Taking the fear out of taking maintenance releases

At Guidewire we use major releases (which are numbered 8.0.0, 9.0.0, for example) of our products to roll out important new features, improvements in integration capabilities, support for newer versions of other technologies in the stack (application servers, database, etc.), among many other benefits. As a complement to these, our program management team uses the concept of maintenance releases (such as 8.0.1, 8.0.2, etc.,) which are used to address bugs, incorporate improvements from ongoing performance testing, and introduce minor enhancements between major releases. These releases typically are made available roughly every three months after a major release for about a year, and then less frequently as needed after that.

When planning for a customer implementation, our experience in Professional Services has been that the best practice is to plan for a few maintenance release upgrades during the development cycle. The actual number will depend on both the timing of the project as well as the product release plan from Guidewire. This approach allows the customer’s development team to begin their work according to the preferred timeline, while allowing the customer to incorporate the very latest product improvements before they deploy into production.

Many IT departments are wary of disrupting the dev team once they begin their work, so taking a maintenance release can seem intimidating the first time. They might have been burned before by software vendors who cause more harm than good when releasing new product versions, or they may not have experience with a vendor that provides a supported upgrade path. These are legitimate concerns not to be taken lightly.

As a result, there are a few reassuring answers that we can provide:

  • The automatic upgrade tool that Guidewire provides for major releases works just as well for maintenance releases. The team performing the upgrade has complete control over any conflicts and can take action accordingly.
  • Most maintenance releases entail very little manual code merging.
  • Once the team gets comfortable with the upgrade tools provided, the duration of the upgrade during the development cycle can be very short – typically from a few days for an early maintenance release to as little as a few hours for later maintenance releases on a more mature major release.

Staying current with maintenance releases not only enables a customer to leverage the very latest fixes they might need now, but also reduces the chances they will run into problems in the future. It will also make it easier to install a Guidewire patch in the unlikely event a critical issue is found. As a result, customers can confidently enhance their configuration, introduce new lines of business, or roll out the system to new geographies according to their preferred timeline.