Q&A: Microsoft Expands TechNet Plus Subscription Offering

Rick Holzli, General Manager, MSDN and TechNet Product Group, Microsoft.

COPENHAGEN, Nov. 16, 2004 — Network administrators are always on the lookout for ways to increase network uptime and security while reducing their support costs. For those in the business of evaluating, implementing and supporting Microsoft solutions, the Microsoft TechNet Plus subscription service helps IT generalists and infrastructure specialists build scaleable infrastructures and respond quickly to problems.

As part of its commitment to enhance the value of TechNet subscriptions for IT professionals who want to evaluate, deploy and maintain Microsoft products, Microsoft unveiled TechNet Plus 2.0 today at IT Forum in Copenhagen. The updated version of the subscription service features many support benefits customers have been asking for, such as full-version software that doesn’t expire within a set period of time, a limited number of no-charge support incidents per year and faster turnaround times in Microsoft Managed Newsgroups.

To better understand how Microsoft has transformed the service and its new benefits for IT professionals, PressPass spoke with Rick Holzli , general manager of the MSDN and TechNet product group at Microsoft; Thomas Lee , chief technologist at QA, one of the a largest IT and training firms in the United Kingdom and a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP), and Roy Mennenga , senior consultant with Mennenga Technology Partners, a regional IT consulting firm that services small and medium-size businesses in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

PressPass: Why is Microsoft adding these benefits to the TechNet Plus subscription service?

Holzli: We’re very committed to delivering a comprehensive and centralized set of technical resources, in terms of both content and services, that IT professionals can trust. We have invested heavily in the content on the TechNet Web site for several years now, so with TechNet Plus 2.0, we’ve transformed the subscription offering so that it’s focused more on service. All of the same great content you find on the Web site will still be shipped monthly with the subscription so that administrators can access it in whatever way is most convenient for them. By combining the comprehensive content available online and offline with enhanced services, we hope to make TechNet Plus an indispensable resource that helps IT professionals respond quickly and effectively to problems, so that at the end of the day they are able to reduce costs, increase uptime, improve security and maintain a healthy technology infrastructure.

PressPass: How have the service offerings changed in TechNet Plus 2.0?

Holzli: Beginning in January, full-version software that doesn’t time out after 90 to 180 days will replace time-bombed software, providing IT pros with much more flexibility. So TechNet Plus subscribers who want to evaluate Microsoft technologies will have access to the latest Microsoft software, including Microsoft Windows operating systems, Microsoft Office System and Windows Server System software. They’ll also receive beta software for staying trained and up-to-date on the latest Microsoft products.

In addition, beginning today we’re providing a range of support options to help administrators solve problems quickly. Each TechNet Plus 2.0 subscriber will get two no-charge technical-support incidents, and any incidents beyond the first two will receive a 20-percent discount. Subscribers also get enhanced levels of service in our Managed Newsgroups. We now guarantee a next-business-day response in more than 100 English-language, IT-related public newsgroups, and a two-business-day response for customers who post in French, German or Spanish newsgroups.

TechNet Plus 2.0 subscribers also will get security bulletins, updates and hotfixes delivered on easy-to-use media each month, ensuring they have the most current security resources they need, regardless of Web connectivity or other constraints.

And finally, TechNet content on the Web site and in the library shipped on CD and DVD includes added resources to help a broad range of IT pros, from generalists to infrastructure specialists, sharpen their skills and find answers to questions about Microsoft technologies.

PressPass: Why did you make the switch from time-limited evaluation software in the previous version of TechNet Plus to full-version software?

Holzli: Having full-version software is a top priority for many TechNet subscribers, so that was first on our list of improvements to the service.

Thomas Lee, Chief Technologist, QA.

Lee: Much of what I do as a Microsoft MVP, consultant and trainer is about making the products work. So using Microsoft Virtual PC and Microsoft Virtual Server, I build test environments to verify things. Using evaluation software that isn’t time-bombed is critical for me because I can walk away from one of these test environments if I need to deal with other pressing issues, knowing that when I return–even if it’s a month or two later–the software won’t have timed out, forcing me to start all over again if I want to complete the evaluation. It’s also important for infrastructure specialists like myself to use full-version software when evaluating programs. We need to be confident that what is happening during trial is exactly what will happen when we deploy the fully licensed software for our customers, with no surprises. With full-version software included, TechNet Plus 2.0 is a great value for IT pros like myself.

PressPass: Can you provide more detail on the support enhancements in TechNet Plus 2.0?

Holzli: What we’ve heard from TechNet subscribers is that they want to be able to solve problems faster and spend less money doing it. So we’re adding more value to TechNet Plus by offering a wider range of support choices to help IT pros solve technical problems in less time and at a cost savings. Having the opportunity to use two support incidents at no charge, with a 20-percent discount on additional incidents, amounts to a significant savings, and gives TechNet subscribers access to a team of world-class professionals who will help provide the best solutions possible for mission-critical issues. We’re also offering unlimited technical assistance in the Microsoft Managed Newsgroups, with a guaranteed next business-day turnaround on all English-language postings. We’ve increased the number of Microsoft Support Professionals who are facilitating the newsgroups so that we can guarantee the turnaround time and provide subscribers the answer they need within hours, not days.

Roy Mennenga, Senior Consultant, Mennenga Technology Partners.

Mennenga: As a beta tester of TechNet Plus 2.0, I’ve found the no-charge support incidents and the Managed Newsgroups to be most valuable. I’ve already used two incidents and have been happy to pass that savings on to my clients. My experience with the turnaround times on the Managed Newsgroups has also been good. Recently one of our clients had a problem with network browsing; the network looked different, depending on what machine you were browsing from. I wasn’t finding any information that applied specifically to this situation in my searches on the CDs or on the Web site, so I posted an incident to the Microsoft Active Directory newsgroup. Within three hours, I got a response from someone at Microsoft who suggested I try a few things. By the next morning, I’d received another response from someone else at Microsoft. In other cases, when I’ve posted to the Microsoft SharePoint newsgroup for example, I received some pretty good responses within an hour or two of posting.

PressPass: What kind of TechNet content do you find most useful?

Mennenga: The great thing about TechNet is you can search for detailed information on specific products or across the entire Microsoft platform suite for more general content. However, the breadth of content that TechNet offers is particularly important for consultants like myself, which is where TechNet really shines. If you visit a lot of the other newsgroups and boards on the Web, you find they’re much more specific in terms of the information they provide, and not as well organized.

Lee: I look for a variety of information on TechNet, both in breadth and depth. For example, a long-time customer of ours recently requested that QA conduct a one-day seminar about the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and its support for digital signatures. So we gathered a lot of general overview-type information on that topic from the TechNet website. Other times, I am very much looking for depth information, say, when I’m answering a specific question or resolving a particular issue. For instance, I recently needed to locate information on how certain options work within NSLookup (Name Server Lookup), a standalone utility used primarily by Domain Name Server administrators to send queries that request hostname or IP address information to a DNS server. We found everything we needed to know on this topic searching the Web site.

PressPass: Is TechNet Plus 2.0 available now?

Holzli: Most of the features of TechNet Plus 2.0 are available now — the support incidents and discounts on additional incidents, the unlimited technical assistance with guaranteed turnaround times on the Managed Newsgroups, and the beta software. The full-version evaluation software will be available beginning in January. TechNet Plus subscribers will receive English-language versions of Microsoft products in their monthly shipment and may also request local language versions of available Microsoft software at no charge. The list of products is extensive, comprising Windows, Microsoft Office System, and Windows Server System software, as well as some Microsoft Business Solutions products.

PressPass: Is the price of TechNet Plus going up?

Holzli: The subscription price of TechNet Plus is going up–from US$529 for a single user license to $799. However, when you consider the cost of a single technical support incident, the 20-percent discount on additional incidents, the full-version software, the beta software, the guaranteed next-day turnaround times in Microsoft Managed Newsgroups, and monthly security updates, not to mention the TechNet content on the CDs and DVDs, subscribers are getting much more than $799 in value.

Mennenga: I go through at least two incidents a year, so the cost savings of those, coupled with the guaranteed turnaround time in the newsgroups and the discounts on additional incidents, more than makes up for the cost of the subscription.

PressPass: How do you envision the TechNet support service one or two years from now?

Holzli: When we look at the TechNet subscription as it stands today, despite the fact that we’re adding a significant amount of value with this update, a lot of it is still delivered via the old medium–that is you have to wait to get the CDs or DVDs in the mail. Eventually, we plan to give subscribers a special site to log into that will provide them with all the TechNet features they need via the Web. So they will be able to pick and choose the beta software and evaluation software that they’d like to download, rather than getting discs in the mail.

Another feature of the TechNet service that we look forward to adding and making available via the Web are Microsoft Virtual Labs, which let TechNet subscribers test Microsoft’s latest software in a sandbox environment. For example, you could use a Microsoft Virtual Lab to configure and test Windows System Server over the Internet, save the configuration, and have it available to the online subscriber community to get their input. The community would be able to share online how they’ve configured their systems — what security settings they’ve used and so on–and provide feedback, such as whether the security settings should be increased and so forth. There’s a real demand for this kind of sharing — we think the community is really hungry for it.

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