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Vendor Support Options

Yet many IT managers balk at the high cost of support. "The price of service agreements tends to climb every year," says Lou Anschuetz, network manager at Carnegie Mellon University. "In many cases, it becomes more economical to purchase new hardware than to continue to use the same equipment and continue to pay the support costs. We recently had one case where it was more economical to buy two new units with no support than to keep the old unit and continue to pay [maintenance costs]." This strategy might be viable for other commodity products as well, though it won't work on big-ticket items like high-end servers or storage arrays.

How can your organization choose a cost-efficient level of service when purchasing new hardware and software? How can you compare vendors' support offerings fairly? And how can you benchmark the support received and ensure that vendors are meeting your needs? The questions are simple; the answers, anything but.

Tangled Up in Tiers

Over the past several years, hardware and software vendors have launched an abundance of support offerings, ranging from easy-to-use guides on their Web sites to customized, dedicated service teams. The cost of these services runs a similarly wide spectrum, from free support bundled with packaged products to specialized contracts that cost millions of dollars annually. If you're buying a new product and have no previous experience with it, how do you know what level of support to buy?

Most vendors maintain prepackaged service offerings that correspond to the types of customers and service requests they encounter most often. Microsoft, for example, offers Professional Services, which lets users ask questions at $99 to $245 per query; Essential Services, which provides a set of basic support services at $8,500 to $33,000 per year; and Premiere Services, which may include dedicated Microsoft staff and customized support capabilities, for $51,120 per year.

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