The Maintenance Phase in the Software Life Cycle

By Randall Bullard

In the software life cycle, the maintenance phase is the last stage of the cycle. After software passes the design stage and is implemented, the maintenance phase of the software life cycle begins. Understanding the characteristics of the maintenance phase of the software life cycle allows individuals tasked with analyzing the performance of the software after deployment to correctly resolve issues that arise.

Characteristics of the Maintenance Phase

After software is up and running, it often requires continuous maintenance. In general, software remains operational for an extended period of time after initial implementation and requires regular maintenance to ensure that the software operates continually at peak performance levels. During the maintenance phase of the software life cycle, software programmers regularly issue software patches to address changes in the needs of an organization, to correct issues relating to bugs in the software or to resolve potential security issues. Throughout the maintenance phase, designers address issues that are discovered to prevent any hindrance to the expected performance of the software or to add increased functionality to the software.

Responsibility for Performing Software Maintenance

Software maintenance tasks are typically performed by the designers of the software to address issues discovered after deployment of the software program. As software developers address the issues found in software programs, it falls to system operators to install the released patches. Most commercially available software programs are regularly updated using downloads available through the developer's online support site. System operators download updates as they are released and install these to ensure continued performance of the software in accordance with the original design parameters.

Maintenance Phase Length

The maintenance phase lasts the longest of all phases of the software life cycle. The primary reason that the maintenance phase last longest is the life of the software. Most software programs remain in operation until they become obsolete due to changes in a user's needs or until the cost of maintaining the software becomes prohibitive to future use of the software. Many designers release newly designed replacement software programs while previous versions of their software continue to undergo maintenance. This can be seen with Microsoft's introduction of the Office 2010 software suite or the introduction of the Windows 7 operating system. Although the newest version of these software programs are commercially available to computer users, the company continues to maintain previous versions of the software and make patches available through Windows Update services for a specified amount of time.

Microsoft Software Maintenance Phase Examples

Microsoft provides continual maintenance of existing software programs throughout the life of the software through the Windows Update website. Although support for some products is gradually phased out, the maintenance phase for Microsoft software typically covers a span of several years. In the case of Microsoft Office 2007, updates to the software are released in service packs. Support for each released service pack continues for up to 24 months after the service pack is release.

Maintenance Phase Conclusion

As software becomes cost-prohibitive to maintain and nears the end of the software life cycle, software designers begin the process of developing new software to replace the existing software. In many cases, the software development life cycles for programs may overlap. A software developer may begin the initial phase of the new software life cycle even before the release of the current version of software becomes commercially available. As computer systems and the needs of end users of computer programs continue to change, software developers follow a never-ending cycle of development for their most popular products.