Instead of using your own test computer for software updates, why not let Microsoft manage them in the cloud?

Image: Microsoft

Managing software updates for large computer and server fleets is never easy, especially when you’ve written your own code or if you’re a developer whose code runs out in nature. Every patch Tuesday, there is a question that needs to be answered: will this set of updates break my code?

You can get answers by running test hardware for different Insider tires, but they don’t provide all the upgrades in advance. While this is understandable with major security updates, it means you can’t be sure your code will work. The alternative is to delay updates until applications are tested, but in many cases you can’t control what users do – and delaying updates increases the risk of malware or other attacks.

Introducing the test base

Microsoft has provided software vendors with an alternative application testing platform Test base for Microsoft 365, for for a while now, using secure virtual machines running on Azure that have downloaded pre – release updates. You can be sure that the systems are configured and validated. all you have to do is download, install and test your applications. Test Base provides in-depth analysis of your code, looking at both performance and reliability.

Test Base provides an alternative for virtual machines running the current release version of Windows (along with security updates), or longer-term tests, From the Windows Insider Beta channel. The results can be compared between previous and current releases, allowing you to see the differences using the Azure Portal Test Base results viewer. Tests include CPU regression analysis, by checking for changes in CPU utilization between versions of Windows.

The service has begun to spread to IT professionals and service providers in private preview, bring it to a larger audience, and provide support for customized internal development and strengthening fleet software downloads. Microsoft maintains the underlying virtual machines, and Microsoft helps diagnose problems and provide debug support.

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Comparing CPU usage of the same application with two releases of Windows 10.

Image: Microsoft

Performing tests on the test base

You may have heard of Test Base under its original name, Update Staging Lab. The first release of the service provided only predefined tests that guided standard scripts. It was considered relatively limited and was introduced by Microsoft update in late 2020 which added support for custom tests with the test frames you selected.

This works by downloading a zip file with all the tools you need to run tests as a single zip file for use as performance tests. The 2GB size limit is fine in most applications. You need PowerShell scripts to run the code, install, launch, and uninstall the application, and up to eight test scripts. Windows updates can be used at any stage of the test, and you can manage virtual machine restarts. This allows you to get a baseline result before performing the upgrade by comparing the results before and after the results. Microsoft verifies that the packages are installed before you run the tests, and the results are reported on the Azure portal.

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Although the original release of Test Base focused on desktop applications and Windows computers, as these are the biggest problem for IT departments, Latest updates added support for Windows Server, both 2016 and 2019. Working with server operating systems is like working with desktop publications; all you have to do is select the appropriate operating system version and run the same tests as on your desktop. Server tests do not currently support preview versions of the operating system, so all you need to do is make sure your applications run on current Windows Server entry-level releases. It’s not such a big problem for server applications, as most of them run on long-running support releases, and the next big release of Windows Server is still a long way off. If the application runs on both the client and the server, you can test the same package on both.

You are not limited to testing against Windows. Test Base also lets you test against Office releases, so you can make sure that the code doesn’t interfere with users’ productivity tools or that integrations continue to work after Office updates.

Analysis of results and planning of implementation

Score are available in the Insight section of the Test Base portal. You can familiarize yourself with specific tests and even see all the processes that were running during the test. Not every bug is in your code – it can be a bug in a related application or in Windows. You can even compare a basic, well-known and good version with various Windows updates to help you track down performance issues and crashes.

The plan is to make Test Base part of Microsoft Endpoint Manager by including it in the Microsoft Security Toolkit. So far, however, the process is limited to what Microsoft calls ‘critical third-party software vendors’. These include anti-virus and other security tools, as well as applications that have a large audience and where problems can have a serious impact on both the vendor and all sites that use the code. Although this preview is closed, there is an interesting option for IT professionals who have the option to nominate their software vendor for the preview. This allows you to test your critical applications.

It is possible to integrate Test Base with Azure DevOps, so you can incorporate tests as part of a building pipe, automate operations, and ensure that all code releases pass the test. The results can be exported to external tools such as Power BI, so you can build them into the Deployment Dashboard, highlighting issues and follow-up fixes. Microsoft is adding API-based access to the service to facilitate integration with CI / CD pipelines and DevOps tools, giving you more automation options.

When the service is deployed to a wider audience as part of Microsoft 365, you should be able to use it alongside other validation and testing tools as part of the application deployment workflow. If you have a way to automatically track problems before releasing app or Windows updates, users will remain satisfied and less stressed.

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