Understanding the Microsoft Support Lifecycle

As a consultant, I am often put in the position of reminding customers to be conscious of support lifecycles when making strategic decisions on upgrades and internal product lifecycles, today I was asked to help a customer plan a migration from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010, and I felt I should write a little bit about this, given that Exchange 2010 just exited mainstream support.

Microsoft itself has a very detailed set of lifecycle guidelines laid out here, but there is some understandable confusion by many, as to what this actually means for them

There are three main phases to the support lifecycle, Mainstream Support, Extended Support and Service Pack Support.  Each of these phases has a set of guidelines defining their duration, and the type and availability of various support during each phase.

Mainstream Support

This is generally the important one, and the one that most people associate with the general supportability of a product in broad use, it starts when the product ships, and MS guarantee this phase for a minimum of five years (at the current service pack level) for Business, Developer and Desktop Operating System products.  This guarantee is different for hardware and consumer software products

Extended Support

This phases is also guaranteed for a minimum of five years (bringing the support window to a total of 10 years) for Business, Developer and Desktop Operating system products, but it has some caveats.

In extended support the limitations include

  • no longer request changes / features to a product
  • non-security hotfixes limited to customers with an extended hotfix support plan
  • no complimentary support

The good thing is, your product is still supported, which is great for organizations not agile enough to upgrade frequently, or with 3rd party tooling that hampers platform upgrades from occurring in a timely fashion.  The real world consequences are that the product becomes more complicated and expensive to support, increasing its overall lifecycle operational expense (OPEX) and diminishing it’s ROI over time.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you are aware of this from the outset and fit it into your calculations, your product is still valid, will still receive critical security updates, and support can still be acquired for a cost.  At this point in a products lifecycle, I can’t however recommend you move to it, it’s already on the way out, and likely has one or two successors in play, and you should weigh the considerations out very carefully.

Service Pack Support

This one can get a bit confusing, it does not replace mainstream or extended support, but when a new service pack is released, for the majority of products, Microsoft will provide support for the previous version for 12 months (24 for Dynamics and Client & Server Operating Systems), what this means is that while your product is still in support, if you are on an out of date service pack (older than 12 months) you don’t actually meet the requirements to receive certain support, and the first suggestion is going to be ‘make sure you have the latest service pack’

Microsoft also no longer release features or updates for platforms running older service packs (you should still see security updates though).

In the event that a service pack is the final service pack of a platform, the rules governing mainstream and extended support apply, take the example below


Exchange 2010 was released on November 9th 2009, starting the support lifecycle counter

Service Pack 1 for Exchange 2010 was released August 23rd 2010, starting the 12 month countdown for RTM to fall out of support, if after ~August 23rd 2011 (exact dates vary) you still had RTM in play, you were out of support and would see limited availability of builds after this (in fact, the last roll up update for Exchange 2010 RTM was December 2010)

Service Pack 2 for Exchange 2010 dropped on December 4th 2011, starting the count down for SP1 support to end twelve months hence, and sure enough the last roll up for Exchange 2010 w/SP1 was December 10th, 2012

As Service Pack 3 was the final Exchange 2010 service pack, released on February 12th 2013, it remains supported until mainstream, and then extended support end, albeit with the caveats mentioned below. As long as you are running SP3 on Exchange 2010, you will have extended support until 2019, however Mainstream support ended for this product January 13th 2015

Hopefully this helps tables such as this one below, make a little more sense, and with Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 7, Exchange 2010, and Unified Access Gateway 2010, all exiting mainstream support this year, as well as the end of extended support for a number of well deployed platforms, It’s a good time to understand your support lifecycle information, and plan accordingly.

2015-01-27_14-00-54Exchange lifecycle information from the Microsoft lifecycle portal