For those of you (and you know who you are) who delay until Microsoft releases the first service pack before you consider rolling out a new version of a Microsoft product, the wait is over. SQL Server 2008 Service Pack 1 (SP1) is right around the corner. At the time of this writing the SQL Server 2008 SP1 Community Technology Preview (CTP)—yes, even service packs now have CTPs—is available from Microsoft. Why wait for the service packs? The conventional wisdom is that Microsoft will use real customer feedback to work out any big problems between the release and the first service pack. Just for the record, I found SQL Server 2008 to be rock solid from day one, but it’s always a good practice to keep up with the latest service packs. So what can you expect in SQL Server 2008 SP1?

Changes to the Installation Process

In the CTP for SQL Server 2008 SP1 you’ll find a couple of important changes in the way that service packs are applied and used as well as some important new functionality for SQL Server 2008. First, SP 1 now supports the ability to uninstall the service pack without needing to uninstall the base SQL Server instance. So if you install the service pack and something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, you can uninstall the service pack and leave your SQL Server instance in its original state.

Slipstreaming

If you’re in the midst of rolling out SQL Server 2008 instances to your organization you should be aware that SP1 supports slipstreamed installs, which enable you to integrate the base SQL Server installation package with the updates from the service pack. Slipstreaming allows you to create installation packages for your new SQL Server 2008 that include the latest service packs and hot fixes. This ensures that your new SQL Server 2008 installations will be up-to-date immediately after they’re installed—without needing to first install the base installation package and then perform installations for additional service packs and hot fixes. For more details about how you create a slipstream installation for SQL Server 2008 click here.

New Features and Enhanced Functionality

In addition to the changes in the way service packs themselves are applied, SQL Server 2008 Service Pack 1 also contains the usual rollup of software updates and security fixes. In terms of new features and enhanced functionality it also includes Report Builder 2.0 and the new ClickOnce installation which will allow Report Builder 2.0 to be launched directly from Report Manager.

Perform a Backup—It’s More Than Just a Good Idea

Before installing a service pack it’s more than just a good idea to perform a whole system backup—including the system image—before installing any service packs. Even though Microsoft tests their service packs thoroughly, it’s always wise to be better safe than sorry. Next, if you’re running multiple instances of SQL Server 2008, remember that you apply service packs on a per instance basis. Finally, be sure to perform a full backup for all your production databases before installing the service pack.

A Caution About CTPs

A CTP for a service pack is just like a CTP for a product release, it’s informational only. You can use a CTP to test and evaluate new features to make sure that they work in your environment, and you can report any bugs you might find. However, a CTP is definitely not intended for production use. Don’t load the SQL Server 2008 SP1 CTP on your production systems. That’s what those development virtual machines are for. Wait for the final release of Service Pack 1 before updating your production servers. You can download the SQL Server 2008 Service Pack 1 CTP here.

How’s SP1 Treating You?

If you have any feedback on the SQL Server service pack process or if you want to share your experiences about deploying SQL Server 2008 SP1, drop us line at motey@sqlmag.com or letters@sqlmag.com.