Customers often ask me how long Microsoft will support their particular SQL Server release, but it hasn't always been easy to find or understand that information. Past support policies were geared to version-based support, which ties support to the release dates of future products. For example, in its RTM–1 release to manufacturing policy, Microsoft supported the current product and the immediately preceding release. Version-based support is easier for a software-maintenance team to plan for because they know the two code bases for which they must maintain their expertise. However, version-based support tends to be unpredictable for customers, who must try to predict ever-moving ship dates. When you combine the unpredictability of ship dates with different SQL Server releases that run on different OSs, support becomes difficult to master.

Last week, Microsoft showed its commitment to streamlining its product-support policies by rolling out its new Support Lifecycle policy. The policy, which replaces version-based product-support policies for most products, provides consistent and predictable timetables that are tied to a product's date of general availability. Now, companies can consider SQL Server product-support deadlines when they undertake their planning and budgeting processes. For business and development software, including SQL Server, the Support Lifestyle policy comprises the following three phases of support:

  • Mainstream support includes all the support options and programs that customers receive today such as no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, support for warranty claims, and hotfix support. Mainstream support runs for 5 years from the date of general availability.
  • Extended support is available for products whose mainstream support phase has ended, as long as the customer is on the latest or immediately preceding service pack. This option includes assisted support (for which Microsoft might charge an hourly fee) and might include hotfix support. To receive nonsecurity hotfix support, customers must purchase an extended hotfix support contract within 90 days after a product's mainstream support phase expires. Microsoft won't accept requests for warranty support, design changes, or new features during the extended-support phase. This phase lasts an additional 2 years after mainstream support ends.
  • Self-help online support lets customers query Microsoft Knowledge Base articles and access such resources as troubleshooting tools and FAQs. This support phase is available for a minimum of 8 years after the product's date of general availability.

Microsoft tells me that customers should expect a regular release of service packs for SQL Server products during the first 3 to 4 years of mainstream support and a final service-pack maintenance rollup sometime before the end of the 5 years. Microsoft has no plans to release service packs during the extended support phase or beyond.

What does the new policy mean for SQL Server? Here are two examples. SQL Server 7.0 Service Pack 4 (SP4) mainstream support is scheduled to end on March 31, 2004, and mainstream support for SQL Server 2000 SP2 is scheduled to end on December 31, 2005. The optional extended support continues 2 years beyond those dates for both products, and Microsoft promises to provide online help resources for an additional 3 years beyond those dates. To find more about three-phase product support, as well as information about service-pack and security-patch support and custom support relationships, go to Microsoft's Product Support Lifecycle page at http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle . You'll find product-support time frames for SQL Server at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=fh;en-us;obsoletesrvr .

Microsoft's new policy of tying support phaseout to a product's original launch date is a welcome improvement over earlier version-based policies that were difficult to interpret. For the SQL Server community, long-term product planning just got a little smoother.