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Visual Studio 2012 Update 2 – Great update but not a great updater for Build Controllers/Agents

This is just a short post this week, as I’m preparing for a very exciting 2 weeks. The first week has a lot of Kanban training (50+ people) in California and then I’m off to Chicago for LeanKanban North America 2013 where Imaginet will have a booth showcasing the Kanban/Agile/Process consulting side of our ALM Practice.

To kick this off, I have to repeat what is hopefully very common knowledge out there in internetland – Microsoft has released Visual Studio/TFS 2012 Update 2 and this is a very exciting release for me. Included in this release are the new Kanban boards along with the new board editor to go with the WIP limits that were put in for Update 1! If you are trying to do Kanban on TFS, you need to to check out Update 2. If you haven’t been introduced to it yet, check out the Imaginet webinar I did talking about Kanban on TFS 2012.2.

One of the other things that Microsoft spent a lot of time on for Team Foundation Server 2012 Update 2 was the actual update process. You can check out Brian Harry’s blog for a many more details, but it does talk about the improved update experience.

One thing that is conspicuously absent though is any talk of an update for the build controllers and/or agents. That is because there were no improvements to the update process for them. This wasn’t obvious from anything I could find on the web, and as I struggled using the updater to update a client’s build agents from 2012 RTM to Update 2, it eventually came out on our internal Imaginet ALM mailing list.

Now, as unfortunate as this may seem, the TFS team did give us a great new feature in TFS 2012.2 that makes this installer issue a non-event. I’m taking this quote from the Brian Harry blog referenced above:

TFS 2010 Build controller/agent compat – We’ve received feedback that simultaneously updating all TFS build machines along with the TFS server is not practical – particularly in large organization where there can be hundreds of build machines, many of which aren’t even known to the TFS administrators.  Because of this, in update 2, we have added support for TFS 2010 build controllers and agents – so you can update your TFS 2010 server without updating your build infrastructure and your builds will just keep working.  In general, we expect to continue this pattern from here forward – a new TFS server will support build machines from one major version back.  This adds the additional benefit this version that you can use the TFS 2010 build servers on Windows XP (in the event you need to do that) while the TFS 2012 build machines don’t support XP.  Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from our MVPs, this change is very popular and makes people’s lives much easier.

It was my desire to have all machines in the TFS ecosystem updated and running on the same version but this is no longer required where build agents are concerned, and there were no significant updates to the build controller/agents that I know of, so I decided “Let’s see how this compatibility feature works!” and left the build controller and agents alone. That was on Friday though, so I don’t have an update on how they are actually working though! Smile with tongue out I will post an update when I hear from the client how things are going! <crossing fingers>

So my advice to you is if you want a completely up-to-date TFS ecosystem, uninstall then re-install TFS on build server (recreating what was there) or if you don’t care that much about keeping everything up to date, just do nothing and leave your build servers at 2012 RTM. I’m sure by Update 3 or 4, Microsoft will get the update working nice and smooth for everything! It is something that is important to them.


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