Let users make their own upgrade decisions

I doubt many IT managers look forward to new releases of software. Along with the pain of having to assess whether the changes or...

I doubt many IT managers look forward to new releases of software. Along with the pain of having to assess whether the changes or improvements merit an upgrade, they have to contend with a software time-bomb.

With each new software release the clock starts ticking: within four to five years the previous release, which may well be running successfully today within the business, will become more or less useless.

Why? It is because most software suppliers will not provide support on a product five years after it goes out of production. I can understand why. It is financially impossible to support older versions of software in a meaningful manner.

So why not run it unsupported? IT experts generally advise against such a strategy as it puts the business in a precarious position: if the software fails; if there is a security issue, who will plug the hole.

The industry's option for users is the extended support agreement. Extended support is not indefinite. The primary goal for the supplier is to give users enough time to migrate onto the latest version of their software. And it is not cheap.

In the past few weeks Microsoft has made a spectacular change to its stated policy on Windows NT 4.0 - extending standard support for a further year. Anyone who has already paid for extended support should feel mighty angry as the extra year's support is only being charged at Microsoft's standard support rate. So there is also a case for refraining from buying extended support, as the supplier may change its support strategy.

As users mull over their choices one thing is clear - they need to raise any concerns on support for older products with their suppliers as early as possible. Generally, the industry will only support a product for five years. But user pressure has forced both Oracle and Microsoft to extend support.

Ultimately all organisations need to upgrade their software, but businesses should work to their own change-management procedures and agenda and not have change driven by the software industry.

Cliff Saran is managing editor (technology) of Computer Weekly.

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