The 2021.1 NetSuite Release is here! It feels like 2020.2 was only yesterday but believe it or not, that was about half a year ago. Understandably, the focus right now is on the new features which you can read more about in official Release Notes (NetSuite login required), in the NetSuite Sneak Peaks, by listening NetSuite’s podcast episode on the 2021.1 release, or on various blogs highlighting features of interest to them. (Pro Tip: Go through the release notes yourself instead of relying on others’ opinions or snippets.)
This story is not about new features; instead, I’ll like to share some general information related to the release process that will help you sail through this process smoothly. So whether it’s your very first release or you’ve experienced several releases, I hope you’ll find this information insightful.
- Each NetSuite Release Actually Occurs in Four Phases
- The Release Notes May Change During the Release Cycle!
- It is Possible to Delay Your Release
- “Test Drive Before You Go Live”
- You Can Get Your Release Preview as Early as You Need It
- The Release Preview Environment Can Be Refreshed
- Bundling Changes Out of a Release Preview Environment is NOT Possible
- NetSuite Gets Upgraded More Often than Twice Per Year
- Sandbox May Get Upgraded at a Different Time Than Production
- You Can Easily Access Previous Release Notes (Archives from 2013.2 till date can be found here)
1. Each NetSuite Release Actually Occurs in Four Phases
You probably already know that NetSuite does two major upgrades (also known as “dotted” releases) per year. The “.1” release typically starts in Q1 and the “.2” release starts in Q3 of the calendar year.
Did you know though that each release is done in multiple phases spanning several months? Phase 0 is an internal phase geared towards getting things ready for the public releases and validating the roll-out process. My understanding is that NetSuite test drives the upgrade in this phase by internally upgrading to the new version. (Right, NetSuite as an organization obviously uses NetSuite ERP. Otherwise, we would be very worried, to say the least.).
Having validated the process and resolved any issues, NetSuite proceeds with client-facing releases. Each customer account is scheduled for the upgrade in Phase 1, 2, or 3. Typically, your account will be scheduled in the same phase as the previous time so your upgrades will be roughly 6 months apart.
The timing of the public-facing release phases is approximately as stated below. Refer to the New Release Portlet on your NetSuite dashboard for the exact dates.
|“.1” Release||“.2” Release|
2. The Release Notes May Change During the Release Cycle!
The preamble of the Release Notes document usually includes a statement like “these release notes are subject to change every week” and you should take that seriously. While most changes are minor, there have been cases where big features got dropped mid-way. So be sure to keep an eye on the help center weekly updates during the release cycle.
Be sure to review the release notes yourself and watch out for any updates during the release cycle.
I do a full, thorough review of the release notes at the beginning of the cycle in which I identify new features of interest / draw up my test plan. Subsequently, I check in every week or two to see if any announced changes affect my original test plan.
3. It is Possible to Delay Your Release
This is a little known fact that could come in handy. Suppose you are in the middle of a critical internal project or you’ve simply not had the opportunity to test properly before you scheduled release, you may be able to have your release moved to a later phase.
But there is a catch: This is a paid feature. Specifically, you need to be on the “Premium Service Tier” which “includes selection of phase during the upgrade cycle”. So you might first want to review your contract or reach out to your account manager before requesting to defer your upgrade.
Obviously, you won’t be allowed to defer beyond Phase 3. So this feature only helps if you were initially scheduled for Phase 1 or Phase 2. And, in any case, if you’re contemplating using this feature, be sure not to wait till the last minute to submit your request. (I’m not completely sure if it needs to go via your account manager but I think a regular support ticket will suffice.)
4. “Test Drive Before You Go Live”
“Test drive before you go live” is NetSuite’s standard pre-release mantra and good advice which you should take seriously. NetSuite is a cloud-based ERP platform. As such, upgrades do not require any installation on your end. However, you should be informed of what’s coming your way by carefully reviewing the release notes. You should also properly assess the impact on your environment by testing using the Release Preview environment.
The release preview environment is a free, on-demand environment made available to all customers during the upgrade cycle to enable them to test new features and make sure everything works well. The release preview is similar to your Sandbox environment in that it includes a snapshot of your Production environment but, in this case, with the NetSuite version applied it to.
Release Preview testing is very important because, no matter how carefully NetSuite tests the new features, each account has customizations and integrations that make it unique. As such, there is always a risk that new features or changes might “break” something in your environment. NetSuite even provides you with a test plan template to get you going.
Instead of crossing your fingers and simply hoping for the best with the upcoming release, make sure you properly evaluate the impact of the upgrade on your account by testing in the Release Preview environment.
5. You Can Get Your Release Preview as Early as You Need It
Your Release Preview environment is typically made available about one month before your scheduled upgrade. However, from my experience, you can get it earlier in the release cycle by simply requesting (via
Setup >> Company >> Release Preview).
In the past, NetSuite would automatically provision a Release Preview environment based on some criteria like how much you used the Release Preview environment during the previous release cycle. However, it appears that NetSuite has silently moved away from that practice in favor of a mandatory opt-in.
In any case, if your account status on the release preview page says “Opt-in Required”, you must explicitly request for a Release Preview environment if you want one. Also note that although the standard procedure is that account administrators get notified once the Release Preview environment is provisioned, I have seen cases where that notification never came. So my advice to you is: If you’ve not received any notification about one week after opting in, log in as Admin and check; you’ll likely discover that your Release Preview environment has silently been provisioned.
Finally, the Release Preview is a temporary environment and will “vanish” shortly before or after your upgrade. So be sure not to treat it as a Sandbox because it is not persistent.
6. The Release Preview Environment Can Be Refreshed
Similar to the Sandbox, you can request for a fresh snapshot of your Production data to be pushed to your Release Preview environment. While it is not likely you’ll need to do this, there might be cases where your Release Preview could do with a refresh. For instance, if you’re working on an internal project that depends on new features in the upcoming release, you might want to pull in fresh production data for your final validation. Another situation could be that you enthusiastically requested a Release Preview environment very early and at the time you want to start testing, the data is stale or non-representative. Clearly, you should refresh your Release Preview only if it is unavoidable.
Note that, unlike a Sandbox refresh which an Administrator can complete within NetSuite, you’ll need to contact support to have your Release Preview refreshed.
7. Bundling Changes Out of a Release Preview Environment is NOT Possible
It might shock you to know that it is not possible, by design, to bundle changes out of a Release Preview to a non-Release Preview environment (see Answer Id: 63109). The implications of this limitation might not be very obvious so I’ll share a story.
I once had a situation where an important internal project coincided with the release cycle. And interestingly enough, there was a new feature in the release that our project really needed. So we decided to do our acceptance testing in Release Preview so we could validate that everything worked fine with the new feature. The plan was to subsequently bundle our customizations back to Sandbox and perform our project release from Sandbox to Production after the upgrade.
It was a rude shock to discover that we could not bundle our customizations out of the Release Preview. Gladly, we were able to use SDF instead! You, my friend, have been warned.
8. NetSuite Gets Upgraded More Often than Twice Per Year
The two “dotted” releases are definitely the major releases to watch out for. However, I hope you don’t think those are the only times the NetSuite team makes changes to their platform. In addition to the major releases, NetSuite has periodic “e-Fix Releases” as they call them.
As per Answer Id: 34424, “An e-fix is a scheduled release used to address customer reported issues that do not require immediate attention but should be resolved prior to the biannual Major releases”. These fixes apply to both the core NetSuite platform and SuiteApps managed by NetSuite and occur approximately twice a month, usually on Thursdays. The scheduled dates can be found in the same SuiteAnswers article referenced above.
Did you notice the wording (emphasis supplied): “…to address customer reported issues that do not require immediate attention…”. This suggests that, when necessary, NetSuite will make unannounced changes to address urgent matters.
Unlike the dotted releases, NetSuite typically does not provide any information about the contents of these releases, which is quite frustrating. I’ve had situations where I noticed something strange, created a support ticket, and while support was trying to figure it out (asking me a million questions in the process), the issue just “disappeared”. And when such issues surfaced on a Friday, I couldn’t help but think “e-Fix”! But I might be wrong.
9. Sandbox May Get Upgraded at a Different Time Than Production
You might be wondering about your Sandbox if you have one. The Sandbox environment also gets upgraded but typically not on the same day as Production. The release date you see in the New Release Portlet is for your Production environment. You may or may not receive a separate email notifying you of your Sandbox upgrade schedule. From my experience, the Sandbox upgrade occurs a few days after Production. Technically, it could also happen before. (In the 2020.2 upgrade cycle, I had a Sandbox silently get upgraded 5 days after the Production upgrade with no advance notice whatsoever!)
Your Development environments also get upgraded. However, I do not recall ever receiving a notice of the upgrade schedule. Perhaps, it happens along with the Sandbox.
Finally, if you’re planning to do a Sandbox refresh close to your upgrade date (not recommended), be sure to first check out Answer Id: 19471.
10. You Can Easily Access Previous Release Notes
Have you ever wondered where to find release notes of older releases? I had the same question recently and it turns out to be quite easy. The URL format of the release notes has been pretty consistent over the years:
<YYYY> placeholder with the target year e.g. 2016 and
<number> with 1 or 2 does the trick, at least up to the 2013.2 Release. I didn’t have any luck beyond that.
If you know where I can find release notes prior to 2013.2, please drop a comment. It’s interesting to see the evolution of NetSuite over time and/or to discover when a particular feature originally got released.
In the meantime, I already grabbed all the Release Note PDFs from 2013.2 till date. If you care to have them, they’re a click away:
I hope this article has helped you gain more insights into the release process and helped you identify nuances to watch out for. I can imagine that orchestrating such releases is not an easy task and we must continue to appreciate NetSuite for making this process as seamless as possible. On our part, we must not take things for granted and make sure we are prepared for what’s coming our way. Because once your account is upgraded, there’s no going back and you don’t want to be the one who overlooked an important integration or customization that grounded your operations as a result. All the best!