This was not unexpected, RHEL 3 had only a couple of months left. Check out the historical behaviour of Microsoft regarding sunset dates for their operating systems. There are always stragglers who find that, whoops, they aren't going to upgrade before the sunset date and it can be very profitable to take their money if you have the manpower to support them, just as companies with a cash surplus can make money from credit terms on customers who always pay but aren't very good at paying on time (whereas a small company will go bust if it has such customers)
The timing is interesting. Evidently either Red Hat wanted 2.1 dead, or customers don't care too much about it. Either way, it was allowed to expire while RHEL 3 gets this new "extended life". It isn't much of a life, for what it's worth. Further restrictions apply compared to the existing "phase III" support, with less software getting patched and less platforms supported. The focus is definitely on commodity servers running stuff like Apache or sendmail.