Microsoft Life Cycle Strategy De-Mystified

Posted on June 1, 2007 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

I have had many customers ask me questions regarding how the life of support for the various Microsoft operating systems is interpreted. Although the information is available through their websites there are many interpretations. This article is one way to interpret it and I think it may actually be close to how they envisioned it be understood. So let’s jump right in with the million dollar question. How long does Microsoft maintain support for their software products such as Windows 98, Windows 2000 Server or Windows 2000 Professional?

This is an important question to any business owner and as most of us are currently using Microsoft software on almost all of our computers, servers and networks. Based on this fact, we have all consciously, maybe not consciously for some of us, partnered, directly or indirectly - like it or not, with Microsoft.

There are many good reasons for using Microsoft products, however, those are lengthy and detailed so we won’t get into them in this article. The focus of this article is the Microsoft software life cycle strategy and how it applies to your information systems and business. Several years ago Microsoft released their product life cycle strategy. This life cycle strategy is also known as a “road map” and this road map was developed to allow us, their customers, to better understand what products and services will be available moving into the future. The road map is very important to all of our businesses and the purpose of this article is to help explain the road map and the operational impact to our businesses.

The important issue is in understanding how to translate the Microsoft road map into an effective Information Systems plan that can save time and unnecessary expense to your organization. In addition to the impact to the Microsoft software itself, this road map will affect all software and operations activities that operate on Microsoft operating systems; this means essentially everything on our networks are affected. In short, it has an impact on your bottom line and if “planned properly” you can pre-empt wasted time, poor decisions and wasted expense can be eliminated or vastly reduced. The goal here is not to allow your every day business tools to become a high risk target or catastrophic problem by forgetting about the Microsoft life cycle plan. Although we talk about risk often, Microsoft went one better and developed a nifty little chart to assist us in actually visualizing that risk based on three components, age of their product, cooler of the age zones and available support and service levels available within these color (age) zones.

Microsoft has divided their products into two categories. The first category is business and development software such as Windows 200 Server or Windows XP Professional. The second category is Consumer/Hardware/Multimedia software such as Money or Encarta. This article concentrates on the business development software. Now that we have identified their software categories Microsoft’s road map details three important support classifications and they have defined them in terms of “Phases.” As you can see by the chart located to the left of this paragraph each phase is aligned with a period of time, in years and a color identifying the duration of each phase. Microsoft has defined service levels or customer expectations regarding each of the phases for their customers to better understand how long their products will exist and how long they are willing to provide support for those products.

The support phases are Mainstream Support, Extended Support and Self-Help Online support. Mainstream support addresses products as a full production product and full service levels are available from Microsoft. As you can see this is identified on the graph in green. The green represents full support is available for products identified in the mainstream support phase. Extended support is noted on the graph in amber. This is the time when all Microsoft customers “should have” devised a plan to move to the next mainstream support level based technology or “has already” moved to the latest technology. Extended support excludes functions, features, operational patches and development on a product line in the amber “zone.” New features and functions will be unavailable for these product lines. Self-Help Online Support is identified in the graph in blue. Self-Help Online Support implies you should not be using 10 year old technology as Microsoft offers no active support or development for a product in this phase. Continuing to use ten year old or older technology is not recommended.

As the age of your Microsoft technology changes from color zone to color zone, according to the graph, you greatly increase risk to your organization and your customers. I recommend you utilize fully supported software by Microsoft. I also recommend every organization devise and execute a 3 to 6 year technology plan that parallels the Microsoft life cycle strategy and that organizations business goal, throughout that same duration of time. Three to six years ensures enough time to plan a reasonable balance regarding cost of new technology implemented tied to the Microsoft business and life cycle strategy. You should plan for the survival and financial predictability of your business and information systems by creating a technology plan that fits your business plan. I would not recommend completing a detailed technology plan that is not tied directly to the business goals and needs.

At no time do these support phases imply or entitle anyone customer of Microsoft to “free” Microsoft technical support calls for Microsoft products or networking issues. For questions regarding Microsoft support service levels please contact your local Microsoft representative. The life cycle phases simply state that Microsoft will not allow their products to fall into disrepair, that they have a product life expectancy of a minimum of five years and that Microsoft will back their software products for full production use, operations and sales.

Now that we understand the product categories and support phases the chart below details what service level expectations Microsoft will offer for their products in each phase. This chart clearly represents what services and expectations will be available by Microsoft for years to come. I “highly recommend” that you visit the following websites posted by Microsoft. These web sites provide valuable detail regarding all aspects of their life cycle plan and cover much more information than is contained in this article:




Michael Molinaro is the Senior Manager of Operations at GT3

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