With Windows XP support expiring on April 8, 2014, some organizations will still be using the zombified operating system for a few months beyond the cutoff date. There are various reasons. Some are valid – some are not.

However, once April 8th is upon us, Microsoft will no longer provide updates for Windows XP. It’s that simple. As reported recently, Microsoft will continue providing updates for Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) and the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT). Using these two tools together should help IT Pros minimize infections and then help cleanup infections that are not caught outright, however, for those companies that want more support than this provides, Microsoft does offer Custom Support contracts.

I’m not going to talk to the actual costs in this post, as the costs will vary between organizations. It would be nice if Microsoft provided a calculator to quickly determine the cost of the contract, but again, each contact will be different based on diverse criteria. Instead, in this article, I’ll detail what a Custom Support contract is (and what it’s not), how to obtain one (and the requirements), what it offers, and how extended support updates are delivered.

Custom Support is available for purchase for those Microsoft customers who have not been able to complete migration to a supported product in the time allotted. Cases where a Custom Support contact is needed is when a customer absolutely requires support for the unsupported product. I was recently made aware of a couple financial companies that have already purchased Custom Support. These companies are in the midst of a migration, however, Windows XP runs on their ATMs. This is a good example of a situation where Custom Support is required since ATMs are public facing and there’s a greater risk of lost revenue and the potential of a PR nightmare similar to the recently reported Target Stores exploits. The ATMs can’t simply be shut down for extended periods of time should they be hacked, but should that happen, Microsoft has been contracted to aid in fixing the problem.

As part of the contract, the Custom Support contract offerings provide access to security hotfixes. The operative word in the previous sentence is “access.” Windows XP security hotfixes will not be made available as part of the regular, ongoing Patch Tuesday process.  They won’t just show up in WSUS as they have for the past 13 years or so. The security hotfixes will be made available, however, it’s up to the company to go get them as part of their agreement, working directly with Microsoft.

To be clear, the hotfixes will continue to be available during the length of the contract, but they are only made available to help customers bridge the support gap while the migration continues.  This is THE important bullet point. A Custom Support contract is not intended to be a long-lasting one. In fact, one of the primary requirements is that the customer submit a proper migration plan with goals and dates and Microsoft must approve the plan. Since Custom Support runs through the Microsoft Premier Support organization, company’s submitting a migration plan should expect Microsoft’s top support brass to make suggestions and help build a plan that is thorough and complete, and has a defined completion date. For many companies, this part of the Custom Support agreement may be the most valuable.

To enroll in Custom Support, customers must have a Premier Support contract. You can find out more about Premier Support services from their web site:

Premier Support Services Home

For the majority of companies, Custom Support contracts are overkill and Microsoft providing extended support for MSE and MSRT should be enough. But, there are those special cases, like the example of the public-facing ATMs, where a Custom Support contact should be considered a requirement.