The Retirement of the TechNet Subscription

It’s been April since I’ve posted to my blog. My apologies. It’s time to get back on the ball. I’d like to start with my opinion on the recent announcement by MS to retire the TechNet Subscription.

Over the past few weeks, the web has been abuzz about Microsoft’s announcement to retire the venerable TechNet subscription. I, myself, have been a TechNet subscriber for almost a decade.

For those not in the know, a TechNet subscription provides the subscribing person copies of almost all Microsoft software for a few hundred bucks a year. That’s right, a year. The copies are not time-bombed at all. These are fully functioning copies of Windows, Office, Exchange, SQL Server, you name it just like the ones you get from the store or your reseller. The ONLY difference is the license agreement from TechNet states that the copy can be used for testing and evaluations only – NOT PRODUCTION.

As replacements for the TechNet subscription, MS offers the following:

  • TechNet evaluation center. This is evaluation copies of all MS software but are time-bombed for 30 to 180 days depending on the software. For me, and many others, this is unacceptable as testing can be long term. Also, it can be time-consuming to set up complex environments. Has anyone installed Windows 7 lately? Notice how many patches you have to download? So what if you need an environment with four Windows Server 2008 servers, a dozen workstations, Exchange 2010, and a SQL 2008 Server? Throw some apps like Office 2010 in there and you’re going to spend a decent amount of time just getting patches installed – never mind getting everything configured (DNS, DHCP, whatever roles you need on Windows, etc.). Keep in mind your workstations are going to bomb on you every 30 days thanks to MS Office and you’re going to redo those servers every 180 days. I would like to point out that at one time TechNet subscription software was all time-bombed as well with the same 180 day limits. That’s right. You paid ~$400 per year for time-bombed software to be delivered via CD to your office. I remember MS advertising that the software would no longer be time-bombed and how excited everyone was. And the reason MS gave for the software no longer being time-bombed was the same we are discussing now – so people could set up complex labs with long run times.
  • TechNet Virtual labs. As the description suggests, these are designed to be completed in 90 minutes or less for the given technology you are checking out. These are great for basic self-training on various softwares, but not for deep-dive stuff where you are really getting into the thick of things.
  • MSDN Subscriptions: You can get most of the software via MSDN but we are talking a subscription of several thousand dollars. If you have no developers on your staff, then that means you are stuck with dev tools you don’t need. This idea would work, but at a much higher cost to the person who is promoting MS software at the benefit of MS.

One thing I find very interesting is how many of the software pundits out there simply shrug off the retirement of the TechNet subscription as not a big deal since everything is moving to the cloud anyway. I find this ludicrous. First, not everything is moving to the cloud. Organizations and large companies, contrary to popular belief, are not ripping up all their infrastructure in a mad rush to the cloud. Companies such as Corning, General Motors, etc. have systems in place that are years if not decades old. These are systems that are well debugged whose behaviors are well understood and took a great deal of time and money to set up. Ripping such systems apart and moving them to the cloud simply isn’t on the table. Even many of the Exchange servers out there aren’t going anywhere. Many companies have custom plug-ins to Exchange they wrote themselves that their company has since become dependent on that will not be supported in the cloud. To make things more interesting, the cost benefit of the cloud simply isn’t there after a potential customer company considers vendor lock-in (ever try to get your stuff out of a cloud vendor’s hands?) and what it takes to get the cloud vendor to guarantee a certain amount of uptime. Lastly, most companies aren’t moving their infrastructures to a third party, they are rather reinventing their own infrastructures to be more cloud like. This means companies like GM, GE, Corning, etc. are keeping their datacenters and turning them into their own PRIVATE CLOUD. Obviously, people need to be trained on that kind of stuff and they need test labs. So that means they need TECHNET SUBSCRIPTIONS. And even the third party cloud providers themselves need TechNet so they can experiment on how to set up a hosting environment before they go live with an offering people are going to trust the life-blood of their companies to.

I realize why MS most likely retired the TechNet Subscription. I have been into way to many offices where most – if not all – of the software running in production came from a TechNet subscription. Some people simply took the easy way out. That’s all there is to it. But MS shouldn’t punish those of us who have been honest with them, have promoted its wares, and supported its offerings (READ: MADE A LOT OF MONEY OFF OF US) because of these rotten eggs. Therefore, I think MS should reconsider retirement of the TechNet Subscription. There are other ways to recoup the cost of piracy or at least mitigate it. I hope MS sees this. It is my belief that the TechNet Subscription makes far more money for MS than it costs it.