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Continuous Releases

May 21, 2012

An actual graph of the features complete, but not released.

One of the interesting things that I find with my iOS app is that they are updated fairly regularly. I have 20-30 apps, and I would guess that 3-4 of them are updated on any given week. Some of those are bug fixes, some of those are enhancements, but they are regularly changing. I don’t update them all every week, but I try not to wait too long between updates.

Plenty of other software works like this. Windows Update provides fixed to various software on my desktop, I get a list of patches I can download when VideoStudio starts, and SQL Prompt lets me know about updates when I start SSMS. Those are all channels that allow a company to easily deliver patches to customers that improve the software. Usually these are patches, but sometimes there are improvements, like Experimental Features. In SQL Server, we have usually frowned on feature enhancements in patches, but is that what we really want?

I noticed an interesting metric being tracked when I was in the UK. Development teams were looking at the time between when the completion of a feature (development and testing) and its release. It’s an interesting metric as there are substantial delays, which can be problematic. Users don’t get the chance to test the feature and give feedback. Developers move on to something new and may have trouble going back to enhance or patch the feature later. If there are helpful new features, and turn them on or off, wouldn’t you want to see them as soon as you can?

Continuous Integration (CI) is a technique to help smooth the process of merging code from multiple developers, and the next step in smoothing the software life cycle is continuous release of software to get your changes in the hands of customers quicker. It’s not suited for everyone, testing needs to be more thorough, and there needs to be a smooth process that allows customers to pick and choose which updates they apply. However this can be a way to get feedback from customers, and even decide on future priorities as customers provide feedback.

Steve Jones


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