Update Rollups, Service Packs, Major Releases: Understanding Dynamics CRM Versioning

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Posted on 17th July 2014 by Jukka Niiranen in News and events

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When it comes to commercial software, there’s often times a difference between what the engineering department calls their product versions and how the marketing department decides to label the product for the end customers. For example, after Windows 3.1 the commercial name of the product changed to “Windows XP” while the underlying version number progressed to 4.00. After various changes in both product and naming strategy of the OS, we’re now using a product called “Windows 8.1″ when its actual technical version number is 6.3…

Just like with Windows, Dynamics CRM also has version numbers that are different from the names you’ll see in marketing materials and end user documentation. These numbers are relevant to anyone who needs to either maintain and administer a Dynamics CRM environment or customize and develop solutions for the product, since you need to be aware of the changes introduced by various updates to Dynamics CRM.

Before CRM 2013 there wasn’t a convenient way through which you could have determined the installed updates by just looking at the version number, since each Update Rollup just had a seemingly random four digit build number assigned to it. Luckily the latest releases have made the version numbers much more user friendly, by starting to follow the standard “major.minor.update.build” pattern. There’s still a few CRM specific things you need to be aware of, especially with the very latest releases, which is why I thought now’s a good time to draw some attention to the topic.

CRM_version_numberStarting with CRM 2013, the version numbering scheme follows a pattern like this (notice the bold numbers):

  • Major Release
    • Name: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013
    • Version number: 6.0.0.xxxx
  • Service Pack:
    • Name: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 Service Pack 1
    • Version number: 6.1.0.xxxx
  • Update Rollup:
    • Name: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 Update Rollup 1
    • Version number: 6.0.1.xxxx

The build numbers are of course not “xxxx” in reality but I left them out since they’re not something you should actively need to remember. Just bookmark this page and reference it whenever you need to know the detailed number of a particular release: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 and 2011 Update Rollups and Service Packs: Release Dates, Build Numbers, and Collateral.

I’ll go through these levels in a reversed order, since I think that makes up for a more exciting story line here. Also, I think it’s more likely to resemble the real life process via which you’ll encounter each of these versions of Microsoft Dynamics CRM after your initial deployment. You’ll certainly need to be aware of the different versions even prior to setting up your very first demo/test/development environment, but keeping up with the Dynamics CRM releases is a job that never ends!

Update Rollups

These are collections of hotfixes to existing product functionality. When you open a support ticket with Microsoft for an issue you’ve encountered with the software, sometimes you might receive an individual hotfix package from them that fixes your specific issue (and nothing else). Normally you wouldn’t need to install each and every hotfix separately, however, as most of these fixes will eventually be released in an Update Rollup package. You’ll see a list of “issues that are resolved” in the Microsoft Knowledge Base article of each Update Rollup, which is normally your best indication of whether the software bug you’ve encountered has been squashed.

<rant>Since the official name of these releases is “Update Rollup”, the official acronym for them would logically be “UR”. However, some people seem to happily forget about the first word and instead call them “RU”, presumably as a shorthand from “RollUp”. Fine, call them whatever you want, even give each of the releases your very own pet names if you wish, but you’ll never, ever see me use anything but “UR” on my blog.</rant>

At the time of writing, the latest released version for CRM 2013 is Update Rollup 3, version number 6.0.3.0106. It was released on July 15th and contains over 200 hotfixes as listed on the KB article. Normally there would be a UR3 package released for all the server and client components, but this time there’s no Outlook version available, since apparently none of the hotfixes required the client bits to be updated. Update Rollups are usually cumulative, so CRM 2013 UR3 also contains the fixes from UR1 and UR2.

If you don’t manually download and install the UR’s, they will also be distributed via Windows Update later on once Microsoft makes them available via this channel. Since you should always test the effects of each UR prior to production deployment, it’s usually never a good idea to just let things run on autopilot. For example, letting your Outlook clients get the UR’s via the Windows Update schedule without keeping your server components up to date will soon land you in unsupported territory.

Service Packs

During it’s first 11 years of existence, there weren’t any official Service Packs released for Dynamics CRM, unlike many other Microsoft products. This changed a couple of months ago when CRM 2013 Service Pack 1 was released on May 28th. Even though MS is mostly referring to it by the name Spring ’14 release in their marketing messages, based on the naming policy of CRM Online, the SP1 version is essentially Spring ’14 for on-premises customers and the Outlook client components (even for CRM Online customers).

While the CRM 2013 SP1 KB article looks like any UR article we’ve come to know, with a list of resolved issues, this isn’t just a collection of hotfixes. Service Packs are the delivery mechanism for new product features as well as changes to existing functionality of the product. An example of this would be the case creation and routing features introduced in SP1. For a more complete list of SP1 contents, refer to the “What’s New” page on CRM Customer Center. Note that in order to access some of the new features, you’ll not only need to install the SP1 bits onto the server but also go to the CRM organization’s settings menu and apply “Install Product Updates” from there.

Service Packs are cumulative in the sense that they contain the previously released Update Rollup hotfixes. So, while CRM 2013 UR1 and UR2 were released prior to SP1, you don’t need to install them separately when setting up a new Dynamics CRM 2013 environment. Just grab the Service Pack and you’re all patched up to that point.

Update Rollups for Service Packs

Now this is where it really gets interesting. Remember that latest CRM 2013 Update Rollup 3 I linked to a few paragraphs earlier? Based on our discussion so far, would you assume it to contain all the fixes, updates and new features released for CRM 2013 so far? I see quite a number of nodding heads out there and I’m not at all surprised if your initial assumption would be “of course”. The correct answer, however, is “no”. Due to the counter-intuitive nature of this situation for any Dynamics CRM veterans, an explanation is surely in order here.

When MS released the new “minor” version of CRM 2013 in Service Pack 1, their product version number started a new 6.1.x.xxxx branch. As you notice from the version number of the latest CRM 2013 Update Rollup 3, that is actually from the original 6.0.x.xxxx branch. What this means is that you can’t deploy this UR3 package if you’ve already moved on to SP1 and are using the v6.1 of Dynamics CRM. It’s a release for those people who haven’t deployed SP1 and its new features but still want to have the new hotfixes for existing product functionality.

It’s pretty much the same thing as with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. If you’d like to have the visible Start button and other desktop improvements of the latest OS version, you’ll need to update to v8.1. However, no one is forcing you to deploy it just yet. You’re free to remain on the RTM branch of Windows 8 and MS will provide you hotfixes and other updates for the time being.

So, what should the forerunners with the very latest CRM 2013 SP1 do? They should wait for an Update Rollup that is targeted to their environment, containing the hotfixes released after SP1, covering the functionality of both the RTM version (“released to manufacturing”, meaning 6.0 in this case) and the Spring ’14 new features. Also, if you first deploy CRM 2013 UR3 and afterwards install SP1, you’ll lose those hotfixes that have been developed between SP1 and UR3 (as stated in the KB article). In the future, each branch will have their own dedicated UR’s as follows:

  • CRM 2013 Update Rollup 3, version 6.0.3.0106
  • CRM 2013 Service Pack 1 Update Rollup 1, version 6.1.1.xxxx

Don’t you just love how the latter version’s name rolls off the tongue? Anyway, if you ignore the names and just look at the version numbers, it all makes a lot more sense. In the future “Update Rollup 3″ will no longer be a very useful term alone, as it could mean either 6.0.3 or 6.1.3 with a completely different set of hotfixes released several months apart from one another. The version numbers, on the other hand, will be unambiguous, although after a while it might be hard to remember whether 6.0.9 was released before or after 6.1.7…

For more details on the update and version number strategy, have a look at this Technet article: Update Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013.

Major Versions

Up until now we’ve only discussed about updates to existing products. With the current rapid release cadence of Dynamics CRM, it won’t be long before the next actual upgrade will arrive, taking the major version number to the next level. Again, the commercial product naming is independent from the version numbers and may not indicate the underlying platform’s progress as clearly. While the Spring ’14 release (codename Leo) was v6.1, the upcoming Fall ’14 release (codename Vega) is expected to be v7.0. There were already some planned new features for Fall ’14 shared at the World Partner Conference 2014 session on Dynamics CRM product roadmap, which give an indication of what to expect from the next major version.

From a cloud service perspective, these bi-annual releases for CRM Online may not look that much different from one another, regardless of whether it’s a Service Pack release (Spring ’14) or a Major Version release (Fall ’14). In the on-premises world, however, the changes in the first digit of the version number will be more significant. First of all, it provides Microsoft the opportunity to apply changes to the software and hardware requirements of the product. For example, in v7.0 of Dynamics CRM (Fall ’14) there will no longer be support for older server software like Windows Server 2008 or SQL Server 2008, nor for legacy client software like Windows Vista or Internet Explorer 9. You can find more details from this heads up announcement on the Dynamics CRM Team Blog.

The second important aspect is licensing. While Update Rollups and Service Packs are free to download once you’ve acquired the license for CRM 2013, if the Fall ’14 release is a new major version that no longer falls within your existing product license but is instead called “Dynamics CRM 2014″, you’ll need to have a valid Software Assurance license to gain access to the newest bits. How all of this will actually play out with the next major release of Dynamics CRM is still hard to say, though, since it will be the first time that a major jump in the product’s version number will take place within one year from the last upgrade.

Earlier versions like CRM 2011 and CRM 2013 were released almost three years apart from one another, with significant new features like Activity Feeds and cross-browser support introduced in between major releases. The new CRM Service Packs now offer a mechanism for delivering the latest features to on-premises customers and maintaining parity with CRM Online, which hopefully will ensure that custom solutions can target an identical feature set regardless of the deployment model. The speed at which on-premises customers can move to the latest available versions or leverage the new integrated services is still a potential concern as the Dynamics CRM roadmap gets more and more crowded with new releases.

7 Comments
  1. Peter says:

    Jukka – great article as always – very informative. The other related challenge is for consultants to package solutions based on version. So, now we get the option to package for 6.0 and 6.1 – at least I understand now where the numbers come from.

    Thanks.

    18th July 2014 at 15:06

  2. Jukka Niiranen says:

    Thanks, Peter! Yes, the inclusion of the version number in the solution export dialog in CRM 2013 SP1 did initially look a bit strange, considering that there hasn’t really been much references to these numbers in Microsoft’s materials earlier. Then again, since the feature needs to be available for both on-premises and Online, it really makes sense to reference the version number instead of the marketing names, since these will be different across the deployment models. I’m sure many still remember/encounter the “Dynamics CRM Live” or “Dynamics CRM Online” references in the dialog windows when logging onto on-premises CRM servers via IFD. Just goes to show the dangers of including the product’s commercial names deep inside the application, as you never know how these will change or where the same bits will end up being used…

    For anyone interested in more information about the solution version targeting, check out this CRM 2013 SDK article: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn689055.aspx

    18th July 2014 at 16:24

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    28th July 2014 at 03:04

  4. Jef says:

    Hi Jukka,

    Very good article.

    You have “main version- service pack – rollup – minor”.

    I came across something else called “Online Service Updates”. I found that they are auto installed in a CRM online environment between rollups. The CRM admin is notified of this in advance by email. I’m guessing that those are critical updates that cannot wait until the next rollup is released. However, I only see some of the solved issues of the “online service updates” begin listed in the solved issues list of the next released rollups. Do you know anything more about the “online service updates”?

    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2925872/
    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2975363/

    29th July 2014 at 10:47

  5. Jukka Niiranen says:

    Jef, thanks for pointing out the Online Service Updates. Yes, these do actually fall somewhere below the standard Update Rollup category and there isn’t an equivalent for them in the on-premises world. For example, Online Service Update 2 had a build number of 6.0.1.462, which means it’s newer than CRM 2013 Update Rollup 1 (6.0.1.61) but older than CRM 2013 Update Rollup 2 (6.0.2.51). So, they would fall in the “minor” category in the CRM version number hierarchy.

    I don’t think Microsoft has specifically disclosed the definition between what gets delivered in a standard UR and what is released via Online Service Updates. The underlying reason for this could be that some of the changes included are specific to their Online platform and the related technologies (Online Services portal etc.) and are therefore not listed in the KB articles. While the main purpose of those Updates might be something “invisible”, they still do affect the build numbers and can deliver visible changes to CRM application behavior, which is why publishing the CRM Online specific KB article makes sense.

    More details can be found in an article titled “Policies and Communications for CRM Online updates”. Its definition of a Service Update reads as follows:

    “CRM Online releases service updates approximately ten times a year that contain minor updates to the service. These updates are treated as a planned maintenance when downtime is required. When no downtime is required, we do not send communications.”

    Since the term “Update Rollup” is not mentioned in the article, I believe in the CRM Online terminology both the Online Service Updates as well as Update Rollups would fall under the same category. Still, as pointed out in the blog post, there’s no guarantee that definitions for these marketing names for different versions will hold true for very long, so looking at the actual version number of each release is advisable to reduce the confusion around which update is actually what.

    31st July 2014 at 14:45

  6. Jef says:

    Jukka, all clear now. Thanks for the info!

    1st August 2014 at 17:49

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