment. The roll out of the new Unified Interface is one recent example of disabling by default.
With two major updates for Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement apps on the horizon there will be different processes in how each of these will be applied as Microsoft transitions to its new update model.
October 2018 Update / v9.1
First up, is the October 2018 update for Customer Engagement apps. Dynamics 365 Online v9.1 will roll out from 1 October 2018.
Whereas CRM admins have previously used a calendar to pick a slot and schedule their customer driven update, v9.1 will be automatically applied to all production and non-production environments.
With all customers on one version there will no longer be an option for admins to skip this, or any subsequent major release.
Further changes to the update process will occur in time for the Dynamics 365 CE v10 update in April 2019 that will offer administrators greater control similar to the customer driven update process.
Firstly, this will see the introduction of a new safe deployment process with Microsoft rolling out v10 to a series of release stations / rings over several weeks. This will enable telemetry to be actively monitored, and feedback collected, throughout the update process as this is gradually extended to more stations / rings.
Telemetry will increasingly be used to assess which Dynamics functions are being used as Microsoft determines which features should be deprecated and removed from the platform. A full 12 months deprecation notice period is promised...
April 2019 Update
From April 2019, advance releases will be available for non-production / sandbox environments enabling administrators to test major updates by performing code checks, and validating apps and customisations. Once these checks are made, admins can proceed with their scheduled production update.
This sounds fairly similar to the customer driven update process but there is one important difference. If administrators don't opt-in to schedule their production update, Microsoft will automatically apply v10 to bring every customer onto the latest version.
As a summary, from April 2019 this process will involve:
- Release notes - issued several months in advance enabling CRM administrators to prepare for the next major update (a preview guide for October update was published in mid-July)
- Sandbox availability - for admin's to test and validate the update for going live
- Schedule production updates - within a window of dates offered by Microsoft
- Automatic production update - will be triggered if the update hasn't been scheduled
Whilst this structure is clear enough, the precise release timelines have yet to be announced.
As major updates will now subject to a hard deadline by which time instances must be scheduled, admins may have a narrower window in which to carry out sandbox testing before updates must enter their production environment.
Once v10 timelines are announced later this year admins should look to understand the time span between availability for sandboxes and latest date for when production updates can be scheduled.
The first step to get ready for major updates will be to monitor the release preview guides for early visibility.
These documents tend to be rather long but Preact and the partner community share more digestible summaries to help you prepare by understanding what's changing and how this will affect your instance.
For priority access to latest Dynamics 365 updates, the Microsoft Insider program is recommended.
Firstly, this provides access to new capabilities and apps with a mix of public and private previews which affords administrators an early opportunity to test and provide feedback.
Coming soon, to the Insider program for Dynamics 365 CE is 'First Release'. This will provide the earliest access to major and minor updates in sandbox and production environments with an option to flag potential issues directly with Microsoft.
With Microsoft not promoting advance access to validate the October 2018 update in a sandbox environment, the Insider program is the next best solution to leverage its testing tools weeks before its production release.
As the October update does not remove any deprecated features we trust this will not be as impactful in comparison to the original v9.0.0 update which also saw the introduction of a refreshed web UI.
To check out the latest Dynamics 365 Online releases, and planned updates, visit: support.microsoft.com/en-gb/help/2925359/microsoft-dynamics-crm-online-releases.
Finally, the October update will also see the release of a new Solution Checker to improve upgrade readiness, identify risks and enhance app quality. This will also reference the documentation center with best practices for extended and customising Dynamics platform and understanding how to resolve common issues.
We are here to help you prepare your next Dynamics 365 update so please get in touch if you need any help or advice.