Every time it seems a wish has been granted, I always have to stop and think about the old adage “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it!” Microsoft officially announced this week that it will be releasing SQL Server 2005 SP3. Take a look at Francois Ajenstat’s blog for more information. No specific release date has been disclosed, but the SQL Server team will start working on SQL Server 2005 SP3 right after SQL Server 2008 is released to manufacturing. This announcement came just one day after the news that Cumulative Update (CU) 7 is now available. To learn more about CU 7, see "Cumulative update package 7 for SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 2".

CU packages are Microsoft’s attempt to help customers stay on top of available fixes. CU packages are based on something called the Incremental Servicing Model (ISM) and released every eight weeks. They contain all the hotfix builds since the last service pack—in this case, SQL Server SP2, which was released in February of 2007. However, it has never been completely clear whether Microsoft expects customers to install the CUs.

A warning in "Cumulative update package 7 for SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 2" states that the CU is "intended to correct only the problems that are described in this article. Apply it only to systems that are experiencing these specific problems. This cumulative update package may receive additional testing. Therefore, if you are not severely affected by any of these problems, we recommend that you wait for the next SQL Server 2005 service pack that contains the hotfixes in this cumulative update package" But until this week, there has been no word on when the next service pack would be available, or if one might ever be available. Rumors were flying that there might not be a SQL Server 2005 SP3 at all.

So should you install the CUs? Unlike service packs, which are free and easily available for download, CUs must be requested. In addition, CUs don't go through the level of testing that service packs do. Of course, that doesn’t mean that service packs are always perfect. SQL Server 2005 SP2 had to be re-released almost immediately to fix some critical errors in the service pack itself, so now, even if you verify with SELECT SERVERPROPERTY(‘ProductLevel’) that you're running SQL Server 2005 SP2, you also have to verify that your build is 3054 or 3042. (And if you’ve installed any hotfixes or CUs, your build number will be different.)

Hugo Kornelis, an MVP, opened a request on Microsoft’s Connect website demanding a service pack 3 for SQL Server 2005, and that request had one of the highest number of votes ever received for any SQL Server item—704 as of this writing. That request also had one of the highest numbers of comments (88), which express much more clearly than I can in just a few short paragraphs why the user community needs a service pack that can be recommended, applied, and supported for all SQL Server 2005 installations. Microsoft did listen to this input and has now promised us another SQL Server 2005 service pack. It won’t alleviate all the pain in the meantime, but knowing that help is on the way is good news. Let’s hope that when SQL Server 2005 SP3 is finally available and we install it on our systems that it's really great news!