The decision to purchase a maintenance and support contract is often a tough one, especially if you are on a tight budget. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where saving money in one place can often cost more in the long run. Maintenance costs on certain pieces of equipment like wireless controllers or core switches can be quite expensive, but hardware does fail. If key equipment fails and you do not have maintenance, you will be forced to purchase new equipment and justify the extended downtime. Alternatively, if you have a maintenance contract on that equipment and there is a hardware failure, most manufacturers will ship you a new one free of charge within a couple of days (depending on your location). If your internal network is considered a mission-critical service for your district, you should consider purchasing a maintenance contract on the important equipment.
Maintenance contracts may not be cost-effective for all pieces of equipment, however. EducationSuperHighway recommends that you purchase maintenance contracts for wireless controllers, management systems, and core network equipment in the datacenter, but not APs and access switches. Most installations will have such a high number of these that purchasing maintenance for all of them becomes cost-prohibitive. Instead, we recommend purchasing an extra 3-5% of APs and a few extra access switches to act as spares. That way, if an AP fails, you can simply replace it immediately with the spare on hand. Do keep in mind that spare equipment is not eligible for E-rate, so you must have the budget to pay full cost for spares.
There are many different flavors of maintenance and support contracts. They offer varying levels of hardware replacement, technical support, and software support. Depending on how urgently you may need support or hardware replacement, many manufacturers offer replacements delivered to your door from 2-48 hours after an outage is reported (availability dependent on location). Logically, the maintenance costs increase as the delivery times decrease, so many districts choose a “Next Business Day” contract to stay within budget.
It is also important to be aware that some manufacturers offer lifetime warranty on their equipment which includes maintenance and support. This can be a significant cost savings so it is worth asking your vendor which solutions include these services as part of the warranty.
Many maintenance contracts also include technical support, which is critical for the long-term stability of your network. Some manufacturers are known for having stellar technical support, while others are lacking. Since this is such an important factor, you should ask your vendor for customer references. Most vendors will be happy to provide you with a reference and many will even provide you the reference of another similarly sized or similarly located school district. Ask the references about their purchasing experience, support availability and quality, and consider adjusting your maintenance purchases accordingly.
Another way to decipher the quality of a technical support group is to ask your manufacturer directly about the quality of their support and how it compares with competitors in the industry. Typically, you will get an answer that emphasizes their own strengths and tactfully highlights competitors’ weaknesses. Of course, much of this information can be taken with a grain of salt, but sometimes they can surface useful stories.
In addition to purchasing OEM maintenance plans, some districts also procure additional support with a managed service provider. These services can be used as an additional layer of support for your district and are usually billed on an hourly basis. While such services can greatly assist your district with challenging technical problems, they may not be a cost-effective option when working with a limited budget. If you are using these services as a replacement for in-house technical staff, you may want to explore managed wi-fi as an alternative.