For many years, we have introduced changes to the Region simulators by deploying updates first to one or more of our Release Candidate (RC) channels, and rolling them on the Wednesday following the main channel roll on Tuesday. We evaluate the performance and stability in those RCs before making the changes to the rest of the Grid. This is an essential element of evolving Second Life because the size and variability of our virtual world are so great that there is no way we can test (or even know about) all the ways in which you're using it.
We're working on a series of changes to this process designed to provide us with better data on the reliability and performance of each server update. These process changes have already begun internally with better tracking and monitoring of server performance and stability. Starting with this week’s rolls some of the externally visible changes will begin. The first change you'll be able to see is that the channel name will no longer be obvious: when this change is fully deployed (it will only be on one or more RCs this week) the channel name displayed by the viewer or available to LSL will always be the main channel name ("Second Life Server"). This is simply to avoid spurious associations between the RC names ("BlueSteel", "LeTigre", "Magnum", and occasionally other smaller ones); we hear interesting but incorrect assumptions that are made about those channel names, such as that one channel runs on better (or worse) hardware than another one does . For now at least, you'll still be able to determine that your Region is on some RC by the fact that it rolls on Wednesday rather than Tuesday (it would be nice to get all rolls onto just one day or otherwise disassociate roll days from whether or not they're on an RC … we'd like to get there eventually), and by comparing the simulator version strings (which are getting a small format change with this version) to the versions in the release notes. What's really important is the simulator version, so be sure to report that with any problem (reporting the channel name alone today just means that we have to figure out when you were reporting for and look up the version you had at that time, since it can change).
Speaking of release notes, the server release notes will soon be moving from the wiki to the new releasenotes.secondlife.com site; that site has been used for viewer releases for some time now. The process which creates the notes on the new site more accurately reports when we fix a bug you reported or a feature you requested by using the externally visible BUG ids.
Future improvements will make each RC channel a better model of the Grid as a whole. Support will continue to be able to accommodate Region owners’ requests that a Region be in the RC for a particular feature or fix they want as soon as possible, or that it be excluded from any RC. It is generally better if Region owners do allow us to select Regions for RCs because it improves the chances that we'll detect problems early - if your Region is unusual in some way, it may be the best place for us to detect a problem and avoid sending it to the entire Grid. The RC sandbox Regions will, of course, stay in the RCs, so you'll always have somewhere to test the latest changes.