The Giant Nonevent of SBS Support Policy Change

IT Business
3 Comments

The story of change and inspirational message by Pastor Vlad Mazek.

Earlier this week Microsoft announced some changes to the SBS support policy that actually make a lot of sense. As someone that is not an SBSer and already cut the funds to commercially provide SBS 2008 product I felt it was important to offer you my opinion on why the support change freakout you are reading around the net has nothing to do with Microsoft, SBS 2008, PSS/CSS and all to do with the fact that it only impacts service providers businessmen that should really know better. First, the facts from Tim Barrett:

At any rate, there are two ways to submit a ticket to request a PSS call-back:

  • Online ticket submission: https://support.microsoft.com/oas
    (only available during business hours – details below)
  • Phone ticket submission: (800) 936-4900
    (available 24×7)

Support hours & fees:

  • Business hours (9AM – 9PM Eastern Monday – Friday) $259 USD
    Tickets can be submitted via phone or business hours URL:
    https://support.microsoft.com/oas
  • After hours (outside hours listed above, including weekends) $515 USD
    Tickets can be submitted via phone ONLY

I see this as a major improvement. First, it reduces the time my staff has to spend on time not working but waiting and praying that the IVR system doesn’t explode in an intercontinental routing mess. Second, if you’ve been in a support queue you know that at times if you wait for more than an hour the manager will come on and offer you a callback if the wait is too long. Third, the ticket submission is a godsent, we no longer have to sit in one hold queue after another just to get a PSS call initiated. Calling, providing credit card information, waiting in one queue after another – online support request just seems easier to deal with and manage and is better than being glued to a phone.

Addressing Objections

Karl and Susan: $515 after hours support. WTF? In a globally connected 24×7 world, when is after hours? 3PM Eastern Time is after hours? Business hours are 14:00 to 2:00 in GMT.

Vlad: First, the above statement is factually incorrect, the Microsoft-defined business hours are 9am – 9pm EST, which means if your maintenance it falls after 6PM Pacific or 9PM EST it’s is generally accepted as the “after business hours” in America at least.

Second, you should be charged twice (or more) for messing around with a server after hours without doing a proper backup. Just because it is convenient for you because you don’t want to piss off your clients with intraday reboots and service interruptions doesn’t mean someone else needs to pay for your lack of precaution.

Karl: At a different level, this is a complete admission by Microsoft tech support that their first-tier Indian support system is the worst failure since Windows ME.

Vlad: It is not Microsoft’s fault that most SBSers are idiots that should never be touching a sever to begin with. Karl and Susan both reflect on this as the amateur consultant and how customers deserve better. The world of Microsoft Action Pack Reseller SPFs has been covered on this blog severely and repeatedly, and I think both Susan and Karl are starting to come aboard with that message. Not to mention the SMB business owner that DIYs their box, if you think VARs suck you should go talk to the business owners who assumed that just because they are intelligent people that can follow directions they too can run their own server without the IT support system overhead. We can blame this whole part on the Microsoft marketing telling people that they can get a product designed for their business that they can manage themselves through series of wizards.

However, this is a reflection of Microsoft partners wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Karl, the reason the SBS product support in India sucks is because you are in the same pile as the lawyers, accountants and car dealerships that had the most computer savvy person install the server. You are not any better – you paid the same amount of  money and deserve the same level of support.

“But.. but.. but… I sell more of SBS.. so.. so.. I deserve better support ” – NO you do not. Not to mention that Ligman gives you tons of discounts, incentives, free training and licensing options so you pay far less for SBS than the DIYer does. And you have the nerve to ask for better support? Get out of here.

The reason the first tier sucks is because it functions as a firewall against people that fail to read documentation and follow the process and have simply missed a thing or two because they have bought into the “we’re better than dem injuns” message that VARs give their staff and customers and didn’t do as thorough of a job.

Want better support? Microsoft Premier, $8K/yr straight to Texas.*

Mark: So if I sign a monthly retainer instead of paying the standard 4 hour call back fee will I get priority response?  ODG, I am my customer!

Finally someone that actually gets it: Microsoft Support is a business! Out of the bunch it seems Mark is the closest to the actual point here: You are a customer, and Microsoft considers you to be no more entitled than the others that bought the product.

What they aren’t saying

With all due respect to my dear colleagues, they are raising a stink over something that is a total nonevent. They are reacting to a change in a Microsoft policy that on the surface aims to provide more support options but their actual complaints (if you read deep enough) are that they really want a free support net to catch them when they blow through their SLAs and expect it to happen on a schedule that fits them and their business, so naturally they dislike when Microsoft takes the same attitude with their own support. Here are the actual complaints:

Actual Complaint: Hours: Partners want Microsoft to provide support at the same cost (or less) during out of business hours so that they can address issues that don’t make them look like crappy managed services providers. They want to apply hotfixes after hours or on weekends, they want to reboot servers at midnight, they want to appear to their customers to provide an excellent enterprise class solution while they are in fact reselling their own pile of incompetent Indians on top of a server that they paid less than $599 for.

Actual Complaint: Incident Cost: Partners feel they are entitled to a lower support cost than other Microsoft customers that paid the same amount (usually more) than they did. In my talks with partners, who generally charge more than $100 per hour, most will refuse to pay $259 or $599 for support because it admits to their customers that they do not know how to support the product. The additional support costs eat into the MSP plan of providing unlimited support and as they try to make a pure profit play out of patching and managing a server a single real incident that requires actual technical expertise can easilly wipe those profits out and expose the inherent flaws in the MSP business plan: that you can’t offer unlimited support if you aren’t qualified to provide it!

Actual Complaint: This is the last version of SBS that I will be able to sell: Notice that the wording is different from “This is the last version of SBS you will see” that Karl offers. What Karl is actually saying is that this is the last version of SBS he will ever sell. Present company included, we will not offer SBS 2008 and beyond. Why? Single box with crutches simply isn’t enough to provide the level of redundancy and reliability businesses with more than ten employees require. Single box failure that results in more than a few hours of downtime can cost even a small business thousands of dollars, so the “value” and wizards of SBS simply aren’t sufficient enough to gamble thousands of dollars of managed services on a $599 deathtrap. Service providers are coming to realize that a single box deployment in this marketplace is no longer a justifiable risk, because of all the points I have already brought up: they don’t want to pay for support, they don’t want a single point of failure, they don’t want to have to address problems during after hours, they don’t want to risk having to rely on Microsoft or Indians for support. So they either act like big boys and actually deploy complex infrastructure required to support the supposed business that cannot reboot a server during mid-day or have a critical downtime window lasting a few hours or they revise their business plan to limit their SLA and explain to the business owner that the “SBS deal” they are selling is only a deal so long as nothing goes wrong and their unlimited support and SLA is conditional on a consumer-level support because they are unwilling to pay for the higher priority direct dialin to Microsoft PSS in Las Colinas, Texas.

Are you running a business or reselling consumer services?

Big question to answer, ugly answer to admit to oneself.

Microsoft partners are reselling the kind of support Microsoft has designed for entry level partners and DIY customers and billing it as a connection to Microsoft at a high level. It’s not.

Microsoft offers Premier Services which start at $8,000/yr and involve an ongoing support time and bulletins, direct access to Microsoft PSS/CSS in United States and then some.

But Microsoft Partners don’t want to spend $8,000 on the professional support contract. That eats into the unlimited support business model that they are reselling and using a $259 support call to India as a safety net that they never want to use. What they are actually doing here is gambling with their customers uptime and support and trying to provide a higher profit margin for themselves – while completely ignoring the service that Microsoft provides to address the very complaint they have.

The complaint is not that Microsoft support sucks, the complaint is that Microsoft Partners don’t want to pay for the level of support that they demand and instead want the consumer and DIY non-critical support to come with the same level of service.

Vlad Nostradumbass

Welcome to the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Customers demand 100% uptime. They demand it be affordable. They demand expertise and they demand personal care. Is this any different than what the Microsoft Partners are demanding?

We are seeing, before our very eyes, the commoditization of IT infrastructure and we are admitting at the same time that the competence required to provide it under an actual SLA (not a pretend SLA with Indians in a bucket)  comes with some real costs, some real training and some real iron supporting them and not your weekly special from Dell.

We are seeing a rapid fragmentation of value which will rock this space strongly and quickly: There will be customers too cheap for infrastructure that will demand its power and reliability but won’t pay for its upkeep and in the other corner we will have customers that will pay quite a bit more than they are paying now because their business will demand a more complex setup with more complex redundancy.

I have mentioned a number of times that the gamble of unlimited infrastructure support is a flawed business model that only works if nothing goes wrong and you are able to use a safety net.

With Microsoft taking the safety net away, with the licensing costs for SBS going up the Microsoft Partner community will have to stop reselling consumer level services billed as business solutions and will have to step their training, services and unfortunately costs. It’s _____ or _____ as I mentioned earlier today.

Want to build a safety net?

Further proving that the complaints are simply full of crap is the virtual void of outsourced second tier SBS support. I know all three people that do it and the garden variety of businesses popping up to take the SBSers managed services business away from them are doing the exact same Tier 1 level services: patching, AV, monitoring, occasional migration and backup job checks. Between M&Ms and Eriq Neale, all of whom have their own consulting practices, nobody is providing highly skilled higher level support beyond the Indian and the blind-leading-the-blind of SBS newsgroups.

Why?

Read the article again. Service providers are cheap, these solutions exist already* but nobody wants to pay for them because they don’t actually expect to use them. They just don’t like the idea of them being taken away.

What to do now?

Step your game up. If you think this stuff is tough on you, imagine how tough it’s going to be on a larger company.

The days when you could say “we build and support small business networks” is going for a dirt nap and you should thank your lucky stars that you know me and have read this blog when you’ve read it because at least now you have some hope to adjust your business to be a high tech powerhouse in time to actually get some business. Or resell consumer support and Indians in a box to people gullible enough not to know the difference and hope the world of the IT generalist doesn’t line you up in a museum next to a typewriter and a village blacksmith.

It is your choice what kind of a technology business you’re building and running.

3 Responses to The Giant Nonevent of SBS Support Policy Change

  1. Ofer Shimrat says:

    Brilliant inference & prose!

    Required reading for those treating the support changes as a major event and believe that Microsoft is somehow stiffing them.

    If they were to step to the next level they would realize it is truly a non-event.

  2. HandyAndy says:

    Now wait just a minute Vlad, I have a real honest to god Blacksmith in my User Group. Some thing last forever. I am however still searching for a bona fide dinsoaur :>)

  3. Chris Knight says:

    Nice read. I think you might have been holding back a bit though.

    Honestly, the stupidity is in thinking that PSS has changed at all since its inception. I think I decided after my second call to PSS (back last century) about an actual problem (and not just PSS acting as a hotfix firewall) that it was a complete waste of my time, money and emotional energy. I instead invested in the time and resources to not have to bother calling again.

    People need to read, practise and learn. If you put yourself up as an “IT Professional” you need to come to the rude awakening that you’re the last line of defense. As Vlad says, support is a cost centre black hole. Only when it’s run as a profit centre (such as MS Premier) go you actually get anything useful.

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