Microsoft has become enamored of premium product offerings over the years.  As is the case with its PC maker partners, the trend is pragmatic: The company has noticed that its best customers don't mind spending a little more to get more value, even if that value is more perception than reality (as is the case with, say, Windows Vista Ultimate). Witness the burgeoning number of product editions in various Microsoft product families, such as the Windows client, Windows Server, and even SQL Server.

This trend toward multiple product editions has recently reached into surprising areas. Microsoft has always offered Standard and Premium editions of its Small Business Server (SBS) product line, so it's no surprise that it should offer a similar lineup for its midmarket-oriented Essential Business Server (EBS) suite. But new to these 2008 entries is a bifurcated client access license (CAL) model as well. That's right: Microsoft is offering both Standard and Premium CALs for these products now. The company says that its larger ("better"?) customers will end up paying less overall as a result. But let's be serious. SBS 2008 is more expensive than its predecessor by an appreciable amount for many customers. I assume those who will upgrade feel that the additional cost is worth it.

This week, Microsoft announced that it's taking the premium product offering to a new extreme: The company is now offering a new entry in its Premier Support "family" called Premier Ultimate. (Of course.) Microsoft describes Premier Ultimate as "the top offering within the Premier Support portfolio. It is available to select customers committed to attaining IT health through deep collaboration with Microsoft. Premier Ultimate allows Microsoft to partner with customers to develop a roadmap to IT health through assessment, prescriptive guidance and remediation services and deliver unlimited problem resolution services, all for a fixed price."

More specifically, Premier Ultimate combines the current Premier feature set with unlimited problem resolution support. The latter of which comes complete with an asterisk pointing to the following note: "May be subject to restrictions." This begs the question: Doesn't unlimited suggest literally no restrictions?

I've been spending a lot of time at the gym lately, and I have to say, Premier Ultimate sounds like a personal trainer for your IT infrastructure. Check out the language used by Luca Barone, the general manager of Support and Health Offerings for Microsoft Services, to describe the service. "We are investing alongside our customers to plot an individualized road map to a mature and healthy IT infrastructure, while sharing the risks and responsibilities of optimizing their software investments."

What Microsoft's customers are going to really need first is a road map to the software giant's explosion of new products and services. This type of strategy will only lead to more confusion; Microsoft shows no signs of doing anything other than increasing their collection of premium offerings.

Confused? Join the club. And check out Microsoft's Enterprise Support site for more information ... If you think you're good enough, that is.
http://www.microsoft.com/services/microsoftservices/srv_enterprise.mspx