Extended Security Updates: How to get free support for SQL Server 2008

From 32-bit computing to the digital transformation era, the past 10 years has seen big progress in cloud and hybrid server technology.

With more affordable and sophisticated cloud and data solutions than ever before, the preference for cloud-based servers over traditional on-premises solutions has shifted dramatically. In 2008, approximately 88% of companies interviewed in a Software Advice study preferred on-site deployment options. Six years later, 87% preferred cloud solutions, and today over 81% of enterprises want their infrastructure environment across multiple cloud platforms.

Many enterprises have since migrated to the cloud in the last decade, but some are still running on older server technology for various reasons. If you’re in this category, you’ll be happy to know Microsoft is now extending support for older SQL and Windows Server versions, while offering a more compelling pathway to Azure in the process.


What is Extended Security Updates (ESU)?

Microsoft unveiled the future of the Azure platform and the company’s numerous intelligent cloud and edge initiatives at Inspire 2018, but the most surprising announcement out of Redmond is the three years of additional security updates for older SQL and Windows servers.

As you may or should be aware, official support for legacy versions of SQL Server and Windows Server expires soon.

  • SQL Server 2008 or SQL Server 2008 R2 support ends on 9 July 2019
  • Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 support ends on 14 January 2020

End-of-support means no more regular security patches for these workloads. With cyber-attacks growing more dangerous, running apps and workloads on unsupported versions means decreased performance capabilities, and increased compliance and security risks for your business - which nobody wants.

Microsoft’s new Extended Security Updates (ESU) aims to address these upcoming problems by providing three more years of official support and security patches for businesses still running their operational workloads on these 2008 legacy versions of SQL Server and Windows Server, while offering additional incentive to migrate to Azure - you can get the ESU plan for free if you move these old workloads to the cloud.


How do I get free Extended Security Updates?

Businesses using legacy SQL Server and Windows Server technology can claim the new ESU plan for three years of support in one of two ways - by migrating workloads to Azure Virtual Machines (VMs) or buying the plan outright.


1. Claim ESU with Azure Virtual Machines

If you move your old SQL Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 workload to an Azure virtual machine (VMs), you are eligible to receive the three years of ESU patch support at no extra cost. The ESU plan is applied automatically.

Claiming the ESU through this method means you still have to pay standard pricing for the Azure VMs under its pay-for-what-you-use model, but the actual cost for the ESU is completely negated as it’s provided free. With Azure VMs offering more competitive server hosting compared to on-premises solutions, it’s one of the most cost-effective pathways to the cloud and it can be used for multiple legacy workloads.

Check out our Azure Data Migrations guide for more information on how to move workloads to Azure VMs.


2. Claim ESU with purchase

If you intend to continue running your SQL Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 deployments on-premises but want to get the Extended Security Updates for the three years of extra support, you can purchase ESU from Microsoft directly. However, you will need to pay 75 per cent of the full license cost per year, which is similar to expensive support plans like Premium Assurance.

In addition, you need Software Assurance or Subscription licenses under an Enterprise Agreement enrolment to be eligible to buy the ESU plan. While this option is a far more expensive than moving to Azure VMs, you only have to pay for the servers you need to cover, so you can still reduce your server costs each year as you upgrade parts of your environment and give yourself a bit more time to plan an eventual move to the cloud.


What about Azure SQL Database Managed Instance?

Extended Security Updates SQL Server 2008 to Azure


If you want to gain similar extended support for your SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 servers but aren’t eligible for the ESU, you can alternatively move these works to the new Azure SQL Database Managed Instance instead.

Azure Managed Instance is a new fully-managed database-as-a-service solution (DaaS) that offers the benefits of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) without the larger investment of moving your whole business to the cloud. You don’t need to worry about any application re-engineering and can look forward to zero workload down-time with this unique Azure server option.

Azure SQL Database Managed Instance is currently in preview and is set to launch in early Q4 of this year - you can read our guide to find out more about how it can benefit your business.


What about Premium Assurance?

Extended Security Updates might sound eerily similar to another Microsoft support program called Premium Assurance released last year - it’s because it’s intended to be its replacement.

Premium Assurance was an insurance coverage plan for both SQL Server and Windows Server which offered six years of additional patch support (critical and important security updates) following end-of-life. It was designed to help businesses with custom-built applications that are too difficult to re-engineer or replace, or that need to maintain legacy systems.

While Microsoft is discontinuing Premium Assurance and replacing it with the new ESU program, it will continue to honour the terms for those who have already bought it.


Extended Security Updates program criteria

The Extended Security Updates program only applies to workloads running on SQL Server 2008/R2 and Windows Server 2008/R2. Unfortunately, if you’re running on older workloads, you’re not eligible for the ESU. You also need Software Assurance coverage to be eligible, but you only actually need it for the servers you want to get updates.

Something else to keep in mind before jumping in is the ESU encompasses patch support only and not technical support. If you want or need extensive over-the-phone support from Microsoft for your legacy servers, you need to look into getting a Microsoft Premier Support contract.

Finally, the three extra years of update support only apply for vulnerabilities that are classed under the ‘Critical’ or ‘Important’ designations. There will no new features added under the Extended Security Updates plans, either.


How the ESU helps your move to Azure

End-of-support tends to be a stressful time and enterprises are understandably not always able to upgrade everything before the deadline. The new Extended Security Updates is a big deal not only for the longer official support, but because it can further streamline your business’s potential transition to the Azure cloud platform.

  • Cheaper pathway to Azure: The three year extension comes at a good time, as businesses can leverage their Azure Hybrid Benefit to save money when moving any SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 environments to Azure Virtual Machines while gaining the ESU plan for free. So long as you have Software Assurance, you can save 55 per cent on the cost of running your workloads in Azure VMs.
  • No need for coding: Migrating and re-hosting any of these 2008 SQL Server and Windows Server 2008 workloads to Azure requires zero application code changes on your part. Instead of your IT team worrying about how to handle the transition, you can lift and shift your old servers directly to Azure without any re-engineering efforts. You can spend more time evaluating and understanding how the Azure platform and its services benefit your business, or upgrading on-premises to the latest versions.

Securing your SQL and Windows Server workloads in Azure for three free extra years of security updates past the end-of-support deadline is merely the hook of the ESU offer. The real value is in the long-term cost-saving opportunities, fully managed services and access to other powerful Azure solutions.