Microsoft Quietly Brings 'Modern Lifecycle Policy' to Enterprise Products

Many organizations may not know about the new Microsoft Modern Lifecycle Policy, but it's already here.

The Microsoft Modern Lifecycle Policy is fairly new. It came into effect on Aug. 25, 2016, according to a Microsoft spokesperson, and was announced in the form of a posting at this Microsoft Lifecycle Policy portal page.

The new Modern Lifecycle Policy just applies to a few products right now.

"Currently it covers four products: System Center Configuration Manager Current Branch, .Net Core, ASP.NET Core, and Entity Framework Core," the spokesperson stated in a Sept. 26 e-mail.

Most policies generally tend to be lengthy, but the Microsoft Modern Lifecycle Policy is tersely worded and inscrutable. Microsoft's documentation consists of an announcement, a description page and a FAQ. However, all of them point to a Microsoft Policy Disclaimer and Change Notice document, which essentially makes the policy mean whatever Microsoft might want it to mean.

For instance, the disclaimer states that "because we must respond to changing market conditions and are constantly evaluating how to better work with our customers and partners, such documents should not be interpreted as legally binding commitments, but rather as flexible documents subject to change occasionally."

Traditional, Online and Modern Support
As of August, Microsoft now has three product lifecycle support policies: traditional support for organizations using premises-based software, Online Services support and Modern Lifecycle Policy support. Microsoft conceives of the Modern Lifecycle support policy as applying to its software that has faster update cycles, per the spokesperson:

The Modern Support Policy is a new policy, introduced in addition to On-premises and Online Services Policy, that covers products on faster innovation cycles, like System Center Configuration Manager Current Branch. When Microsoft says "modern" they mean a support policy that supports more rapid innovation cycles for products where such a pace makes sense for both customers and Microsoft.

On a side note, the word "Modern" shouldn't be confused with the "Modern" label that Microsoft once gave to its Window 8 applications, by which it meant WinRT-based applications vs. Win32 apps. If that explanation seems obscure, try conducting an Internet search for "Metro" apps, which was the old term for Modern apps. Or just disregard this side note.

Many organizations are familiar with Microsoft's traditional business products lifecycle support policy. This so-called "5 + 5" lifecycle support policy is typically seen for products such Windows clients and Microsoft's server products. Organizations get a five-year "mainstream support" phase followed by a five-year "extended support" phase, for a total of 10 years of support. That policy isn't changing with emergence of the Modern Lifecycle Policy, at least for now, for most enterprise-type products.

Similarly, organizations may be aware that Microsoft has a different lifecycle product support policy for its services, such as Office 365 or Azure subscriptions. Those products fall under Microsoft's Online Services support policy. The Online Services support policy requires, among other matters, that Microsoft give a one-year advance notice to a subscriber if it plans to discontinue a service, particularly when there will not be an alternative service available.

The new Modern Lifecycle Policy is kind of like the Online Services support policy, except that Microsoft is requiring that organizations keep the software current. That's a stricter policy than the Online Services lifecycle support policy, which just recommends that the software be kept up to date.

Modern Lifecycle Policy
Under the Modern Lifecycle Policy, Microsoft is just obliged to inform a subscriber that the service will be ending one year in advance "if no successor product or service is offered." Microsoft doesn't specify a product support end date, unlike its traditional premises-based lifecycle support policy. In addition, the product lifecycle support under the Modern Lifecycle Policy could vary, depending on each product's specific "servicing guidelines."

"Each product or service may have different servicing guidelines and will be supported according to servicing guidelines for that offering," the Microsoft spokesperson clarified.

The Modern Lifecycle policy has three requirements for customers, as follows:

  1. Customers must stay current as per the servicing and licensing requirements published for the product or service.
  2. Customers must have the rights to use the product or service.
  3. Microsoft must currently offer support for the product or service.

The FAQ document defines staying current as follows:

To stay current, a customer must accept all servicing updates and apply them within a specific timeframe, per the licensing and service requirements for the product or service. The requirements may be found under the Notes column when searching by offering on the Microsoft Product Lifecycle Search page.

Of course, organizations sometimes have rolled back software updates after encountering problems, so I asked Microsoft how an organization might be supported under the Modern Lifecycle Policy under such circumstances. In essence, Microsoft will work to get the customer's computing environment patched:

Generally, customers may contact Microsoft for support for products within their lifecycle if they encounter an issue with an updated product in their environment. If a customer rolls back a patch due to an issue related to it, Microsoft will work to fix the problem so the customer can stay current. If a customer calls about something unrelated, Microsoft will help them install the patch and then will try to resolve the new issue.

Microsoft isn't retroactively applying its Modern Lifecycle Policy to premises-based products that currently follow the traditional 5 + 5 lifecycle support policy.

"If a product is currently governed by the on-premises (5+5) support lifecycle or the Online Services support policy (such as Azure or Office 365), that will not change with the introduction of the Modern Lifecycle Policy," the spokesperson explained.

What Does It All Mean?
Organizations must be capable of switching from using a Microsoft product within a one-year period if they buy it under the Microsoft Online Services or the Microsoft Modern Lifecycle support policies.

The Microsoft Modern Lifecycle support policy is more restrictive than the policy for Microsoft Online Services. Organizations will have to keep the software patched and up-to-date if using a product covered by the Microsoft Modern Lifecycle policy.

Clearly, the service-enabled System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) product is the first main-line Microsoft business product that is getting the new Modern Lifecycle Policy treatment, although SCCM subscribers might not be aware of that change. The service-enabled SCCM product only gets "current branch" updates, and that circumstance seems to play a part in this Microsoft Modern Lifecycle Support scenario.

For instance, Microsoft also is selling Configuration Manager as part of its System Center 2016 suite of management products. One difference with the service-enabled SCCM product is that the System Center 2016 SCCM product will be capable of getting on the "long-term servicing branch" update cycle (as well as "current branch for business" update cycle). The long-term servicing branch is a more traditional update model, and presumably it would have a traditional 5 + 5 support policy, too, although that's not very clear. Here's how the product differences were explained in an Oct. 4 statement from a Microsoft spokesperson:

SC 2016 is known as LTSB (long term service branch) release and will carry the 2016 brand. This will also include SCCM 2016, a LTSB edition of SCCM. A customer under SA can also access the SCCM CBB as part of their licensing. That release takes on the "Update" branding and can be used with all components of SC 2016. The core difference between the SCCM 2016 and SCCM "update" releases are the update releases will provide agile access to new features at a regular instance.

In general, Microsoft has moved to its faster update model and developed a new lifecycle support policy for it that offers less definitive assurances for organizations. Enterprise products following the Modern Lifecycle Policy may get supported for a year, at best. While Microsoft didn't really broadcast this policy change, it could become a growing trend for its enterprise products in the near future. The new policy, which is more restrictive in terms of the patching process, could be something for organizations to ponder.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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