Understanding maintenance updates and when to apply them
Keeping applications up-to-date with the latest release software versions is one of the essential eight strategies to mitigate cybersecurity incidents endorsed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre. It’s also a wise move for organisations keen to ensure access to the latest features and innovation available in their enterprise systems.
Software vendors usually herald major version releases with much fanfare, but keeping on top of maintenance updates can sometimes be more difficult than it looks on the best-practice checklist. Knowing when a minor release is worth the investment of running up a test environment, coordinating maintenance windows and managing the change with users can be a time-consuming task.
For the majority of Clarita’s clients using IBM solutions, it helps to start by understanding some of the terminology and IBM’s general approach to managing the software development lifecycle. This article is intended to provide general, high-level guidance in support of our monthly reporting for licensing and managed services clients. Be aware though that there is some variation across brands and product families.
Types of Fixes
IBM address issues like customer reported problems, suspected defects and system vulnerabilities in an Interim Fix. Also referred to as Hotfix, IFIX or Limited Availability Interim Fix, you can expect that these types of fixes are:
- Bug fixes only – they rarely if ever contain class structure or database changes that would impact customisations;
- Released regularly on IBM Fix Central; and
- QA tested for the current and previous fixpack level;
Individual interim fixes do not change the software version numbering but will roll up into a cumulative software Fix Pack released as a maintenance update.
Types of Updates
All published IBM maintenance updates are identified by a V.R.M.F numbering scheme. For example, the current Maximo release is:
Version and Releases are product updates, going through IBM’s software development management process, while modifications and fix packs are primarily maintenance updates.
Version is a major release and indicates a separate IBM licensed program that usually has a significant amount of new code or new function. Each version has its own license, terms, conditions, product type number, monthly charge, documentation, test allowance (if applicable), and programming support category.
A Release indicates the distribution of a new product or new function fixes for an existing product.
Modification indicates that new functionality has been included in the maintenance deliverable, outside an announced Version/Release delivery.
Interim fixes roll up into Fix Packs after being subjected to more rigorous QA testing. Fix packs are cumulative – that is they contain all previous interim fixes shipped through maintenance since the last release.
Deciding which updates to apply
Clarita generally recommends applying Fix Packs rather than individual Interim Fixes unless your business is directly and significantly affected by the issues addressed.
Because fixes are cumulative, choosing to skip a few updates, or only applying major releases could result in thousands of changes to contend with. Aiming to stay reasonably up-to-date with the latest Fix Pack release helps break testing, training and change management overheads down into smaller, easily managed projects with the added advantage of catching problems sooner rather than later.
Useful Links:Maximo Interim Fixes Blog
IBM Maximo Software Development Life Cycle
IBM Update Strategy for WebSphere Application Server