Welcome to the New World of Continuous Deployment

This month, with the availability of the April 2019 Preview release for D365 Customer Engagement, marks the first development cycle as part of the new update cadence for the D365 suite of apps. Exciting times! Microsoft published a great article back in December outlining the recommended action plan. Now that this first cycle is upon us, let’s take a look at the action steps and what it means for the average D365 customer.

Here's the plan:

Step 1: Enable the April 2019 Preview in a Sandbox environment

It’s always been standard best practice to have a Sandbox environment available which gets the major upgrades prior to upgrading Production. Nothing new there. But in the past, we’ve had more time to weave in other development efforts with the upgrades.

Now that we’re looking at a more compressed timeline with two major upgrades a year it’s going to be more difficult to keep normal development efforts in line with Production. For customers with a lot of development in progress, setting up a second Sandbox specifically for upgrade testing is recommended.

This means customers might need to plan for some additional costs for the new non-production environment (exact costs, if any are TBD) and for the additional storage space required to make a full copy of Production. Since all environments within the tenant share the same bucket of storage, we’ll need to pay close attention to the storage levels prior to creating the full copies of Production. You’ll need 2x the size of Production (3x if you’re running two Sandboxes) plus a cushion for growth, and enough to stay below the 80% utilization mark.

Step 2: Enable the Preview in the Power Platform Admin Center

The big note here is that D365CE environment management is moving from the D365 Admin Center to the Power Platform Admin Center. Not all the features are available yet in the Power Platform Admin Center, as it’s still in Preview, but we expect that it’ll take over as your go-to site for environment management in the coming months. You should see a link to the new center in the old one:

Once in the Power Platform Admin Center, click on Environments to see the list of Environments to manage:

Open an Environment and click Manage in the Updates section:

From here you can activate the update (note that Production environments will require an additional confirmation step of entering the Environment name):

The April 2019 update only took a minute or two. (We're not sure if future updates will be this quick, but it was nice to be able to start testing right away.) Once complete, the Environment page showed confirmation that the April update was applied and the database version was updated.

Step 3 & 4: Upgrade each Customer Engagement App

Upgrading the environment does not upgrade each individual Customer Engagement app. So make sure you explicitly update each app to the Preview version using the same steps above.

Step 5: Verify your business apps and processes work with the latest release

Once your environment and all your apps are updated, it’s time to start testing. Having a good set of test scripts for all normal business processes, including custom and ISV functionality, is strongly recommended here. We’re going to be doing this twice a year for the foreseeable future, so the time invested in developing a good set of scripts will more than pay off since you can reuse them for each upgrade. Just make sure to keep your scripts up-to-date as you take advantage of any new functionality in the upgrades.

Step 6 & 7: Report any issues found

If you find any issues that can’t be resolved with configuration or reasonable customization, report them to Microsoft via a support ticket or through the D365 Forum (support ticket route recommended).

The big fear here is that the update will roll on with the update even though your issue isn’t fixed. Microsoft is addressing these fears by following safe deployment practices, phasing the rollout across several weeks by geographic region, and monitoring the telemetry for any issues (more info can be found on this in the FAQ, forum and recorded session from the Biz Apps Summit).

This is a good reason to be with an implementation partner, since they’ll not only have some more knowledge of how to get around issues (they’re seeing them across multiple client environments), but they’ll usually have a partner support plan with Microsoft that can help make sure the issue gets the proper attention. We can’t make any promises for Microsoft here, but they have been responsive to the community when there are enough people pushing. So assuming you’ve found an issue with a clear root cause and repeatable steps to reproduce – if you’re not getting the traction you’d like, then send us a note or engage with your partner, your local user group and the online community to raise awareness. Also leave comments on any relevant docs.microsoft.com article, which the Microsoft engineers frequently monitor.

Step 8: Prepare your users for the upgrade

Let’s assume that we got through the last two steps without issue, or the issue got resolved. Now for the fun part – the upgrade is coming packed with new features and functionality, and you have them all available to try out within a copy of your Production environment. This is the time to set up some tests, kick the tires, and get the appropriate stakeholders in your organization involved to decide if and when to roll out the new features. It’s important to note that many of the features being release are targeted to the Unified Interface. So to take full advantage, part of this planning process should be to evaluate when it’s the right time to move over from the “classic interface” over to the Sales Hub, or Customer Service Hub, or a custom model-driven app. Once you’ve ironed out what you’re going to deploy with the new version, you should be thinking about how to communicate the changes and timeline to your users, and put a training plan in place if necessary.

Step 9: Go Live - Enabling the new version in Production

Microsoft will set a date and time for your Production upgrade. Keep an eye out in the Message Center in the Office 365 Admin Portal for the notification with the schedule. With the April 2019 update, most environments were scheduled for a Sunday evening (US Pacific time). We don't have the ability to change the date that Microsoft has assigned, but we still have the option to upgrade earlier, using the same manual process of activating the update in the Power Platform Admin Center from Step 2. We recommend the Production upgrades take place on a Friday or Saturday, with the following high-level schedule:

  • 48 hours prior: Remind users of the upgrade and that they should stay out of the system during the upgrade window
  • 24 hours prior: Remind the users again
  • 4 hours prior: All users should stop using the system
  • 4 hours prior: Take a backup of Production – if things go wrong with the upgrade, you’ll have this snapshot to restore
  • Manually trigger the update
  • Run through your test scripts in Production to ensure everything is functioning properly. If there are major issues, you can restore the backup.
  • Testing complete: Notify the users they can return to the system and enjoy the new features

A Bright Future

This change in the D365 update cadence will certainly cause some growing pains, but we’re very excited about how fast and far the product line is growing and evolving. D365 Customer Engagement and Power Platform are opening up endless possibilities for creating business applications that are already helping us (yep, we use them!) and our clients take our businesses to the next level. If you have any questions or need some help navigating this new territory, get in touch with us – we can help.

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