Last month, Microsoft announced an enhanced product-support policy that guarantees customers support for at least 10 years (read the full press release). However, the 10 years of support that the new Microsoft policy provides isn't as long as it appears. Although the new policy has some nice improvements, let's look at the real benefits for Microsoft customers—especially SQL Server users.

Microsoft's previous support policy provided 5 years of mainstream support, 2 years of extended support, and 8 years (or more) of online, self-help support. Mainstream support includes incident support (no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, and support for warranty claims), security-update support, and the ability to request non-security hotfixes. In the enhanced Support Lifecycle, which took effect June 1, the mainstream-support phase remains at 5 years. Extended support now includes paid support and security updates at no additional cost. But you must purchase an Extended Hotfix Support contract to receive non-security-related hotfix support and per-fix fees also apply. Microsoft won't accept requests for warranty support, design changes, or new features during the extended-support phase of a product. The new extended-support phase increases by 3 years to 5 years total. And for the online, self-help piece, Microsoft says it won't delete information from its Web site and Knowledge Base concerning "old" products for 10 years—a 2-year increase from the previous 8-year limit. But you won't be able to get support from Microsoft engineers during this period, so I think it's misleading to say that the product is supported for 10 years. (You can find more details about the Support Lifecycle policy regarding hotfixes, service packs, security updates, and particular products at http://www.microsoft.com/lifecycle/.)

Note that SQL Server 2000 users get an extension to the 5-year mainstream-support phase. Microsoft promises mainstream support for SQL Server 2000 for 2 years after the release of SQL Server 2005. Extended support will then continue for 2 years after the end of mainstream support. \[Editor's note: Extended support will continue for 5 years after the end of mainstream support.\] However, SQL Server 7.0 users don't have as much time to upgrade. Mainstream support for SQL Server 7.0 ends December 31, 2005. Microsoft says that extended support for SQL Server 7.0 "will end December 31, 2010, or two years after the next version of this product is launched, whichever length of time is longer."

Mainstream support is the highest level of support for a product. During the mainstream-support phase, Microsoft provides hotfixes, releases service packs, fixes bugs, and (of course) takes your money if you run into a problem and need help from Microsoft solving it. The extended support is also a good quality of support, and the time increase there is nice. Realistically, self-help isn't much of a support policy. Microsoft says that "by using Microsoft's online Knowledge Base articles, FAQs, troubleshooting tools, and other resources, many customers can quickly resolve their issues without contacting Microsoft directly." But you can get as good (or better) support from the SQL Server Magazine Web site, Google, or other third-party sites.

Corrections to this Article:

  • Mainstream support for SQL Server 2000 will end two years after SQL Server 2005 is released and extended support will last for five years after that. Thanks, Robert Helm from Directions on Microsoft ( http://www.directionsonmicrosoft.com ), for pointing out this error.