Q&A: Support for Windows NT Server 4.0 Nears End; Exchange Server 5.5 to Follow in One Year

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 3, 2004 — The end of 2004 signals the end of the support lifecycle for Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Server. Microsoft is following through on previously announced plans to retire public and technical support and security updates on Dec. 31. The support lifecycle for Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Workstation ended June 30.

Microsoft is retiring support for these products because the technology is outdated and can expose customers to security risks. The company recommends that customers who are still running Windows NT 4.0 begin migrations to newer, more secure Microsoft operating system products as soon as possible; those who already have upgraded to Windows Server 2003 are reporting improved security, lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and increased productivity. In particular, Windows Server 2003 runs 160 percent faster as a file server and 345 percent faster as a domain server. The result: an IT environment designed to be significantly less vulnerable to attack and that provides an average reduction in TCO of 20-30 percent.

Although most customers already have switched from Windows NT 4.0, some who face large-scale migrations have told Microsoft they need additional time to complete their upgrades. In response, Microsoft has designed a fee-based program for customers to receive the custom support needed to help secure their IT systems as they complete the upgrade. PressPass asked Peter Houston, senior director of Windows Serviceability, to explain the resources available to help customers migrate to a more secure Windows platform and to discuss enhancements made to the custom support offering.

PressPass: What resources does Microsoft offer to companies that have yet to migrate to a newer Windows operating system?

Houston: First off, we provide an online Upgrade Assistance Center to ease the move to Windows Server 2003. This center helps customers discover the benefits of migration from Windows NT Server 4.0. It also provides free tools, training and support, along with links to Microsoft partners who offer migration services.

To help ensure our customers’ IT systems remain secure while they make the migration to Windows Server 2003, we created a custom support offering in July for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. We charge a flat fee for this program, regardless of the size of Windows NT 4.0 deployment, and offer security updates at no additional charge for vulnerabilities that Microsoft classifies as ‘Critical’ in nature. Now, with the lifecycle for Windows NT 4.0 Server arriving on Dec. 31, we will offer the same fee-based program for this product, beginning Jan. 1.

Also, feedback from customers who made the workstation migration convinced us to introduce several additional enhancements for customers who have yet to complete their server migration.

PressPass: Can you detail the changes that Microsoft has made to the Custom Support Agreement, as well as the benefits to customers?

Houston: We had planned to run the custom support offering for the sever migration through Dec. 31, 2005. But some of our large enterprise and public sector customers have told us they need until 2006 to complete the upgrade. To ease their migration, we have decided to run the custom support program through Dec. 31, 2006 and charge the same amount as we will in 2005. This will provide customers up to two years support while migrating.

We are trying to provide our customers maximum flexibility as they plan and complete their migration. Also, by running the offering until the end of 2006, we are providing enterprise customers a full ten years of service on Windows NT 4 Servers. This mirrors the standard for the ‘5+5’ lifecycle support policy that we announced in May.

PressPass: Are there additional changes to the Custom Support Agreement?

Houston: Yes. Previously we only offered support for vulnerabilities designated as “Critical.” After hearing from customers that they want updates for vulnerabilities we’ve designated as `Important,’ we have found a way to deliver this enhanced level of service.

Based on additional feedback, we are lowering the minimum period that customers can subscribe to the offering, from six months to three months. This means that customers can realize additional cost savings if they can complete their migrations sooner.

These enhancements provide tremendous value to customers who need additional time to migrate — particularly when combined with the enhancement we made earlier this year to consolidate support for Windows NT 4.0, Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1 and IIS Version 4.0 into a single offering.

Peter Houston, Senior Director, Windows Serviceability

PressPass: Does this mean Microsoft is extending the lifecycle of Windows NT 4.0 by an additional two years?

Houston: Not at all. Customers need to upgrade to newer Microsoft offerings to be as secure as possible from today’s sophisticated Internet-based attacks. Windows NT 4.0 workstation ended its lifecycle in June, and the lifecycle for Windows NT Server will end in December — just as we originally told customers. The program we are offering is designed to help ensure the IT security of customers who need more time to migrate.

But to emphasize once more: Every customer who is still running Windows NT 4.0 needs to begin their migrations as soon as possible.

PressPass: What about other products that preceded Microsoft’s new 5+5 lifecycle policy?

Houston: In January 2005, Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 will begin its last year of extended support, and will go into custom support on Jan. 1, 2006. We expect the Custom Support Agreement offering for Exchange 5.5 will parallel that of Windows NT Server 4.0. (See “Custom Support for Exchange Server 5.5,” above.)

PressPass: Why will Microsoft no longer provide public security support for Windows NT Server 4.0?

Houston: The importance of a secure computing platform has never been greater. Over the past decade, security vulnerabilities that could not have been anticipated have emerged. We have responded with new design methodologies, coding practices and test procedures. These enhancements are included in new platforms such as Windows Server 2003, and offer our customers a far greater level of security than is possible with Windows NT Server 4.0.

Windows NT Server 4.0 was developed before the era of sophisticated Internet based attacks. It has reached the point of architectural obsolescence. It would be irresponsible to convey a false sense of security by extending public support for this server product.

PressPass: How can customers put a Custom Support Agreement in place?

Houston: Customers who require additional information on Windows NT Server 4.0 should contact their Microsoft account manager or their Technical Account Manager.