PSS support

I used to scoff at the exorbitant amounts charged by vendors like IBM, CA, Oracle, etc. for software maintenance. 20-30% of the original purchase price every year. Yet, it was always a perennial budget item. No justification, no fighting – at best only a nominal investigation to ensure the software was still loaded and being used somewhere. Maybe that’s a luxury in being in larger shops. You usually have it but don’t need it.

I can now say I’ve been in a situation where I needed it but didn’t have it. I have of late been in the SMB space and working with a company that runs its business on Microsoft SQL Server. Yet, there is no vendor support contract. 30K is the lowest tier for Microsoft Premium Support Services (PSS) and I was shot down when I submitted it to the budget. Maybe I am a poor salesman, maybe its this recession – it just seems to me it sells itself.

The strategy I got back was that we’d pay by the drink on support calls. This is fine in theory, but our recent rash of incidents with SQL 2005 running on a 64-bit Server 2003 OS are not a quick fix. There was no silver bullet sitting out in a KB on TechNet or recommendations in a third-party SQL Server forum. We have a deep-rooted bug of some type and really needed to engage the PSS problem management process.

The deal with non-contracted Microsoft support is that you get routed to the lowest common denominator technician, usually overseas, and gradually argue your way up the escalation chain to someone with a clue. I suspect this works fine in many cases. You charge a one-time $200 fee on your AMEX and a support person will eventually give you a fix you probably could have found on TechNet had you been diligent. But for chronic, non-obvious bugs that can be masked by a ton of variables, it’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle. Moving from level to level takes time, and in some sense, you lose continuity and start from scratch. The PSS contract buys you support hours, but it also buys you someone (usually a TAM – technical account manager) to shepherd your trouble call through the process. An advocate to provide continuity and a sense of urgency.

One can surely throw rocks at M$ for strong-arming a minimum 30K contract from its customers. But upon reflection, they sell licenses in perpetuity and post updates and patches on their website for free. It’s really not a horrible deal compared to other vendor models. And I can guarantee you we’ve spent over $30K in consultant time, employee time, and negative impact to the business troubleshooting this problem for weeks.