The sad, curious, and brain-dead demise of TechNet subscriptions

I'm sure that well-meaning people were present in whatever Microsoft conference room in Redmond when they decided to terminate the TechNet program. But I wonder if they understood the impact that this decision will have on the many people who use TechNet as a fundamental part of their Microsoft-centric ecosystem? And if TechNet goes away, how many will invest in MSDN and how many will look elsewhere. Is there anywhere elsewhere or does Microsoft have people over a barrel here? Making your supporters unhappy seems like a brain-dead decision to me.

I like to think that I am not one of the “enterprise fanboys” referred to by ZDNet's Ed Bott when he wrote about the curious decision taken by Microsoft to phase out TechNet subscriptions, but I am still upset, largely because I think this is a brain-dead decision by the world’s largest software company.

You can still buy or renew a subscription up to August 31, 2013 but after that it’s goodnight and thank you. Current subscribers, like me, will continue to be able to use the program’s benefits until subscriptions expire. And after that we’ll be forced to either take out an MSDN subscription if we want to have access to Microsoft technology or download time-limited evaluation versions. Neither option is a good solution for many people who work with Microsoft technology on a daily basis.

The decision won’t affect enterprise customers as they will continue to use volume licenses. It will affect third-party consultants, developers, and writers who depend on TechNet for access to software that they can use for evaluation and learning, to make recommendations to customers, and to write about technology. I have relied on TechNet for years to download different versions of Windows, Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, and many other products, most of which I have written about here. I’ve used labs created with these products to learn about their strengths and weaknesses so that I can have intelligent discussions with customers and other interested parties. In short, I depend on TechNet.

MSDN is certainly an option, but only if you’re prepared to pay a huge increase over TechNet. Some estimate the increase at five or six times the equivalent TechNet fee. For example, if you examine the MSDN subscriptions page, to gain access to Windows, Exchange, and Office, it seems like I’d need “Visual Studio Premium with MSDN”, costing a not inconsiderable $6,119 annually. I could care less about Visual Studio and much of the other stuff that comes with MSDN but that doesn’t matter.

What about using evaluation editions? That’s certainly a way to get hold of Microsoft products for test purposes, but only for limited periods. The problem here is that many projects take longer than the usual 180 days allowed for evaluation, which means that you get into a perpetual cycle of rebuilding labs. This is certainly a wonderful way of filling in long weekend hours if not a method of keeping peace within the family. Exchange gets a pass on this point because although an unlicensed server will generate nagging messages after 180 days, it still continues to work.

TechNet is often used to gain product knowledge. Apparently the new way is to acquire knowledge through Microsoft Virtual Academy, which isn’t quite the same as gaining the hands-on burnt-in experience from going through product installation and configuration a few times and having the chance to fall into whatever traps are caused by prerequisite patches and odd installation instructions. These things just don’t happen when cameras are present. In any case, there is no substitute for real-life experience.

Microsoft might have a problem with software piracy and probably are some people who have illegally reused software obtained through TechNet in the past. Brown smelly stuff happens in the real world but that’s no reason to impose extra cost and pain on the millions of others who keep to the rules – especially as the TechNet community is probably as strong a group of Microsoft supporters as you’re likely to find. Instead of making their supporters unhappy, you’d imagine that someone in Redmond would know how to come up with an elegant, functional, and effective software solution to piracy that allows the rest of us to continue working without hindrance. Or maybe that’s too much to ask for.

I guess all of this won’t matter when we have been absorbed by the cloud. After all, the cloud promises to provide endless evergreen software delivered in a seamless manner with all of that mundane product installation workload done automatically. Alas, I suspect that the promised nirvana will not be attained any time soon, despite Microsoft’s desire to force the issue. And small matters like PRISM make the cloud less attractive, especially for a service like Office 365 delivered by U.S. companies.

If you think that Microsoft should keep TechNet or create an affordable MSDN option to replace TechNet, then you should sign this online petition (more than 8,000 have signed to date). Microsoft might just listen to the most loyal and faithful portion of their installed base. They might just… for once.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 17

on Aug 1, 2013


An executive pointed out to me this week that publicly traded companies are subject to Sarbanes Oxley which prevents them from storing sensitive data in the cloud.


Cody Skidmore

on Aug 1, 2013

Quote "I think this is a brain-dead decision by the world’s largest software company" ...
Tony you are not joining my camp I hope ... I need opposition ...
Seriously ... this is not the only one decision in question ...

on Aug 1, 2013


This executive should do a bit more research on SOX ... it does not prevent you from doing anything.
You can store data anywhere you want as long as it is secure and adequate controls are in place.

on Aug 1, 2013

Quote "They might just… for once" correction:
#2 Start Button is back (sort of)
#3 Increased limit of databases back to 100 in Exchange 2013.
We have to have some fun Tony ...

on Aug 1, 2013

@Cody, I'm not aware of any SOX requirement that would prevent a company storing data like email on a cloud service. Given that almost every Fortune 500 company is using one cloud service or another, you can anticipate that some lawyers have investigated any legal, regulatory, or other requirement that these companies have to meet and concluded that cloud services are, in fact, OK.

on Aug 1, 2013

Can you provide references to companies storing stock transactions, medical records, or financial and demographic data such as insurance companies use?

Hosting services on Azure related to actuarial data is one example I've seen, but SOX lawyers said sensitive data had to remain inside our network.

I checked the case study page. There's a reference to Blue Cross using back-end mobile services to find health care providers. Beyond that, most of the examples are about websites, gaming, or marketing.

If there are lots of companies using cloud services sensitive data, I'd like to know about it. Where are the examples?

on Aug 1, 2013

I'd like to clarify my question. What I'm asking for are entities actually storing sensitive data in the cloud. I've read articles about some hospitals using cloud services for instance, but they don't indicate if data is warehoused in the cloud or transit.

on Aug 1, 2013

Cody, I can give you a data point regarding sensitive data in the cloud. I used to work for an email hosting company that ran all the messaging for Microsoft's employee health care portal. It handled communications between Microsoft employees and their doctors and pharmacists. Microsoft was not allowed to run the system themselves because it would give them access to their own employees' health care information. But they were fine with outsourcing the whole thing to the cloud (back before anyone called it "the cloud") for several years.

That same hosting company counted many banks, credit unions, mortgage companies, other financial institutions, law firms, and even a couple of state governments among its customers.

on Aug 1, 2013

@Cody, I think this is a question that is best directed to the cloud vendors. I don't hold case studies or have user references for Microsoft, Google, or any other provider and I cannot publicize engagements that I have been personally involved with due to confidentiality etc. What I would do is a) create a set of questions that clearly capture your concerns and then b) provide those questions to the cloud providers who you think might be able to provide a service to you and see what they come back with. I will say that it is my experience that all of the cloud providers have done sterling work over the last five years or so to ensure that they can meet all sorts of audit, quality, privacy and regulatory requirements, so you should be able to get some information there. Sorry for appearing to be what might seem to be evasive, but you're really looking for consulting or sales information here.

on Aug 1, 2013

@Cody, Maybe this would be a starting point for your investigation:

on Aug 1, 2013

I signed the petition, but I doubt it will have any impact. I remember signing a similar "please don't" petition to keep Visual Basic a Basic syntax language, but it fell on deaf ears...

Ah well, life moves on...nowadays I spend most of my development time deep in Objective-C for Apple products, but had Microsoft given me an option, I'd still be working in true Visual Basic...

on Aug 1, 2013

With Microsoft this perhaps:

on Aug 3, 2013

There is a stunning contrast to how Microsoft is treating its SysOps and how it treats its devs. Yes, they need apps developed. But looking at both recent tech shows, the devs got over $1000 worth of free stuff at Build and the only thing the SysOps got was the privilege to buy a couple of Surfaces after waiting in a 4 hour long line and missing half a day of training. And they could have announced that TechNet was going away at TechEd, but of course the cowardly thing to do would be to wait till all the SysOps went home then announce it, after giving away millions of dollars with of gifts to the devs.

Am I bitter? Nope. Am I going to be a cheerleader for Microsoft at my company? Nope. Do I have influence on, well really, about a million+ EA that my company has cont. to not sign? Yes. Will I promote the EA? Nope.

Keep generating that good will there Microsoft.

on Aug 4, 2013

@RannXerox, a guess a very cynical observation is that you need far fewer operations people when services move to the cloud, but you absolutely need developers to move applications to Azure or whatever your favorite cloud platform might be. No more needs to be said.

on Aug 5, 2013

Seems to me like the solution would be a cloud based service with license keys that are specific to cloud installs and not usable on physical hardware. Set up all the environments you like on their servers. Provide for dummy files and email to test migrations etc. The setups are perpetual so long as pay subscription. For instances when you need a physical install locally to test create separate licenses that require frequent connectivity to that particular, licensed environment. A lot of work on Microsoft's end but would put down piracy and provide possibly greater test environments for freelancers that can't afford equipment to run so many environments.

on Aug 5, 2013

@oblio9, good suggestion but it would only work in places where sufficient network capacity exists. That's still not the case all around the world - or even all round the U.S. It also means that the network would have to be available every time you want to do any work - which is also not the case from time to time. I certainly have run a small (4) set of servers on my laptop that is totally isolated from the Internet.

on Aug 8, 2013

@ Cody Skidmore
If you feel Public Cloud is not secure, then no need to put your Emails or data in the Public Cloud. Make it simple for yourself and go Private Cloud / On-Premises. Today many are concern about NSA PRISM and backdoor access to Public Cloud servers.

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Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro. His latest books are Office 365 for Exchange Professionals (eBook, May 2015) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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