Update: Microsoft offers new time-sensitive support service

Microsoft promises to pay a financial penalty if it doesn't reach its service-level goals for its new Premier Mission Critical Support service

Microsoft for the first time has said it will pay a financial penalty if it doesn't reach its service-level goals for a technical support product.

A new service called Premier Mission Critical Support is now available, to which Microsoft has attached a 30-minute response-time guarantee, said Bryan Belmont, general manager of Microsoft Services' support and health division.

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If a customer reports a problem, Microsoft will have to respond within 30 minutes to report it is working on the problem. If it doesn't, Microsoft has to pay a fine to the customer, he said.

Microsoft works out the fine amount on a customer-by-customer basis and factors in how many times Microsoft fails to meet the time requirement, Belmont said. The fines increase the more Microsoft misses its target, he added.

Microsoft has given itself some margin for error, however. The company won't be fined if it meets its guarantee 90 percent or more of the time, Belmont said. Moreover, a customer will receive a larger credit if, for example, Microsoft only meets the guarantee 75 percent of the time versus 85 percent of the time, he said.

The time element is key to Premier Mission Critical Support, which Microsoft designed based on customer feedback to provide support for applications such as stock-trading, reservation or billing systems that need to be available all the time, Belmont said.

These applications "can't afford to go down, and when they do go down [customers want] us to help them bring them back up," he said.

Belmont added that customers wanted tangible proof -- some "skin in the game," if you will -- that Microsoft is committed to providing a fast response time on mission-critical support issues.

Only customers who already subscribe to Microsoft's Premier Plus or Premier Ultimate support are eligible for the new support offering, which covers SQL Server and Windows Server, Belmont said. These customers tend to be enterprise customers who have a strategic investment in Microsoft software.

In addition to a fine-based service level agreement, the new support offering also provides customers with a dedicated team of engineers. The customers can reach that team on a specially assigned phone number so they don't have to go through the usual channels at Microsoft technical support, he said.

Additionally, customers will get priority access to a development team that can write custom code if necessary to fix a problem, Belmont said. "They will go to the front of the line," he said.

The service ranges in price from about $200,000 to $1 million per year depending on the size of the customer's deployment. For example, a customer with a mission-critical application running on one instance of SQL Server would probably pay about $200,000 for Premier Mission Critical Support, Belmont said.

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