UPDATE: Microsoft Unveils 'Premier Mission Critical' Support Service

Microsoft today announced a new mission-critical support option for organizations as part of its Microsoft Services business.

The new service is described by the company as an add-on to the Microsoft Premier Support program. This mission-critical addition provides top-of-the-line support for large organizations, but it can also be used by medium-size companies too, according to Norm Judah, chief technology officer at Microsoft Services.

Microsoft doesn't really define "mission critical" -- that's defined by the customer, he explained. 

"One of the definitions [of 'mission critical'] is when the customer says it's mission critical," Judah said in a phone call. "It's when it's essential for a customer's business, and if they lose it, their business stops in some way. For some companies, that might be their e-mail processing; for a help desk, it might be chat processing; and for a bank, it might be checks, deposits and withdrawals."

Under the mission-critical program, Microsoft assigns one of its solution engineers to work with an organization. The solution engineer provides advanced support, available from Microsoft in 30 minutes' time. The program starts with an initial consultation; afterward, mission-critical customers have access to 24-hour support from Microsoft, seven days a week.

Support tends to be systemic and long-term in nature. For instance, the mission-critical service provides architectural reviews of the customer's operations.

"The cost is not low," Judah said. He estimated mission-critical support might cost organizations "hundreds of thousands of dollars," and the relationship might extend over a year's time or more.

"This is a long-term support engagement with a higher level of service, including direct access to advanced support engineers and response time guarantees backed by financial penalties," explained Elaina Stergiades, senior research analyst at IDC, in an e-mail. "In addition, the inclusion of architectural reviews for security and supportability can lead to a deeper understanding of the customer environment, which can help accelerate time-to-resolution for critical issues (i.e., customers don't have to start from the beginning every time they contact support services with a problem)."

The mission-critical support program is entirely associated with the Microsoft stack. Products supported include "the Microsoft .NET Framework, Microsoft BizTalk Server, Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft System Center, Microsoft SQL Server and Windows Server," according to a released statement from Microsoft.

"Our focus is Microsoft-oriented solutions, so if somebody had a third-party solution, I'm not sure we'd add any value to it," Judah said. However, in the case of independent software vendor partner solutions, Microsoft will work with the customer to see that those solutions are optimally used, he explained.

Microsoft Services focuses on five business areas. One of them is "Enterprise Strategy," which consists of technical architecture and business discussions on how Microsoft's technology can help. The second part is called "Consulting" (formerly known as "MCS") in which actual deployment implementation takes place. The third prong is "Support," which includes Microsoft Services Premier offerings (Medium and Small Businesses, Foundation, and now Mission Critical). Lastly, there is "Broad Support" and "Partner Enablement."

Broad Support includes help desk, online support and automated help (such as the "Fix it" feature used for various Microsoft apps).

Customers can either work with their partners or work with Microsoft. It's the customer's choice, Judah said. However, the mission-critical program comes solely from Microsoft. According to Microsoft's announcement, the company "also works with customers' mission-critical applications through its Enterprise Strategy program and Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS)."

Microsoft Services also offers "Custom Support" for customers using products that have moved outside Microsoft's lifecycle support, such as Windows 2000 and Windows XP Service Pack 2. Both of those products are no longer supported as of July 13 and they no longer get security updates automatically from Microsoft. In order to continue to get hotfixes for these operating systems, a customer would need to establish a support agreement with Microsoft Services.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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