Most of us understand what it means when a product is released and that the date represents the official birth of a product. But, what about the other phases of product support? We hear them all the time, but they've been trumped up most recently with the end of Windows XP, Office 2003, and Exchange 2003. Things like Lifecycle Start Date, Mainstream Support End Date and Extended Support End Date really do contain differences in the way Microsoft supports its products during each specific phase of its life.
Lifecycle Start Date
More than just the product birth (or public release) date, Microsoft uses this date to kick-off the support lifecycle. The Lifecycle Start Date is a celebration, usually with a ballyhoo kickoff for the press. This is the day Enterprises start scrutinizing the new release, trying to determine when and if it might fit in the organization. Most companies sit and wait for service pack 1 or 2 before attempting a jump.
But, consider the opposite. In reality it also represents the beginning of the end. This is the day that starts the doomsday clock to announce when support will expire. Time starts ticking.
Mainstream Support Phase
After the ticker tape parades ends, the product has left the lot, and the first diaper is changed, the Lifecycle Start Date also marks beginning of the phase called Mainstream Support. During Mainstream Support customers can expect full support for the product through a number of mechanisms including:
- Paid support (per-incident, per hour)
- Security updates
- Non-security hotfixes
- Free incident support
- Warranty claims
- Continually updated product support information in the Microsoft Knowledge base
- Continuing, invested resources in monitoring the online Microsoft help support areas (Support site, Microsoft Help, forums) and providing answers
Mainstream Support End Date
By all accounts, the Mainstream Support End Date is defined as the end of life for a Microsoft product. The full stop. This is the day when Microsoft starts saying its goodbyes – or at least it hopes that it can. But, Microsoft knows customers. Microsoft understands that many companies use Microsoft products long past the end-of-life date and it may take them some time to migrate to a newer version of the expired product – and it may take some prodding, hence…
Extended Support Phase
To ensure customers can still get support for expired products, Microsoft offers the Extended Support phase. During this period, support is significantly reduced. Support can still be obtained but the list of options available are limited. Those full support options provided during the Mainstream Support Phase are cut by more than half and only offer the following:
- Paid support
- Security update support
- Non-security hotfix support – with a caveat! Non-security updates require an extended hotfix agreement that must be purchased within 90 days of mainstream support ending.
- Product support information in the Microsoft Knowledge base
- Peer support in the Microsoft help support areas (Support site, Microsoft Help, forums).
Extended Support End Date
Microsoft sets a hard date on the full and complete end of support for a product. The Extended Support End Date is considered the final, last gasp of the product and all customers should be migrated to a newer product by this date. As we've seen with Windows XP, Microsoft, of course, has the right to alter and extend this date based on customer needs – but really, it’s a rarity. Customer should know that once the Extended Support End Date has been reached, they are completely on their own.
Microsoft might offer advanced contracts for supporting organizations that are slow to migrate, but the cost is high, usually based on a per-PC or per-device model, and the contract is configured so that there is a clear migration goal. To get a better understanding of what this type of customer support agreement is like, check out What to Expect from a Windows XP Custom Support Agreement. While this article was written to address Windows XP holdouts, the concept is very similar to other customer support agreements.