Time is money.
A timeless quote by Benjamin Franklin which is clearly relevant to what all of us deal with each and every day. Time is a precious commodity we never seem to have enough of, and as a part of the Orion Platform 2020.2 release, we are extremely excited to announce some very important enhancements targeted at giving back time. In this release, we continue to build upon the foundation delivered in previous versions with a goal of improving the overall install/upgrade process. With 2020.2, these improvements should not only simplify the upgrade process but more importantly, drastically mitigate downtime in order to do so.
As a software company, we work diligently to provide a constant stream of added value to our users and that is obviously rolled up into a release. We want our users to be on the latest and greatest releases as this allows you to take advantage of the most recent bug fixes, security updates, and new features. The fact is, that especially in environments of larger size or complexity, the upgrade process in order to get to the latest release has been a considerable investment of your time. Many customers spent anywhere from multiple hours to multiple days completing an upgrade, making it a less than appealing undertaking to endure. There is little doubt that we need to continue to make significant changes in this area.
As an example, a customer recently reached out requesting feedback on the most efficient method to complete their upgrade. The customer's environment consisted of multiple Orion modules and 30 Additional Polling Engines. Needless to say, there was concern over how long this process would take with a tight window to get it done. The customer ended up copying the offline installer onto each and every one of his polling engines manually. Now all said and done, they stated that they were able to complete their upgrade in a little under 3 hours, which wasn't too bad. However, that did not account for all the time they had spent downloading and copying files to prep the environment. We can clearly improve on this process, and we did!
Updates & Evaluations
As an Orion Administrator, you will undoubtedly be familiar with the My Orion Deployment page within the web console. Upon visiting this page and selecting the Updates & Evaluations tab, you will be greeted by some adjustments to the user interface.
As you can see from the example above, the upper portion provides specific information in each of the 3 sections. The first section indicates if any major updates are available, the second calls out patches and hotfixes based on what is installed, and the 3rd indicates products that may not be a part of your current installation.
Make a Plan
Shifting our focus to the bottom half of the screen we have 3 paths laid out before us. Whether or not you may have realized it, the Orion Update Tool can be used to validate your compatibility level with certain versions, or even with a new product you want to trial. The problem we heard from many of you was that this was not clear. Others realized this was possible, but steered clear of the tool, due to a fear you would begin an upgrade on accident.
That problem should now be reconciled, so we begin with the Make a Plan option. Clicking on this button will take you through a workflow you may also recognize, indicating what modules and versions you are currently running and what they will be upgraded to.
This screen also provides ample opportunity to learn about other products you may not be familiar with, but for the purpose of this walk-through, we will scroll down and continue on. The next step will focus on establishing a connection from the main poller to any scalability engines distributed within the environment. This includes Additional Polling Engines, Web Servers, or HA servers. If the system is unable to connect to a scalability engine, you will receive a warning with actionable information similar to below.
You may choose to rectify that issue immediately or move forward, it is up to you. The following step will perform what you will hear us internally call the pre-flight checks. In essence, these are system checks of each server that provide valuable feedback on optimizations that may need to occur prior to being able to upgrade, or recommendations to be mindful of before proceeding. For example, it would be difficult to install an update on a polling engine if that machine is out of disk space. These are items that you just may not be aware of that could cause hiccups or even prevent you from making progress if you were trying to move forward with an actual update.
At the bottom of the screen, you will see four separate options. These are really centered around completing the task of planning your upgrade, in which case you can click done, run your system checks again, or even retrieve a printable version of the page. This may be handy for some of you with change control processes that require documentation. Another new and notable feature is also a perfect segue into our next topic, the option to proceed to download files.
Selecting the Start Downloading Files button pictured above is, in reality, the same workflow as if we were to have chosen the Pre-Stage Files button on the first page pictured below.
The goal was to maintain a similar workflow throughout each of the three options, but ensure you had a clear and concise decision making tree, as well as stopping points throughout the process.
Proceeding through the workflow will guide you down the same path regardless of where you clicked the button, at which point you can now pre-stage your environment. What this provides is a mechanism to prep your environment ahead of time, where previously you either had to do this manually yourself, downloading and copying files onto each scalability engine, or include this overhead as part of your change window needed to complete the upgrade. This cuts all that extra work out of the equation with just a few clicks! Once you have begun this process, you are free to go back to what you were doing and come back to check on it later.
Pictured below, the staging begins with your primary poller and then transitions to upload bits to each of your scalability engines.
Feel free to go back to what you were doing or of course troubleshoot an issue if necessary. It has no effect on the upgrade. Upon return, you will be greeted with progress indicators and success indicators once completed. When it is time for the actual change window, come back to this page and simply click the Upgrade Now to proceed. Whether this is the next day or the next month it really doesn't matter, you are set and ready to upgrade!
As always, there is built in intelligence to centralized upgrades and if you return to this page, and a newer update is available, you will be notified and can make the choice to download the new bits prior to upgrading. Fear not, the system will also ensure that only new bits necessary for the latest update are downloaded, rather than having to download absolutely everything again.
SDK and Configuration Wizard Improvements.
The team was also able to deliver new verbs into SWQL Studio to ensure that advanced users have the ability to automate pre-staging functionality through the SDK.
A new SWIS verb has been added to Orion.Environment entity and you have the ability to specify the "updatemode" as well.
- Install & Upgrade = (1) - Arguments are optional
- Hotfix & Patches Only = (2) - Arguments are optional
- Install Only Evals = (3) - Arguments are mandatory for which eval products will be installed; NCM, SAM and so on.
There have also been massive amounts of updates and changes done to the configuration wizard itself designed to expedite the time it takes to complete. We have also seen drastic changes in this area as well, and combining both of these options together makes for a significant reduction in time dedicated to updating your environment.
THE BEST PART IS that while this has been implemented in the 2020.2 release, you may be thinking that you won't get to take advantage of the new features until the next release. Normally that would be true, but that wouldn't really give us the wow factor we are after. You actually get to take advantage of this feature right now. For online environments running 2019.2 or later, the SWA service will automatically be updated and allow you to take advantage of the feature/functionality described above.
Want more good news!? As of 8/26/2020, offline environments can also take advantage of the Pre-Staging feature! Yes, this was one of the first questions asked once the original release was made available, and with the 2020.2.1 Service Release, we are happy to deliver Pre-Staging for offline environments. Just to reiterate what this means, when pre-staging, all services remain running and Orion continues to function normally throughout the process. This prevents you from spending significant time performing these actions yourself, as well as eliminating this task during your actual upgrade window. Only later, when you ultimately decide to upgrade, will there be any disruption in service. This disruption should also be drastically reduced thanks to the additional improvements made to the configuration wizard.
So, for those of you running offline environments you will immediately notice a different behavior from the typical offline installer as pictured below.
This allows you to choose your own adventure, and we certainly recommend using the Pre-Stage option. Once selected, the SolarWinds Administration Service will be updated and the installer will identify the necessary bits needed for your installation.
The appropriate files will then be copied from the .exe to the install directory of your server.
Once this is complete, you will receive a success message and directions that allow you to copy the URL or click FINISH to launch the Orion Update Tool.
From the Centralized Upgrades UI, you can now follow the same steps outlined above to either walk through the upgrade now, or pre-stage the necessary bits across all your scalability engines.
Remember, for those of you currently running on Windows 2012R2 and believe you can't upgrade, the 2020.2 release fully supports both Windows Server 2012 R2, and SQL Server 2012, as well as SQL Express for smaller environments. Be sure to check out the Release Notes and System Requirements for the platform and each of your corresponding modules.
The Orion Platform is responsible for delivering features that reduce complexity and provide a solid foundation for the modular system. We are very anxious to hear your feedback and hope this provides a welcomed change to the upgrade process. Please share your experiences below and let us know what you think.
Be sure to check out the other Orion Platform Posts as we have even more in-store and loads of new enhancements that will have a big impact.