I often meet customers that are not aware of the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy and are inadvertently running unsupported products for which they do not realise they have no support.  The purpose of this article is to give you an overview of the policy so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly.

Additional support does not need to be purchased from Microsoft, however customers must take a conscious decision to accept the risk.   Please consider that Microsoft cannot make exceptions by providing free support for unsupported products to one customer when other customers pay for support.

Lifecycle Management - IT Governance for Businesses

In October 2002, Microsoft released predictable guidelines for the support of Microsoft products and technologies.   Understanding the support policy is particularly important for planning IT strategy, budgeting for future upgrade projects and operational costs.   In some cases there may be compliance, regulatory or legal requirements to ensure adequate support is in place for all components of systems.   

As part of the IT governance model for an organisation, I personally recommend to customers that a member of the management team has responsibility for Lifecycle Management.  

There will be a point where the total cost of ownership of running unsupported products will out-weigh the cost of upgrading to a supported product.  Assuming you require support from Microsoft, there are additional costs of running unsupported products that you will need to budget for.

Product Lifecycle Timeline

Mainstream and Extended Support timescales are described below for each major category of product.  Custom Support (described in more detail later) is required if support is required for a product used after the Extended Support phase, or an upgrade to a supported Service Pack is not possible

  • Business and Developer products: 10 years of support (5 years Mainstream Support and 5 years Extended Support) at the supported service pack level.
  • Consumer/Hardware/Multimedia products: 5 years Mainstream Support at the supported service pack level.
  • Annually Released Products: 3 years of Mainstream Support for products that are annually released for example, Money, Encarta, Picture It!, and Streets & Trips.


Product Security Hotfixes

Microsoft will provide security update support for a minimum of 10 years (through the Extended Support phase) for Business and Developer products. The security updates will apply only to the supported service pack level for these products.

Microsoft is committed to providing products with improved security.   As always the aim with the Trustworthy Computing initiative and will strive to remove during development before they are released, however software vulnerabilities do arise and Microsoft is committed to respond when they are identified.

Product Service Pack Lifecycle Timescales

As part of the effort to continually improve Microsoft software, updates and fixes are created and released for recognized issues. Many of these fixes are regularly combined into a single package (called a service pack) that is made available for installation.

Both the Mainstream Support and Extended Support phases require the product’s supported service pack be installed to continue to receive support (including security updates).  

  • When a new service pack is released, Microsoft will provide either 12 or 24 months of support for the previous service pack 
  • Support for the previous service packs is either 12 or 24 months, varying according to the product family (for example, Windows, Office, Servers, or Developer tools). 
  • When support for a product ends, support of the service packs for that product will also end.  The product’s support lifecycle supersedes the service pack support policy

Product Family

12 Months

24 Months







Developer Tools


Business Solutions


Consumer, Hardware, Multimedia, Games


Support Available

The table below summarises the type of support you can expect in each phase of the lifecycle:

Extended Hotfix Support Agreement (EHSA)

An EHSA is required during the Extended Support phase to obtain hotfixes if a non-security problem occurs with that product.   There is an enrolment fee to join the program, which is waived if the product is covered by Software Assurance, and each hotfix is subject to a hotfix charge.

Custom Support Agreement (CSA)

CSA's are required after the extended support agreement phase for a product, or if there is a requirement to use an earlier service pack, even when a newer service pack version exists.    CSA's are optional, an enrolment fee applies and customers may be required to submit their migration plan to upgrade to a supported product.

Stand-Alone Hotfixes and Cumulative Updates (CU's)

Microsoft may release individual hotfixes or cumulative updates (a package which contains multiple hotfixes) at anytime in response to problems identified in Microsoft products.   Not all Microsoft products have Cumulative Update packages, the update strategy is determined by each product group.  When a Service Pack is released all previous hotfixes and cumulative updates will be included. 

Microsoft will typically recommend that you only apply hotfixes or cumulative updates to resolve issues that you are currently experiencing.    It is always recommended that changes are tested prior to being released to a production/live system.

Example Lifecycle Information for SQL Server 2005

The table below is an extract from here and shows the lifecycle status for SQL Server 2005:

Products Released General Availability Date Mainstream Support Retired Extended Support Retired Service Pack Retired
SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition 15/03/2007 12/04/2011 12/04/2016 10/07/2007
SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition 14/01/2006 12/04/2011 12/04/2016 10/07/2007
SQL Server 2005 Standard Edition 14/01/2006 12/04/2011 12/04/2016 10/07/2007
SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition 14/01/2006 12/04/2011 12/04/2016 10/07/2007
SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 1 18/04/2006 Not Applicable Not Applicable 08/04/2008
SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 2 19/02/2007 Not Applicable Not Applicable 12/01/2010
SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 3 15/02/2009 Review


Review Note: Support ends 12 months after the next service pack releases or at the end of the product's support lifecycle, whichever comes first. For more information, please see the service pack policy at http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/#ServicePackSupport.

Essential Lifecycle Resources

Essential Security Resources

  • Microsoft Security Central: On the Microsoft Security website you can find the Microsoft Security Response Center, Microsoft Malware Protection Center, Security Updates and more..