No More Service Packs for SQL Server

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SQL Server 2017 was released in October 2017 with many new features and upgrades. You might have heard that Microsoft will no longer be providing service packs.  In this tip we look at how updates will now be issued for SQL Server.


SQL Server 2017 was a major release with many new exciting features, such as:

  • SQL Server on Linux (Cross-platform SQL edition)
  • Resumable online index rebuild operation
  • Smarter backups (log and differential backups)
  • Adaptive query processing
  • Automatic tuning
  • SQL Server Machine Learning Services – R and Python
  • Graph Database Capabilities

SQL Server 2016 Update Releases

When Microsoft releases a new version of SQL Server, most database administrators and organizations do not directly upgrade to the new version of SQL Server. Change Managers, Database Managers, and application owners look for a stable SQL Server version and they usually wait for the Service Pack 1 to be released as a sign that the release is a stable new SQL Server version.

Microsoft releases Cumulative Updates (CU) and Service Packs to upgrade SQL Server and fix bugs and issues posted by the user community. Initially Microsoft released a public preview of the new version and then per feedback and bugs reported, it fixes the issues in subsequent public releases. Once it reached a stable version, Microsoft released the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) version. Service Packs are used to establish new service baselines for SQL Server. For each new baseline, Microsoft provides Cumulative Updates for around 12 months before the next Service Pack release.

If we look at SQL Server 2016, the following Cumulative Updates and Services Packs were made available since the RTM release. You will also notice that the CU count starts at 1 after each service pack.

Label Build Release date
SQL Server 2016 RTM 13.0.1601.5 2016/06/01
Cumulative Update (CU) - 1 13.0.2149.0 2017/07/25
Cumulative Update (CU) - 2 13.0.2164.0 2016/09/22
Cumulative Update (CU) - 3 13.0.2186.0 2016/11/08
Cumulative Update (CU) - 4 13.0.2193.0 2017/01/18
Cumulative Update (CU) - 5 13.0.2197.0 2017/03/28
Cumulative Update (CU) - 6 13.0.2204.0 2017/05/15
Cumulative Update (CU) - 7 13.0.2210.0 2017/08/08
Cumulative Update (CU) - 8 13.0.2213.0 2017/09/18
Cumulative Update (CU) - 9 13.0.2216.0 2017/11/22
Service Pack 1 13.0.4001.0 2016/11/16
Cumulative Update (CU) - 1 13.0.4411.0 2017/01/18
Cumulative Update (CU) - 2 13.0.4422.0 2017/03/20
Cumulative Update (CU) - 3 13.0.4435.0 2017/05/15
Cumulative Update (CU) - 4 13.0.4446.0 2017/08/08
Cumulative Update (CU) - 5 13.0.4451.0 2017/09/18
Cumulative Update (CU) - 6 13.0.4457.0 2017/11/21
Cumulative Update (CU) - 7 13.0.4466.4 2018/01/04
Cumulative Update (CU) - 8 13.0.4474.0 2018/03/19
Service Pack 2 13.0.5026.0 2018/04/24
Cumulative Update (CU) - 1 13.0.5149.0 2018/05/30

As we can see Microsoft releases several Cumulative Updates after the RTM version. After certain Cumulative Updates, Microsoft released a Service Pack for SQL Server, which contains the entire previous fixes, Cumulative Updates, and hotfixes.

Previously Microsoft did not recommend the installation of Cumulative Updates for everyone. They used to suggest Cumulative Updates only be installed if it fixes a problem that user is facing. Microsoft also recommended installing each Service Packs as it contains a major release containing all major fixes.

SQL Server 2017 Update Releases

With the release of SQL Server 2017, Microsoft implemented a new servicing model where there will be no Service Packs, only Cumulative Updates.

As per Microsoft, the major highlights of the new servicing model are:

  • Service packs will no longer be released starting with SQL Server 2017.  Only Cumulative Updates and GDRs (General Distribution Release).
  • CUs will be delivered more often at first and then less frequently. Every month for the first 12 months, and every quarter for the next 4 years of the full 5-year mainstream lifecycle.
  • CUs are delivered on the same week of the month: the 3rd Tuesday of each month.

As we can see, SQL Server will no longer have service packs for SQL Server 2017 as well as future versions of SQL Server.  The thing to note here is that this servicing model applies from SQL Server 2017 and onwards. Microsoft will be still supplying service packs like before for previous versions of SQL Server.

Since Microsoft will be providing CU's every month for the first 12 months, Microsoft will also provide CU based slipstream media after a certain number of CU's for easy upgrades. For example, after CU12 of SQL Server 2017, the slipstream media will contain SQL Server 2017 with CU12, so we do not need to install SQL Server 2017 and then upgrade to CU12. With this media, we can go directly to SQL Server 2017 CU12.

Cumulative Updates are now considered to be fully tested and certified to the level of the Service Pack and Microsoft now recommends installing the Cumulative Updates and regularly applying the Cumulative Updates for your SQL Server instances.

As per the release document of Cumulative Updates:

  • Each new CU contains all the fixes that were included in the previous CU for the installed version of SQL Server. Therefore, you need to install only the latest CU to be up to date.
  • SQL Server CUs are certified to the same levels as Service Packs and should be installed at the same level of confidence.
  • Microsoft recommends ongoing, proactive installation of CUs as they become available.
  • Historical data shows that a significant number of support cases involve an issue that has already been addressed in a released CU.
  • CCUs may contain benefits over and above hot fixes. This includes supportability, manageability, and reliability updates.

As per the FAQs during the launch of the new servicing model, CUs will be localized starting from SQL Server 2017, and they will handle this requirement and continue only releasing a single language-agnostic update file.

For the Windows server hosting SQL Server, Microsoft is planning to publish the most recent CU for SQL Server 2017 at the Download Center, Windows Catalog and WSUS [Windows Server Update Services]. The Windows Catalog will house the previous CU's.

With this new servicing model in place, the SQL Server 2017 patching will be simpler and we can always be on latest CU without waiting for Service Packs. Organizations will also be able to adopt the new version quickly and effectively without having any doubts about stability.

Below are the Cumulative Updates released by Microsoft for SQL Server 2017 under the new servicing model.

Label Build Release date
SQL Server 2017 RTM 14.0.1000.169 2017/10/02
Cumulative Update (CU) - 1 14.0.3006.16 2017/10/25
Cumulative Update (CU) - 2 14.0.3008.27 2017/11/29
Cumulative Update (CU) - 3 14.0.3015.40 2018/01/04
Cumulative Update (CU) - 4 14.0.3022.28 2018/02/21
Cumulative Update (CU) - 5 14.0.3023.8 2018/03/20
Cumulative Update (CU) - 6 14.0.3025.34 2018/04/19
Cumulative Update (CU) - 7 14.0.3026.27 2018/05/24
Cumulative Update (CU) - 8 14.0.3029.16 2018/06/21

There is no change in the overall lifecycle support for SQL Server 2017. Microsoft still has a five-year mainstream support followed by a five year extended warranty support phase. Further, any organization may adopt a six-year premium assurance lifecycle support plan.

Note: As database administrators do not usually apply service packs directly to a production environment, test these Cumulative Updates in test environments prior to your production environments.

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Rajendra Gupta Rajendra Gupta is a Consultant DBA with 14+ years of extensive experience in database administration including large critical OLAP, OLTP, Reporting and SharePoint databases.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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Comments For This Article

Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 3:33:26 PM - TedS Back To Top (76424)

Yeah, right.  I don't trust MS's QA process enough to be up on the latest CU.  This doesn't simplify anything, it makes things worse.  I've seen MS scramble many times in the past to retract a patch (SP included)  due to poor testing.  All they've done is make life more misreable for DBAs with this move.

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