The newest version of SharePoint 2016 introduces some great new features. One of the most interesting is Zero Downtime Patching.

The Zero Downtime Patching feature is actually broken down into two areas:

1. "No downtime" patching is all about making sure you can upgrade or patch a SharePoint 2016 environment without going offline.

2. Incremental patching ensures that the updates--whether service packs or cumulative updates--are better built, more concise and smaller in size.

The current process involves shipping all patches and updates in a single large file that requires  everything to be installed at once, as seen in the image below.

With all updates being installed at once--from base patches all the way to schema changes--there is a great potential for complicated issues (something you have likely experienced during your time with SharePoint).

With the new approach, this large file would be broken into smaller chunks with dependencies for the ones installed before.

The smaller pieces make up what could be similar to the large current existing patches. However, they do not need to be installed all at once--simply applied as needed. This means that administrators won't have to apply full, almost 2GB updates. Instead, they can apply the smaller, 100MB packs.

This approach does, however, use a dependency model, where specific updates will need to be applied so the next ones can complete successfully.

We kind of have that now: Specific Cumulative Updates (CUs) need to be applied before others can, but there is some flexibility (although probably not by design) where patches that are missed can be applied later.

The new approach will utilize a similar dependency model, but will most likely require that prescribed updates are applied in order--not skip patch A, then apply patch B, which would not make a good story for the “zero-downtime” updating and smaller patches. This dependency model would be similar to this approach.

This design allows for a larger installation base to be performed, then for delta updates and changes to be applied as needed. This design--just like with the current process, albeit it smaller--works well. Now we will be able to simply perform the basic setup like this:

  1. Base Installation
  2. Primary Patch / Service Update applied
  3. Delta Updates completed in order

Due to the updates being smaller, contain targeted updates and requiring dependencies the “zero-downtime” story becomes a reality. The overall approach will allow for the entire system to be updated piece by piece if needed.

More details will be released on the finer details, I am sure, as Microsoft completes the documentation for SharePoint 2016.