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Today Microsoft released a preview version of its upcoming Windows Server 2012 R2. The preview is very interesting for us right now, since we’re only a stones throw away from migrating our entire IT organization at Mindbite to Windows Server 2012.

Tomorrow Microsoft kicks off its Build Conference where the unveiling of Windows 8.1 will take place. A preview version of Windows 8.1 is highly expected to be released by tomorrow. And the Server Preview comes hand in hand with that.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner we’ve already gained access to Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview, and I’ve also installed it on one of our servers. To get an early glimpse of how Windows 8.1 will work, I’ve installed the Desktop Experience feature on the Server Preview.

Here are some screenshots from Windows Server 2012 R2

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And as with Windows 8/Server 2012 Beta, the Bet(ta) fish is back (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betta)

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Microsoft released SQL Server 2012 to manufacturing a few days ago. It will go on sale in the beginning of April, but as a Gold Certified Partner we have already gotten our hands on it. Microsoft SQL Server is the database engine that we use for our products, such as SiteFactory CMS and Dirigo.

We have deployed SQL Server 2012 on a virtual server to perform compatibility tests with our main product SiteFactory CMS, and the only thing we had to change was the Compatibility Level in our SiteFactory CMS Installer, to be able to create the database. When this was changed, everything went smooth. No surprise there.

So the conclusion is that SiteFactory CMS works like a charm on the newly released database server. It’s great to work with Microsoft technology, as we rarely run in to any compatibility issues.

The year 2012 will be an interesting year with the upcoming release of my favorite products; Windows Server 8 and Visual Studio 11 (and of course the newly released SQL Server 2012).

All our Web Servers run Windows Server 2008 R2 with SQL Server 2008 R2, and we will begin upgrading them to SQL Server 2012 soon.

The Mindbite Update Service is a vital part of SiteFactory CMS because it keeps all websites up to date. This feature was introduced in SiteFactory CMS 4.0 and was considered a major feature in the planning. The idea of having a Service pushing updates to our customer’s websites has been discussed for several years, but now it was time to make it happen. With over 165 websites running SiteFactory CMS we simply had to pull it off.

Before Mindbite Update Service we updated all websites manually which was extremely time consuming. Depending on the update it took between 10 minutes and an hour to update a website. Updating over 165 websites manually took a long time and we had no ability to push urgent bug fixes.

With Mindbite Update Service we can push updates to the websites at any time and since its release on November 11 –2010 we  have already released 25 updates of various size and severity to our SiteFactory CMS 4 websites. So in a little over three months we have released more updates to SiteFactory CMS 4.0 than we did with SiteFactory CMS 3.0 in over a year and half. The difference, of course, is that the updates in SiteFactory CMS 3.0 were larger than the updates in version 4.0, but mostly because we didn’t have the ability to update all customers at once.

Service Capabilities

Mindbite Update Service is installed in our Server Farm that consists of servers running Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2. The Service automatically manages all subscriptions (SiteFactory CMS websites). Every website communicates with the Service and upon the first authentication the Service creates a new subscription and connects it with the website. The communication between the subscriber and the Service is logged and secured with an encrypted data package to prevent other people to tamper with the Service.

All updates released to SiteFactory CMS are securely stored in the Service, together with all update meta data. When we push install an update to a website, we save an installation log entry so that we can follow up on every installed update.

To be safe, we never push updates to all websites at the same time. Instead we select 5-10 subscriptions and verify every installation. Before an update is installed, the Service checks all files included in the update package and takes a backup of existing files that are about to be upgraded. When the installation is done and the system gets a success message, the backup is purged. If something goes wrong the system restores the backup and notifies us what happened. This is just a fail safe though. We have pushed over 500 updates with this technology without any hick-ups.

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Subscription list in Mindbite Update (Swedish only).

The Update Package is structured and can be configured to add/update files and if necessary modify configuration files and the SQL database. It can basically be configured to do whatever you want it to do, so it’s very flexible.

Conflicts

Since we push updates to live SiteFactory CMS websites, we must always be sure that the new code, that is being installed, is never modified in a way that would create conflicts in custom implementations. Deleting a class or a method could result in a major crash if a developer has used it in an solution. Therefor we put a lot of effort in making the SiteFactory CMS 4.0 Core libraries as solid as possible. Namespace paths for instance will never change in any future release. Only new and/or modified features will be released. Code could ultimately be attributed as obsolete, and a change would be suggested, but it will never throw errors.

Closing comments

The Mindbite Update Service is a part of our SiteFactory CMS that we are particularly proud of. Thanks to it we can distribute bug fixes and new features in no time. Now we can utilize our time to create more features and make SiteFactory CMS an even better product.

The Service is scalable and we can connect other products to it without much work.