Over the past two decades, the networking equipment industry has experienced rapid growth and expansion as businesses worldwide continue to make substantial network infrastructure investments. Despite this industry attaining maturity, it remains riddled with numerous malpractices reminiscent of old-world cartel-like behavior where corporations collude to increase their collective profits through rehearsed messaging, price fixing and other restrictive practices.
There are hundreds of companies that manufacture networking hardware and software with larger players like Cisco, Nortel Networks, Juniper Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya and HP dominating this market and setting the tone for the overarching trends that prevail.
There are two basic business models for software manufacturers:
Open-Source Software – is offered free-of-charge with best effort support for bug fixes. Customers that require dedicated on-going software support can purchase support contracts from several third-party providers.
Proprietary Software – is offered on a for-fee basis whereby the customer pays the manu- facturer for use of the software and in return enjoys free on-going support for all the embed- ded features in the software.
Unfortunately, networking equipment manufacturers (NEMs) continue to fraudulently extort billions of dollars annually from their customers by propagating the perception that customers that have paid for software licenses have to also pay additional fees to obtain fixes to defects found in such software.
The leading NEMs have realized that their status of quasi- monopoly in providing maintenance services allows them to get away with malpractices that forced customers to either buy their software support service contracts or suffer the consequences.
The Myths and the Malpractices
The 90-day Software Warranty: The warranty implies that any hardware or software defect reported by customers within 90 days of product purchase will be replaced by the manufacturer typically within 10 business days of the manufacturer receiving the defective component. Customers without a manufacturer support contract will be declined support for defects reported beyond the 90-day warranty period.
Mandatory-Maintenance-Contract-for-Software-Bug-Fixes. Customers cannot obtain software bug fixes unless their software – which is bundled with the hardware – is under maintenance contract with the manufacturer. If customers decide to turn down the NEM service contract offered at the hardware point of sale, they are informed that they will be denied software bug fixes after the 90-day warranty period unless they pay exorbitant fees of between US$300/hour.
Inherent-Software-Bugs. In addition to inherent bugs in the code and unlike hardware, there is no wear and tear in software. Put differently, it is impossible for users of any kind of software to introduce defects into the software from overuse of the software. Therefore, if a bug is discovered in software 20 years after its original purchase, it must have come with the original purchase or was introduced during an upgrade.
Non-Transferable-Software-Licenses. Today, networking equipment operating system software licenses are not transferable. This means that if a customer buys an operating system software, installs it on a network hardware and decides to give it away or sell it in future, the recipient will have to re-pay the manufacturer for the same operating system software license. This is like asking the new owner of a pre-owned car to pay the manufacturer software license fees for use of the on-board navigation system.
Denial-of-Product-Documentation-for-New-Equipment. Some network equipment manufacturers still deny customers access to new product documentation, software super-user levels (in-depth debug-level software terminal access useful for troubleshooting) or complete access to the product software interface for configuration purposes unless they purchase support contracts along with the software licenses. As with the aforementioned malpractices, this behavior is not only unethical, it is illegal.
The proposed solutions
Free Lifetime Software Support Warranty. It is impossible to test tens of thousands of operating system software features for defects across limitless network scenarios within 90 days. And since defects are inherent in all software along with the fact that there is no wear- and-tear in software, customers should enjoy a no-strings-attached free lifetime support warranty for all operating and application software bug fixes.
Sell Software a-la-carte. All software should be completely unbundled from hardware and sold a-la-carte on a per-feature basis just like music is sold today on a per-track basis on iTunes.
Transferable Software Licenses. Networking equipment operating system software licenses should be transferable the same way Microsoft operating system software is transferable on the following conditions:
1.The original owner deletes all prior copies of the software
2.The new owner agrees to the manufacturer End-User-License-Agreement
Proactive Software Updates. Networking equipment manufacturers should proactively notify their customers of software defects so that they can review and take necessary preventive actions before their business is negatively impacted from a preventable network outage.
The aforementioned malpractices have helped network equipment manufacturers skim billions of dollars away from their customers fraudulently over the past decades by forcing them to pay for bug fixes in proprietary software that customers purchase. These companies have built a financial and business model around maintaining the face-value legitimacy of paying for software maintenance.
It is time to put an end to this industry-wide malpractice. Customers worldwide should wake up and demand their fundamental software right to a no-fee, no-strings-attached lifetime support warranty for all proprietary network equipment operating system software before renewing their support contracts or purchasing new hardware and software.
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