There is nothing more frustrating than having to come up with money that you were not expecting to spend. Software maintenance cost is one of those things that can rear its ugly head up and surprise you. One of the big questions administrators and decision makers need to ask is: “How long will we be using this software?” Chances are, the answer to this question just depends.

So many factors go into this question including determining if it is still somewhat of a trial; is it near the end of the line for its use; or are there organizational factors such as an acquisition or downsizing in the future? Specific title functions also come into play, such as how the software vendor handles maintenance agreements. There is an entirely separate conversation about what you get for the money. Many IT professionals are not entirely satisfied with most software, including support. Be sure to see Michael Kassner’s post: “Buggy software: Why do we accept it?”

Let’s be honest, IT budgets are always under scrutiny and an expense such as software maintenance isn’t exactly viewed as a critical path to profitability for most organizations. Most software maintenance renewals allow organizations to primarily get support and updates. While each offering will differ, these two are viewed as the most important parts of most software maintenance offerings. Occasionally, these agreements will include other deliverables such as professional services engagements and credits for training. These extra perks aren’t exactly thrown in for free, but can be sometimes more easily funded when bundled with maintenance agreements.

My preference is to go for a longer amount of time in the renewal for a software title that you know you are going to use for the long-haul. Examples here include a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement or a VMware renewal. These are available for one, two, or three years and can make each renewal a focused capital project. In a sense, I would strive to apply the same hardware warranty practice I apply to servers (three years as well) to software maintenance agreements.

New purchases can also give administrators this type of choice as well in how long the software maintenance term is with a new purchase. This may be a way to right the ship on future purchases if one-year terms are usually selected.

How do you prefer to manage the renewal of software maintenance agreements? Share your comments below.