Why Invest in a Configuration Manager Technical Preview Site?

I’m sure that by now the majority of you reading this article have already updated to Configuration Manager current branch, and have implemented one of the four production releases so far, with 1610 being the latest and greatest release. If you are still on either Configuration Manager 2007 or Configuration Manager 2012, the question would be why? There are lots of very compelling reason to move away from old versions and onto the current product.

With that said, the topic of this blog is that of Technical Preview releases, and why you should have one in addition to your production current branch environment. Technical Previews are not for production release, as they are very limited in scope in terms of number of clients, supported operating systems and SQL Server versions, and that each Technical Preview build expires after 90 days (so you need to ensure that you keep the environment up to date so that you don’t have to reinstall if one expires).

The main advantage of a Technical Preview environment is that you can get an early look at new features in Configuration Manager, before they are released to the production build at some point in the future. This gives you a few different advantages:

  • Early self-learning so that you are ready to take advantage of appropriate new features as they are released to production
  • Get your internal staff aware of new features, even trained on them as appropriate
  • Provide feedback to the Configuration Manager product team at Microsoft

The last bullet is really important. The product group really does rely on your feedback on the product, especially around new features, to know if those features are ‘ready for primetime’ – in other words, ready to get added to the next production release. Remember that production releases come out approximately every four months, while Technical Preview releases come out monthly. As a result, there are going to be some features that will be in Technical Preview for months before they get production ready. Your feedback on the benefit of the features, implementation of them, quality of them, and so on is vital to getting them into a future production build. In my mind, this is the best argument for every Configuration Manager current branch environment having a Technical Preview implementation – to provide feedback to Microsoft on the usefulness and quality of those new features in each Technical Preview build.

The last thing I wanted to note here is that Technical Preview and Production releases are completely separate – they never meet. What I mean by that is that you cannot install a Technical Preview build on your production environment, nor can you ever upgrade your Technical Preview environment to a Production build. They start with two different installation media, and remain on separate paths forever. The hope, and goal, is that features from Technical Preview releases will eventually hit the quality bar to allow them to be released in a future Production build so that everyone can then take advantage of those new features. Of course, ‘everyone’ here means those on Configuration Manage current branch.

If you don’t already have a Technical Preview environment installed (and up to date), I’d highly recommend that you take the time to implement one. I think that you’ll find that they are not hard to implement nor to keep up to date, and provide great insight into the future of Configuration Manager.

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