6/12 Update: John Porter announced via a Blackboard Admin ListServ that global patches which require all Blackboard services stopped, will be removed from cumulative patches. The ETA for the implementation of this plan hasn’t been revealed.
At Blackboard World 2012, Ray Henderson stood before a packed audience and proclaimed that Blackboard Learn would start to create tools as building blocks. This announcement was welcomed by many administrators. It promised the ability to add new tools and improve them with the installation of a building block instead of downtime associated with an upgrade.
The release of Service Pack 10 in late 2012 fulfilled this promise by making the content editor, SIS Frameworks, authentication integrations, and several course tools into building block modules. The new Software Updates module in the System Admin tab allowed the company to push new building blocks and building block updates to admins and install them with some efficiency.
Sadly when the rubber meets the road, there are some concerns. It seems that administrators (like myself) have found that when we discover bugs within these tools or integrations, we are given long planned fixes, which are several service packs out. In the past two weeks on Service Pack 11, I personally have found issues within the discussion board, content editor, and SIS Frameworks. While I will admit that some of the issues might not be completely embedded into a tool’s building block, it seems that the expectations from system administrators for quick bug fixing and resolution to building block issues have fallen below expectations only a year after they were promised.
Another improvement, while not announced at last year’s Blackboard World, was the implementation of the Blackboard Patch Utility and Blackboard Patch Repository. This tool and service work together with the Software Updates module to notify and update current Blackboard Learn instances with the latest patches to known issues. Sometimes important or critical patches are combined by Blackboard Support into Cumulative Patches. Over the past year, these patches have started to come out every other week on a regular basis. This is great for system administrators, it gives us a plan on how and when we will get critical fixes to the systems we support.
However the Cumulative Patching process does have its drawbacks. The concept of cumulative patches is that each patch builds on the other. For example, Cumulative Patch 4 includes the patches that were also in the past three. This means that if a specific patch within Cumulative Patch 1 needs to have every server down to address an issue, each forthcoming one will require the entire system down, which can make a system admin’s life just a little bit more difficult. Another issue is the increasing size of the Cumulative Patch itself which to my surprise included multiple building block installations which I would have thought could be delivered with the aforementioned Software Updates. The installation of these building blocks during the initial patching of my Blackboard Learn instance took three times as long as patching the other application nodes. My hope is to see more improvements in the delivery and development of the cumulative patch process within Blackboard.
In the coming Blackboard World 2013 keynotes and discussions of where the company and its products have been, I hope that Ray’s review will address this. We, the system administrators of Blackboard Learn systems around the world, can feel a little jaded by the lack of progress on these topics. Let’s hope that Blackboard can refocus on fulfilling the promises made in New Orleans before rolling the dice on more of them in Las Vegas.