'Tis the season, but not the one you're thinking of.  Yes, it's definitely the holiday season, but we at SolarWinds have also found ourselves in what could be called a 'Release Candidate' season.  We've already received a great deal of participation and feedback for the APM release candidate (or RC as we like to call it around here), a handful of customers have been using the IPAM RC for about a week now, and we just finished the RC for IP SLA Manager.  Now for the big question: why should you care?

First, I'd like to address what an RC is, as this term is most likely a new one to many of you.  An RC is a fully tested, production-ready, fully supported build of the product.  It is NOT a beta.  Let me say that again.  An RC is NOT a beta.  There are several key differences between an RC and a beta build.  First, beta builds are not supported; RCs are.  This means if you install the RC in your production environment and you are on maintenance, you have full access to the SolarWinds support staff for any issues you may encounter during the upgrade process.  This leads to another important difference: we want you to install the RC in your production environment, and this is NEVER something we'd recommend with a beta build.  Third, the level of testing is significantly different between a beta and an RC.  RCs have undergone full functional and regression testing, as well as performance and load testing.  Functional testing ensures we've fixed all of the major bugs found related to new features, and regression testing ensures we haven't broken any existing functionality.

Next, it's important to understand why we are promoting RCs and encouraging you to participate.  First and foremost, your feedback is extremely important to us, and the earlier we can get it, the better.  RCs are, for the most part, the very first time we're putting a finished version of the product in customers' hands.  If you think we got something wrong, we want to hear about it as soon as possible.  In addition, we know from our years of experience in software development that it's impossible to anticipate every possible issue you might encounter during a production upgrade.  This becomes even more challenging when you start to consider that each of your environments are unique.  If you encounter an issue during the upgrade process, we want to know about that immediately too.

Because we understand that it's impossible to anticipate every possible issue you may encounter during an upgrade, we are providing an added level of support for customers willing to upgrade to the RC in their production environments.  This leads us to the benefits you get as a customer by taking the RC and upgrading in your production environment.  Customers installing the RC in production will have closer access to Product Management and Development for any issues they may encounter.  We have set up new Release Candidate forums for customers to post any issues they encounter, and these forums are actively monitored by Product Management and Development.  Not only are we going to engage with you on thwack, we may ask you to do a GoTo meeting with us to better understand what's going on in your specific environment.  This is all in addition to the normal SolarWinds support channel available to you (remember, an RC is a fully supported build).  Another benefit to taking the RC is that you get a first look at the new features in the release, quite possibly features that you've been asking us to implement.  Lastly, we'll throw in a t-shirt.  We will send a t-shirt to any customer on maintenance who takes the RC, upgrades their production environment, and describes their upgrade experiences on thwack.  For what it's worth, the t-shirts are pretty cool too!

We understand that a number of customers encountered issues during their upgrade to Orion 9.5, and we find this unacceptable.  This is not something we ever want to repeat.  We are committed to quality releases for all SolarWinds products, and promoting RCs is a direct reflection of that commitment.

If you're an Orion IP SLA Manager customer on maintenance, you should have an email in your inbox with instructions on how to sign up for the 3.1 RC.  Sign up, install the RC in production, describe your upgrade experience on thwack, and we'll send you a cool t-shirt.  If you're not an Orion IP SLA Manager customer, look for the NTA RC in the coming weeks.  As I said, 'tis the season!