A question that is quite often forwarded to us in customer support is "Should I upgrade my appliance?" or "Which AsyncOS release do you recommend?"
For a customer support engineer this is a tricky question to answer. Due to lack of insight in your business environment and your expectations on the appliance (which drives the must-have and nice-to-have feature criteria), we can only provide basic guidelines here. Typically the upgrade question arises when either a defect is encountered (that is fixed in a new AsyncOS release) or when a new release has been officially announced from Cisco IronPort.
Beta, FCS, GA and EOL: the lifecycle of AsyncOS releases
Each AsyncOS release runs through a fixed lifecycle when it is released. One of the first steps customers notice is the Beta stage, when an AsynxOS is only released to customers that participate in the Beta program. Beta releases should only be used in a lab environment and not in production, as unexpected behaviors are possible due to the release stage (even when the release is tested internally before handing it out to our customers).
After Beta tests have been completed (and no severe issues have been found), the AsyncOS release passes on to the next stage, which is FCS (First Customer Shipment). This release is then provisioned for a specific set of serial numbers (several hundred) and participating customers are welcome to use this release in production environment. With this release stage, the release notes are posted on our support portal for download and review by all customers. Customer support engineers are now also allowed to request provisioning for this release when a customer is encountering a defect that is known to be fxed in the FCS release.
Once the FCS stage is over (this can take a couple of weeks), the AsyncOS release is announced to be GA (General Available). All remaining serial numbers are provisioned automatically (if the serial number has a valid support contract in place) and all customers can upgrade to this release without prior involving customer support. Also here, the GA is officially announced via email notification and the release notes are public for downloading through the support portal.
EOL (End Of Life) is the last stage in a release cycle and this is announced 18 months after the FCS of this release has been announced. The release is then officially out-of-support, which means that newly encountered defects will not be addressed in this release branch. Of course the appliance does not lose its support entitlement here, so service requests can still be opened with us in customer support. However, please be prepared that the customer support engineer points out that you've either hit a known (or new) defect and prior continuing to work on the issue, the appliance needs to upgrade to a supported AsyncOS release that is not EOL yet.
When should I upgrade and to where?
When considering an upgrade, you should consult the release notes as a first step and source of information. Possibly the new announced release contains a fix or new feature that could be relevant to your environment (e.g. HTML disclaimer, delegated administration, Office 2010 detection, etc.). This will then provide a good justification why you should consider an upgrade and can also indicate which release to choose when several releases are available.
If a customer support engineer recommends an upgrade to a specific release, then the release recommondation taken is based on the issue that is faced right now and what has been discussed in the service request so far, but that does not mean that another (higher or lower) release branch does not address this issue as well.
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