Organizations purchase software service level agreements as a means of preventing downtime and ensuring that when the unexpected occurs, there is a clear path to resolution. In addition to increased uptime, businesses want reassurance that they will have access to bug fixes, patches, and updates. However, most companies do not understand what is OEM software and if the support they want is available for purchase outside of an SLA and that some aspects are even included in the purchase price of the device or software.
The phrase ‘SLA’ often gets overloaded with a number of terms that may or may not be what you expect. - (Click to Tweet)
What is OEM Software?
The support included in a software purchase is often buried in the fine print. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) know that very few organizations invest the time and resources needed to review each software purchase contract thoroughly, so they hide their entitled OEM support clauses in the fine print.
In some cases, the OEMs software support is explained by the company’s policies and procedures, yet the organization fails to educate their own sales team on these aspects of support or promotes an environment in which this information is purposely under-shared with clients and authorized resellers.
The less their clients know about the OEM support that is included in the purchase of their OEM agreement software and about their ability to access bug fixes, patches, and updates outside of an SLA, the more an OEM profits from the sale of SLAs. It’s that simple.
Education is what you get from reading the fine print. Experience is what you get from not reading it. – (Click to Tweet)
How Antitrust Laws Are Influencing OEM Software Support
The most common discussion of antitrust laws and software revolve around pirated software. Pirated software is provided by a third-party (not the OEM) and used without a license. What is unique in this scenario is that, unlike most stolen property, the stolen software can still be used by the rightful owner.
In a typical theft scenario, the victim no longer has access to the stolen property. When a digital theft occurs, both the victim and the thief can use the software. To limit their exposure and guard against supporting stolen software, OEMs implement complex software support policies. However, these policies are subject to antitrust laws.
Antitrust Laws Prevent Bundling of Some Services
First, it is unlawful to bundle hardware and software support and offer it as the only option of support. Software users have the option of purchasing software support apart from hardware support.
Second, it is a common misconception to believe that software users must purchase a service level agreement to gain access to software fixes. In reality, there are very few conditions in which this is permissible by law.
When a piece of software is sold, there is an expectation that the software is free from defect. However, in the software world, we know that this is not always the case. In fact, software defects are present at the time of purchase; they are inherent in the code. Even though the defect may not show itself until after the warranty period has expired, there is still an onus on the OEM to repair the defect.
This means that software clients do have access to software support outside of a typical SLA. All OEM policies allow for this, even though it is often buried in the fine print. In fact, Cisco routinely releases bug fix documentation on their site to ensure that licensed users of their software have access to these fixes. However, it is up to the client to check for the bug, how to lawfully procure it and implement the fix.
Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the law. - (Click to Tweet)
How Software Type Impacts Support
For SaaS products, support is typically available as long as the subscription is active. In network applications, this is commonly seen in intrusion prevention subscriptions (IPS). An IPS provides businesses with access to continually updated threat definitions.
As additional hacker threats are identified, the IPS is updated to provide maximum protection against hackers for as long as the subscription is active.
Operating system support is different, and this is where overspends most often occur. To start, it is important to note that all registered, licensed OS end users have the right to purchase a patched version of code to resolve an inherent software issue.
In addition, end users can also purchase updates outside of an SLA. Not understanding that OEMs do allow registered, licensed users to buy patches and upgrades leads to the purchase of many, unnecessary software SLAs.
In fact, nearly all software patches, bug fixes, and updates are available for sale, and many are available at no cost.
Earn your success based on service to others, not at the expense of others. – (Click to Tweet)
When Can You Get Free OEM Support?
In many cases, commercial grade license sets sold by OEMs include free access to bug fixes, updates, and patches for licensed users. However, it is often difficult to quickly realize which contracts include this support because the price of software contracts that include free access to bug fixes, updates, and patches do not differ substantially from those that do not.
In fact, the contracts for operating system software that includes this level of support rarely includes service level language, making it even more difficult to pick out which contracts include some level of free support.
Since many companies purchase software SLAs just to gain access to bug fixes, updates, and patches, understanding which contracts include the coverage can create significant savings.
Fixes for security vulnerabilities are often available at no cost to the end user and outside of commercial grade license sets.
An example of this is the Heartbleed vulnerability that was discovered in April 2014; which allowed attackers to access sensitive information present on thousands of web servers, including those running major sites like Yahoo, Instagram, and Google.
This vulnerability affected a significant amount of networking and computer equipment and OEMs were quick to create a patch and provide to all impacted users for free.
Image Credit: xkcd
Understanding OEM software support that is included your contract and knowing that most licensed users have, at a minimum, the ability to purchase upgrades, bug fixes, and patches outside of an SLA can create significant cost-savings and prevent the purchase of unnecessary software SLAs.
If you are unsure about the support included in your software contract, contact a knowledgeable, experienced support expert that can evaluate your support needs and provide you with best-fit SLA recommendations.