Microsoft Support Policies for Windows Server and SQL Server

Microsoft provides ten years of support (five years Mainstream Support and five years Extended Support) at the supported service pack level for Business and Developer products, which include Windows Server and SQL Server. The term “supported service pack level” means that you cannot be on a retired service pack (which includes the RTM branch) if you want the normal level of support from Microsoft (whether you are in Mainstream or Extended Support).

This policy is very important when you are using and maintaining SQL Server, because it affects what type of support you will get when you contact Microsoft CSS for support.

Mainstream Support

Mainstream Support is the first phase of the product support lifecycle. At the supported service pack level, Mainstream Support includes:

  • Incident support (no-charge incident support, paid incident support, and support charged on an hourly basis)
  • Security update support
  • The ability to request non-security hotfixes through CSS or the Product Team

Mainstream Support is where you want to be. As a database professional, you should be ringing the alarm bell, and pushing your organization to upgrade to a newer, supported version of Windows Server before the version you are running on (especially for SQL Server use) falls out of Mainstream Support.

Extended Support

The Extended Support phase follows Mainstream Support for Business and Developer products. At the supported service pack level, Extended Support includes:

  • Paid support
  • Security update support at no additional cost
  • Non-security related hotfix support requires a separate Extended Hotfix Support Agreement to be purchased (per-fix fees also apply)

Extended Support is where you end up when your version of Windows Server falls out of Mainstream Support. You will have to pay for any support calls to Microsoft CSS. Being in Extended Support means no more Service Packs will be available for that operating system. There will be security related updates available through Windows and Microsoft Update, but nothing else (unless you pay for an Extended Hotfix Support Agreement).

Another factor to consider as a DBA is that if your operating system is in Extended Support, it is quite likely that your hardware is rather old (and probably also out of warranty), which means that it will be less reliable, and extremely slow compared to modern hardware. It is also probable that you are running SQL Server 2005, which will fall out of Mainstream Support on April 12, 2011.

Out of Support Case Study

Imagine that it is May 1, 2011. You have a Dell PowerEdge 6850 server that your company purchased on January 15, 2007. This server has four, 3.4GHz dual-core Xeon 7140M processors and 32GB of RAM, and it is running x64 Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, with x64 SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition, Service Pack 4. You installed the latest version of the operating system and of SQL Server when you purchased it. Even though you have been very conscientious about maintaining this server (by installing firmware, BIOS, and driver updates), and you have kept both the operating system and SQL Server 2005 completely up to date with service packs, cumulative updates, and Windows hotfixes, this poor server has really reached the end of its useful life.

The hardware fell out of warranty on January 15, 2010 (unless you paid dearly to extend the warranty). That means that you will be paying to replace any parts that fail (and waiting longer for them to be delivered). There will be no more firmware, BIOS or driver updates for this server. This server is also extremely under-powered by modern standards. It has less overall CPU capacity than many modern laptop computers.

Your operating system (Windows Server 2003 R2) fell out of Mainstream Support on July 13, 2010, while your version of SQL Server (SQL Server 2005 SP4) fell out of mainstream support on April 12, 2011. This means there will be no more Service Packs for either Windows Server 2003 R2 or for SQL Server 2005. There will be no more Cumulative Updates for SQL Server 2005. All you will see for either the OS or for SQL Server 2005 will be security related hotfixes. If anything goes wrong with the hardware, operating system or with SQL Server, you will be essentially on your own (unless you have paid for extended hotfix support). Is this really where you want to be?

Here are the relevant dates for Windows Server

Operating System

Release Date

Mainstream Support Ends

Extended Support Ends

Windows 2000 Server




Windows Server 2003




Windows Server 2003 R2




Windows Server 2008




Windows Server 2008 R2





Here are the relevant dates for SQL Server

SQL Server Version

Release Date

Mainstream Support Ends

Extended Support Ends

SQL Server 2005




SQL Server 2008




SQL Server 2008 R2





One thing that may surprise you (I know it surprised me) is that the support dates are identical for Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2, just as they are for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2, which means there is no benefit to being on the R2 version of those operating systems (from a support point of view). There is a similar situation for SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2, which means there is no benefit (for support) for being on SQL Server 2008 R2 instead of SQL Server 2008. There are definitely many benefits to being on the newer versions on a day to day basis.

Of course, I can hear the objections and arguments now. People will tell me how they don’t have the budget or development and testing resources to upgrade their existing applications to a newer version of Windows Server and SQL Server. They will tell me that their third party vendor has not certified their application on SQL Server 2008. They will tell me that they don’t have the hardware budget to buy a new server to replace their old, out of warranty server, etc..

All I can say is that I am just the messenger here.  I will say that I think there is little excuse for an ISV to have not certified their applications on SQL Server 2008 by now, and that it is typically not that difficult to update an existing database from SQL Server 2005 to SQL Server 2008 or SQL Server 2008 R2. A new database server will be so much better than a 3-4 year old server from every perspective, and there are plenty of opportunities for server consolidation or virtualization that you can consider adopting. I would also argue that you should be pushing your organization to upgrade sooner rather than later.

In my mind, it does not make much sense to upgrade to a newer version of Windows Server on the same old existing hardware, or using the same version of SQL Server as you are running on now. Instead, you should make the case for buying new hardware, with a fresh copy of Windows Server 2008 R2, and SQL Server 2008 R2 (which work better together). With a new database server, you may be able to go from a four socket machine down to a two socket machine (and still have better performance and scalability than your old four socket machine). Having a new server lets you get the server racked, the OS installed and patched, and configured; and SQL Server installed, patched, and configured in a low risk and low stress manner. Then, you can do something clever, like using database mirroring to fail-over from the old server to the new server with a sub-minute outage to upgrade.

This entry was posted in Computer Hardware, SQL Server 2005, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Microsoft Support Policies for Windows Server and SQL Server

  1. Pingback: @GlennAlanBerry posts Microsoft Support Policies for Windows Server and SQL Server | sqlmashup

  2. Pingback: Something for the Weekend – SQL Server Links 04/02/11 | John Sansom - SQL Server DBA in the UK

  3. Pingback: New SQL Server 2005 Cumulative Updates | Glenn Berry's SQL Server Performance

  4. Aaron Kempf says:

    I think that most software should be performance tested on old hardware. I keep a quad-socket 333mhz server lying around for this purpose.

    I honestly think that most companies should test their software on ancient hardware before selling it.

    Otherwise, I think that Windows should include features to temporarily reduce the performance, say.. your network.

    I should be able to take my 1gbit ethernet, and have it work at 1mbit..

    I don’t understand why WIndows doesn’t include features like that, for this very reason.

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