As a SharePoint administrator, it falls on your shoulders to keep your server farm running smoothly, and one of the best ways to do this is to keep it up to date with the latest Service Packs and patches. But with the multitude of hotfixes, cumulative updates and the recent release of Service Pack 1, how is an administrator to keep track of it all? Well, I’m glad you asked.

To make sense of all the patches, let’s look at each type of patch. First we have hotfixes. Hotfixes are generally intended to fix a very specific issue you are encountering in your farm. It’s not recommended that you install every hotfix that is released unless you really need it.

Cumulative Updates (CUs) are a collection of recent hotfixes and security updates. Because they are cumulative, CUs contain all previously released patches. Microsoft has been releasing CUs for SharePoint 2010 roughly every two months.

Service Packs, as you are probably familiar with, contain new fixes, patches, and all CUs released to the date that the Service Pack was released. In the case of SharePoint 2010, SP1 contains all hotfixes and updates up to the April 2011 CU.

There have been a few hiccups on the road of Cumulative Updates and Service Packs, as some of the CUs have caused additional issues for some users. As always, we recommend testing updates and service packs in a test environment before deploying to production.

So what do you need to have installed? At a minimum, you should have Service Pack 1 and the June CU Refresh installed. (The Refresh fixes an issue where the User Profile Service stopped working after the original June CU was installed, and it is also required to be installed after installing SP1.) If you have installed other CUs to this point, you may have run into some of the issues these patches have introduced, such as the aforementioned issue with the User Profile Service.

If you decide that you need to install a Service Pack, you’ll need to make sure to download the appropriate version(s) for your environment. Full SharePoint Server 2010 requires you to download and install the Server CU as well as the Foundation CU. If you are only running Foundation 2010, you only need to download and install the CU for Foundation. When installing any CUs that have been released after SP1 (basically any CUs from June 2011 onward), you will need to have SP1 installed on your farm before you can proceed with the installation.

I have said it before and I will say it again: As with any update, make sure you do a test installation of cumulative updates and Service Packs in a development or test environment before you put it into production, and as a best practice, try to only install CUs that address a specific problem you are having.

Shane Young is the president and principal at SharePoint911.