How The Channel Can Smooth 'End Of Life' Transitions

For many companies, IT budgets follow the Pareto Principle where 80 percent of spend involves keeping the lights on while the remaining 20 percent goes towards new and innovative solutions.

A big chunk of that 80 percent often goes into what we in the IT industry call “legacy” products – those tools that have been around a long time and that may still fulfill a role within the business. When vendors retire or no longer support those legacy products, it is often challenging for companies to retire or migrate them internally.

Microsoft is the biggest example of a company where technology gets to end of life and has to be replaced to remain supported. Windows XP on the desktop side represented a huge opportunity for the channel, while projects around Windows Server continue to attract revenue. However, there are other smaller, yet important, products that come to the end of their support timeframes.

Replacing these products may not generate the big, headline catching projects that XP represented, but they do impact the customer organization, particularly where security is concerned.

End of life products don’t receive security patches or other updates, so there is a risk in continuing with these tools over time. Sticking with out of date solutions should be seen as a big risk.

This can be particularly challenging when certain technology tools or products are embedded within wider suites or solutions. While the suite may be supported, an element within it may not.

As an example, a remote access tool might be included as standard within a desktop management product. When that access tool is no longer supported, will the customer realize risk by keeping with the status quo? Will they require advice on what the situation really is?

Some customers will require education on what the issues are and how the migration can be managed. For others, there may be a particular reason why that out of date tool remains in place. Understanding this issue – whether it is a current lack of budget for making the change, perceived risk around downtime, or a more personal or “emotional” investment in that tool – will help begin the process for justifying the migration.

While this might not be the wider revenue potential that an operating system migration project would represent, end of life solutions should provide opportunities for consulting and services around what options are available to the group of customers that are using that product. This can involve going through what options are open, from carrying out the necessary update through to more wide-ranging replacement projects.

These kinds of projects can provide opportunities to revisit existing customers as well. Not all customers will be on the latest and greatest version of a product, even if that update is included as part of maintenance agreements.

While some companies may not move for specific reasons, this can mean that they are missing out on new functionality and improvements. At the same time, getting into discussions around updates can uncover new pain points and areas where the customer needs help too, whether these are related to the upgrade project or not.

For vendors, helping channel partners around migration projects that get existing customers up to the latest version of a product provides two benefits. First, for end of life products, it reduces the risk of potential security gaps. However, the second benefit is that it ensures customers take advantage of any update or upgrade options provided; which means customers are more likely to remain on maintenance and stick with the product, rather than looking at other options in the future.

For companies involved in this kind of scenario, building out documentation and best practice processes for the migration can really help partners convince their customers to move over and ensure that any update goes smoothly. At the same time, it’s important that removing end of life tech does not impact customer employee productivity and performance.

The long-term benefit of getting all customers off legacy technology is that the cost for support is reduced for both the vendor and the customer. Customers do have to consider the expense for supporting out of date technology, while there are also security risks that should be factored in. When updates are made available as part of current licensing contracts, it’s important to remove any areas that block these migration paths, whether they are technology-related or more personal in nature.

Stuart Facey is vice president of International at Bomgar.