Earlier this year, Microsoft began rolling out the biggest changes in two decades to its Premier customer support program.
A few months into that rollout, industry watchers at Gartner are warning that this new plan could result in noticeably higher costs for some customers.
Microsoft's overhaul of its Premier Support organization -- the services unit that provides business customers with help, planning and education -- is known as Microsoft Unified Support (and codenamed "Volta"). Microsoft started implementing Unified Support as of July 1, 2017, the start of its new fiscal year.
The new Unified Support program was touted as simplifying how business users get support from Microsoft, and covered both on-premises and cloud products and services.
However, a November 2017 analysis by analysts at Gartner warned that the new Unified Support program could result in some customers paying for what previously they may have gotten for free.
Companies paying around seven percent of annual Software Assurance cost for Premier Support will see a 25 percent to 30 percent cost increase for Unified Support, Gartner calculated. Those paying more than ten percent of annual Software Assurance (SA) for Premier Support actually will see a decrease, the Gartner analysts said.
Software Assurance is a Microsoft volume licensing program that provides version rights to future releases of its software and services, plus other benefits.
"The 6% to 12% that Microsoft is charging for support, combined with its 25% to 29% SA maintenance charge, brings Microsoft to 33% to 39% of licensing for maintenance and support,which is far above the 18% to 25% industry average," Gartner said.
The Unified Support terms also allow Microsoft to charge for support of its cloud-based products, which could impact users of services like Office 365, Gartner noted.
I asked Microsoft for comment on Gartner's report. A spokesperson sent the following statement:
"Support pricing is a good deal compared to what our competitors offer. For some customers, it might cost more but, most will see little or no increases and they'll get access to a whole range of great new services that integrate support for cloud and on-premise products. In particular, Office 365 customers will not see any change to their support that is provided - but they will get more and better options under Unified Support."
From what I can tell, customers who previously were not paying for Office 365 or Azure support (as those products were covered by reactive support hours under the old Premier program) will not be charged for support for them now, as they're considered as products with "included" support.
One possible way for business users to cut their total costs is by using the support benefits portion of their Software Assurance Benefits as a credit against their contract costs. Gartner is advocating users look closely at their previous year's support costs and use them in negotiating support contracts with Microsoft, moving forward.
Gartner's research note, titled "Microsoft's Unified Support Eliminates Counting Hours, but Some Organizations Will Now Pay for What Had Been Free", is available here. (Non-clients of Gartner will need to contact Gartner to learn more about getting access to this report.)