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New Microsoft product support service targets largest customers

The Microsoft Services Premier Ultimate plan helps customers shore up their IT infrastructure, but it shouldn't interfere with the services partners provide.

A new Microsoft product support service is available to the company's largest business customers.

Microsoft partners won't be able to sell the Microsoft Services Premier Ultimate plan. But they typically don't do business with the service's target customers anyway, according to Charles DeJong, Microsoft's general manager for support and health.

"We have a relationship already -- generally, a multiyear relationship," DeJong said. "It's a natural fit. A partner would sort of be a duck out of water if they don't already have an existing relationship."

Microsoft Services Premier Ultimate becomes the top tier of Microsoft's product support services. The four levels of Microsoft support -- Foundation, Standard, Premier and Premier Ultimate --

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offer different combinations of problem resolution, preventative maintenance and service delivery management through a technical account manager (TAM).

The Microsoft Services Premier Ultimate plan gives customers three years of preventative maintenance and unlimited problem resolution for one fixed price, which depends on the size and complexity of their infrastructure. Paul DeGroot, analyst for Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., said these Microsoft product support services go above the first level of technical support that partners usually offer.

"I wouldn't see this as having a lot of impact on partners," DeGroot said. "Most of these customers already have premium agreements. Probably all of them already have premium agreements. There aren't many partners whose primary business is technical support."

Partners watch Microsoft's direct support and services offerings very carefully as the vendor tries to garner more revenue from subscription or annuity services versus the sale of shrink-wrap software. Anything Microsoft does to strengthen direct customer relationships is of acute interest to partners, including big systems integrators, who wrestle with vendors over enterprise account control.

There is an assessment process to determine if a customer is eligible for the new top-tier Microsoft product support service, but the criteria do not include a minimum number of seats.

"They're going to range from 10,000 to 200,000 or 300,000," DeJong said. "It's less about the seats and more about the infrastructure products."

Four companies participated in a Microsoft Services Premier Ultimate pilot program. Microsoft won't disclose their identities, but DeJong said they are some of the leaders in their respective industries.

"The nature of the offering is such that you're going to have to be a large customer to benefit from this," DeGroot said. "The kind of customer for whom this makes a lot of sense is a large customer with more than, say, a dozen IT people."

A large IT staff is necessary because Microsoft will put out several people for days at a time for training at the start of the contract, DeGroot said. Businesses with extremely high uptime requirements, such as large banks and brokerages, will also benefit from the Microsoft Services Premier Ultimate plan, he added.

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