Deprecations and discontinuations: What's a Microsoft customer to do?

Feeling like more Microsoft products and features are meeting untimely 'retirements'? You're not alone. But there may be ways to try to blunt the impact.
Two Dynamics 365 users discussing a report

Deprecated vs. discontinued. End of support vs. end of life. It's a tough job trying to keep track of when Microsoft software, services and features are "retiring," to use the company's euphemism for being dropped.

Lately, it feels to many of us here at Directions on Microsoft that Microsoft is stepping up the pace of moving products and features out to pasture. Maybe it's because, like many of the company's customers, Microsoft is trying to support fewer products and features in the name of "doing more with less." Whatever the reason, it's a good opportunity for organizations to reflect on what these phase-outs can mean beyond the obvious and how to try to reduce their impact.

Many customers were hoping moving to Microsoft’s cloud would magically remove (or at least diminish) the impact of upgrades. But technology moves forward and just like the on-premises days of old, advancements mean major components are retired and replaced and customers must perform upgrades themselves. The big difference now is the timing. Under the Modern Lifecycle Policy, Microsoft (the vendor) dictates when upgrades happen, rather than the customer. And it’s on a schedule that benefits Microsoft, rather than the customer.

Here's a recent example: There's a fairly key feature in Dynamics 365 Customer Service called Intraday Insights which Microsoft is retiring very soon. On April 28, officials contacted users telling them the feature would be deprecated sometime in the future. Three days later, on May 1, the feature was deprecated. Surprise! Although customers can continue using the feature for the next year, on October 31, 2023 — six months from now — Microsoft is ending support.

Did Microsoft do anything counter to its promise of giving customers 12 months' notice about a feature going away? No. In fact, Microsoft has a replacement product at the ready: It's new Omnichannel Real-Time Analytics Reports product, which it just happened to release in late April (the time Microsoft originally contacted Intraday Insights users about the planned obsolescence of the product.)

Customers now have an unplanned, and unbudgeted IT project to migrate from one reporting solution to another in a service they are already using. This migration is going to take both IT and business staff away from other business-focused efforts that are probably more important to their companies for several weeks. Try explaining the value of that to executives. Welcome to the Modern Lifecycle.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Jim Gaynor notes that under Microsoft's Modern Lifecycle Policy, Microsoft must provide a minimum of 12 months' notification prior to ending support "if no successor product or service is offered -- excluding free services or preview releases."

The Modern Lifecycle Policy also states: "For products and services governed by the Modern Lifecycle Policy, unless otherwise noted, Microsoft's policy is to provide a minimum 30 days' notification when customers are required to take action in order to avoid significant degradation to the normal use of the product or service."

In the case of Intraday Insights, Microsoft checks both boxes.

Does this mean the company's policies in these cases are pro-customer? Definitely not.

The devil is in the details when it comes to deprecation and discontinuation announcements. "Deprecate" might not mean what a customer thinks and/or may be used inconsistently by Microsoft. Organizations need to dissect whether a service is no longer being "improved," whether it will eventually be shut off entirely or in part; and whether there is a viable substitute (and how much effort, time and money is required to make it work).

Some companies have policies in place that specify they cannot run unsupported software. That means regardless of whether a product or feature is still present, if it's not supported, that can mean it's a no-go. Six months isn't a long period to decide on a successor product, test and validate it and migrate to it. This kind of rapid change is disruptive and costly.

Organizations need to remember "it's Microsoft's cloud and you're just relying on it for your entire business," says Directions analyst Gaynor. "Live in fear and keep that wallet open."

Customers need to be aware that at any time, you may be given a 30-day notice to take action such as changes to supporting systems, loss of compatibility with interoperating services, or refactored deployment practices or established business processes, to avoid “significant degradation” to your use of a Microsoft product/service, Gaynor noted.

And at any time, you may be given only 12 months’ notice that a Microsoft product/service you rely on will be discontinued without a replacement. While you may be able to continue using unsupported products, services are likely to be shut down and no longer available, giving you only 12 months to evaluate, select, implement, and migrate to a replacement service, he added.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry adds customers should keep these realities in mind when negotiating their licensing contracts with Microsoft.

"The problem is that few if any of these 'policies' get implemented as specific clauses or amendments to the contracts," Cherry said. "These 'promises' should be incorporated into the service level agreements specifically, with both the promise and the consideration."