Costly legacy


Holding onto older versions of computer software might save users a few bucks but this cost cutting strategy could be expensive in the long run when software makers decide to hike fees for supporting legacy products.

That’s what some Microsoft Corp. customers discovered earlier this week Monday when the software maker announced changes to its Customer Support Agreement (CSA), which extends service for legacy products that remain in use after the typical 10-year support lifecycle expires.

Due to a new per-device pricing structure – a change from the former flat-fee structure – pricing could become more expensive for some customers that have many servers or desktops running a particular legacy product, said Ines Vargas, director of support policy at Microsoft.

Charging more for supporting older software is a common strategy of developers and vendors who want to customers to deploy newer products according to one Canadian IT industry analyst. “It’s a strategy to wean customers away from older software,” said Carmi Levi, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. in London, Ont. From the vendor’s perspective, he said, it is expensive to retrain staff to service new software and maintain people who can support older products.

Levy said software vendors could eventually cut off support for obsolete products. Such was the case with Microsoft’s Windows 95 and 98 , versions that the company no longer supports. “I think the message is ‘don’t get caught holding the hot potato’.”

The analyst said maintaining older software eventually becomes a burden because it won’t integrate or operate well with newer products introduced into office environment. “It’s like holding onto an old car that costs more to keep on the road than to replace.”

According to the recent CSA changes, Microsoft will no longer put an end date on CSAs, but will honour them as long as customers continue to use some of its legacy products.

Customers that don’t have a lot of hardware devices running legacy Microsoft software could save money because the former flat-fee structure will be scrapped, said Vargas.

Products affected by the changes include Windows NT 4, Exchange Server 5.5 and Windows XP SP1. Windows NT 4 will be entering its fourth year of CSA support in January 2007, while Exchange 5.5 will be entering its second-year of CSA support at the same time. Windows XP SP1 will enter its first year of CSA support in October 2006.

Microsoft started the CSA program two years ago to extend the support of its products beyond its regular support lifecycle policy. Microsoft typically gives customers five years of Mainstream Support, while giving business customers the option of purchasing Extended Support for five more years after Mainstream Support expires.

Microsoft will make CSA pricing available for the next three years to customers who take part in the program so they can budget for support if they plan to continue having legacy products in their IT environments, Vargas said. Previously, customers knew only for about a year how much they would pay for support through the CSA program, she said.

“This is all about providing customers with choices and to [help] the planning and budgeting process,” she said. “Large customers are doing planning on a multiyear basis, and the lack of multiyear pricing didn’t allow them to plan [for support costs].”

Microsoft does not publicly disclose the pricing for its CSA program, but Vargas said pricing does go up each year to keep up with growing support costs for older software. Only customers with Microsoft Premier Support — its high-end managed support offering for large enterprise customers — can take part in the CSA program, she added.

Vargas said she does not believe making changes to the CSA program will drive customers to migrate to more current versions of legacy software, even if it means paying more to support older products.

“Customers are already migrating at their own speed,” she said. “[CSA] hasn’t driven migrations in the past, so we don’t see why [changing it] would do so now.”

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