Customers play beat the clock with retiring products

All good things must come to an end, and this is as true for technology as it is for anything else.

For companies that have invested both time and money into products and often have thousands of employees relying on the technology, the announcement of a vendor retiring support can be worrisome.

According to Erik Moll, Windows XP product manager for Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., this needn’t be the case for Microsoft customers.

“Our products’ lifecycles are not predicated by supply and demand,” he said. “We’re not going to pull a product because we know that customers have their own timelines. We follow our product lifecycle guidelines, which is available on our Web site.

“The first phase is when a product hits the mainstream,” Moll continued. “This phase is up to three years after general availability. In this phase, customers can expect standard support offerings, online support and the capability of buying licences. After four years is our extended phase. Licences may no longer be available at this point, but online support information will continue to be available. Post-four years is our non-supported phase.”

Because they provide such a clear roadmap, customers rarely feel shocked or worried when support nears expiration, according to Moll.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata in Nashua, N.H., suggested that the end of a product’s life cycle should be looked at more as an opportunity than as a problem.

“Somebody on a legacy platform at the end of its cycle has a good opportunity to reassess where that application is and what their business needs are going to be moving forward,” he said.

Not all customers are able to embrace the end of a product line, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Ed Brill, director of Notes and iNotes strategic marketing for Lotus. The vendor was prepared to end support for its Lotus Notes 4.6 product line in January of 2001, but found that a number of customers were still using the product.

“When we got to the cut off date we realized that with a substantial minority of customers still on Notes 4.6, it wasn’t the right thing to do, so we extended engineering support to January 2002 with telephone support a year beyond that. If we find that customers still need telephone support after that, we’d be willing to continue with it, however the engineering shut down is pretty final – it’s hard to keep engineers on a five year old code stream,” Brill said.

Compaq Canada’s business manager for high performance servers suggested that the best advice to give a customer concerned about migrating from the retiring Alpha Servers to Itanium is to keep in touch with Compaq representatives. Toronto-based Ira Weiss pointed out that the Alpha Servers are going to continue to be manufactured and built for several years.

“Our competitors are saying that we’re doing a hard stop, but we’re not,” Weiss said. “We have given two and a half years notice in order for our customers to have the time that they need to understand what their migration issues are. We will provide support for our Alphas five years beyond their last shipment. We’re not going to drop the product hard, but are encouraging our customers to start planning today.”

Hugh Couchman, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, is one customer who is taking Weiss’ advice and is planning ahead for the discontinuation of the Alpha Server.

“We bought the system nearly a year ago – we had it installed and running in April of last year,” he explained. “We expect to get three useful years out of the server, and I don’t know what the market will look like in three years. In fact, the discontinuation of it may have relatively little impact on us. I am sad that the Alpha isn’t going to be around for ever, because the genepool of processors will be decreased, but things change so quickly in technology and you can’t predict what things will be like in three or four or five years.”

Couchman admitted that the news of the Alpha Server’s discontinuation was softened by the support of Compaq’s representatives.

“Given that the decision had been made, they handled things as well as could be expected. They’re great to deal with,” he said.

Microsoft’s lifecycle guidelines can be found at