Have you ever lost a client because you were stumped on a technical problem with nowhere to turn for guidance? Have you ever lost your entire service margin and more on a project because you needed to place several Microsoft support incidents at $195 each? Has a technical problem stumped you to the point that your professional credibility was on the line? If you’re a technology provider in the United States or Canada, Microsoft has heard you and has just announced an attractive solution. Last Tuesday, Microsoft Direct Access (MSDA) officially unveiled a free support program for value-added providers (VAPs) and Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSPs). Through this program, called Business Critical Phone Support (BCPS), MSDA gives VAPs in the United States and Canada exclusive access to immediate, unlimited technical phone support. Previously offered at $195 per incident, BCPS is free of charge and open to approximately 325,000 North American VAPs. This is part of a $30 million investment that MSDA is making in free technical support. The new phone support program complements and builds on an existing MSDA program, launched this past October, which provides free, unlimited support to VAPs via a moderated newsgroup. VAPs are using the newsgroups and gave them high marks in a recent independent study. On behalf of MSDA, Decisive Technology surveyed 1100 newsgroup users and found that 87 percent of the VAPs were satisfied with the accuracy and timeliness of the free newsgroup support. In addition, 80 percent of the VAPs surveyed felt that these newsgroups directly affected their confidence level in recommending and deploying Microsoft solutions. Nigel Burton, director of small-business and VAP programs for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, says, “This new support offering \[BCPS\] is the No. 1 request we’ve received from the channel.” BCPS is restricted to “business down” types of problems that impact clients. According to the MSDA Web site and calls to the hotline number, day-to-day support needs, non-mission-critical support requests, and developer tool support requests should still go to the support newsgroups. Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) staff these newsgroups 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Users can view the newsgroups from HTML browsers and Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP)-compliant newsreaders. To participate in the BCPS program, VAPs must fill out a brief, online enrollment form on the MSDA Web site to receive their free Phone Support ID. Initially, I thought immediate, unlimited, free phone support might be too good to be true. So I decided to test BCPS with a business critical issue. One of my small-business clients was having a major problem with Proxy Server 2.0. The Outlook 98 and Outlook Express POP3 mail applications were no longer able to go through Proxy Server to retrieve mail from the ISP. Yet desktops could still reach the Proxy Server by pinging and drive mapping and were able to successfully browse Web sites through Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0. Because Web browsing functioned properly, I traced the problem to the Winsock proxy, but I was stumped on how to remedy the lack of Winsock connectivity. After a few days of Microsoft TechNet research and rounds of suggestions on the MSDA support newsgroup, my client was getting impatient so I decided to try BCPS. I placed the support request at 1 P.M. EDT last Thursday. Within five minutes, BCPS answered, logged, triaged, and assigned a caller ID number. BCPS then transferred me to a PSS engineer who specializes in Proxy Server. The PSS engineer had me run chkwsp32, telnet sessions, and ipconfig. As expected, all the basic configuration settings looked normal. We were also able to telnet externally from the Proxy Server console, although not from clients on the LAN. Next, the PSS engineer told me to check the local address table (LAT). The engineer initially thought the LAT settings were fine; however, after another half-hour of client configuration and after calling in additional PSS staff, we discovered the LAT settings were the problem. After I removed the extraneous internal address ranges, Winsock proxy applications and Web browsing worked. Within 90 minutes, my client was back in business and the support call was free. For more information on MSDA BCPS and free support newsgroups, visit http://www.microsoft.com/directaccess. Send your comments and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.