Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 7/16/2013 | 10 comments

Andrew Froehlich
Many of the Microsoft administrators who I've talked to are up in arms regarding the announcement that Microsoft is winding down their popular TechNet subscription service and feel as if the company is abandoning IT administrators -- or at least trying to gouge them. But in reality, there are plenty of options available that will nicely fill the role.

For those of you who don't know, TechNet is known as a one-stop shop for Microsoft users and administrators where they can learn about products, share design knowledge, and assist in troubleshooting. Along with that, the company included an annual subscription service for IT professionals so they could download and evaluate any Microsoft title. For Windows desktop and server administrators, TechNet was perfect, because for $349 a year, an IT department could build an in-house test lab where security patches and major network changes could be validated before any changes were actually performed in production.

When Microsoft abruptly announced they were sunsetting TechNet subscriptions, administrators felt that this dealt a huge blow to loyal Windows techs as there were seemingly no alternatives for use in lab environments. But in reality, there are three alternatives to TechNet subscriptions that administrators can choose from that will likely fit the bill.

1. Time-limited evaluations: Previous TechNet subscriptions allowed users to download, install, evaluate, or test Microsoft products using free and never-ending keys. And while this was great for Windows administrators that built long-term test labs that mirrored production, it also caused a great deal of piracy as individuals and businesses would simply buy a TechNet subscription, then build-out entire organizations using TechNet licensing. This licensing loophole likely cost Microsoft millions of dollars annually.

To put a stop to that, MS is doing away with never-ending licensing and will instead offer time-limited evaluation software that ranges anywhere from 30 to 180 days depending on the application. This trial software will be free and for some administrators, time-limited licensing will be enough. But for persistent validation labs, it's not an ideal choice.

2. MSDN: The Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) is a subscription-based service that closely resembles TechNet subscriptions. Purchasing an MSDN subscription allows administrators to build in-house labs using MSDN license keys that also never expire. It's interesting to point out that very few IT shops used MSDN subscriptions, instead opting to use TechNet for the simple fact that TechNet was considerably cheaper compared to MSDN. For example, an administrator could build out a Microsoft Exchange lab for $349 in TechNet licensing per year. That same lab would set you back $6,119 using an MSDN subscription.

But here's an interesting fact: TechNet subscriptions were originally meant for evaluation purposes as stated in the terms of service agreement. The agreement states, "The software provided with TechNet Subscriptions is designed for hands-on IT Professionals to evaluate Microsoft software and plan deployments. The software provided with MSDN subscriptions is available for evaluation, development, and testing purposes." So in actuality, if companies wanted to build out a test lab, they should have always been doing so using MSDN subscription licensing.

3. Azure: The last alternative to TechNet subscriptions is to move your test lab into the cloud using Microsoft's Azure cloud service. Many industry analysts believe that Microsoft's true motive for shuttering TechNet subscriptions is to force administrators to use the Azure cloud -- which is part of the company's shift in focus away from physical to virtual in the datacenter.

If that's the case, it's probably going to be successful as Azure allows for the greatest amount of flexibility for Windows software testing. Entire Windows networks can be built, modified, and torn down in a matter of minutes. They can last as long as you'd like and can be modified to exactly mirror a production network as it changes.

So fear not Windows administrators, as the initial shock of TechNet closure wears off, you'll probably come to find that a reasonable alternative is within reach. If you plan to run short-term tests, Microsoft has you covered using time-limited evaluation software. If you need a long-term, in-house lab, you'll have to pay a bit extra for MSDN. Finally, if you are willing to test in virtual environments, Azure is your best bet. Either way, Microsoft has admins covered.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Andrew Froehlich   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/30/2013 1:29:51 PM
Re: Switching to Azure...
@tekedge -- I see IBM as an IT service company these days. Do you think that Microsoft will primarily get out of the software business and instead look to become a service company?
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tekedge   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/30/2013 1:15:39 PM
Re: Switching to Azure...
@Andrew - MS is at a crossroads, IBM was 20 years ago. IBM at that time had grown into a big elephant difficult to move quickly in any direction. MS looks like it has gotten into a similar position now and they need to quickly shed their excess weight and adopt  newer technologies at a much faster rate than they are doing now.
singlemud   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/26/2013 3:38:34 PM
Re: Switching to Azure...
I guess that is one way Microsoft trying to consolidate their workforce and product line to make their bottom line pretty.
Andrew Froehlich   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/19/2013 10:35:49 AM
Re: Switching to Azure...
@Hospice_Houngbo -- I'm not sure why MS is not very forthcoming with their intentions. I have wondered about this too. They've only recently come out regarding the companies shift in focus to the cloud -- but even that announcement wasn't crystal clear.
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eethtworkz   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/17/2013 3:48:32 PM
Re: Switching to Azure...

Lets face the facts there are no Guarantees in Life.

Admins who were completely unprepared for this situation should never have been in this position in the first place.

Also when it comes to increased focus and implementation of Azure,I am not really surprised ,but what intrigues me more is why have'nt more IT Admins experimented with this system earlier(without the nudge and push from Microsoft)?

Tells you how much most people hate change.

Pedro Gonzales   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/17/2013 3:42:26 PM
The world doesn't end after Technet
While the changes seems bad, It allows microsoft to provide good services to its customers.  At least there are other alternative out there for administrators.  After complening a bit, I'm everyone will find other alternatives to TechNet, you have provided many good ones.
Hospice_Houngbo   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/17/2013 2:29:55 PM
Switching to Azure...
"Many industry analysts believe that Microsoft's true motive for shuttering TechNet subscriptions is to force administrators to use the Azure cloud"

That makes sense. But why can't Microsoft just explain this clearly to its TechNet subscribers? Also nothing guarantees that administors will be willing to switch to Azure.
ProgMan   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/16/2013 4:53:59 PM
Re: I remember getting a Technet subscription..
Good question - again, that was a long time ago, when they used to send you the CD's, I don't know if they do that anymore.  We've got one 'main' MSDN subsubscription which allows access to all the MS software and a couple of developer editions of the MSDN which allows downloads of server OS only, for testing purposes.  I'm sure that my versions of Technet fell short of all the bells and whistles but couldn't say for sure now...
Andrew Froehlich   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/16/2013 11:53:00 AM
Re: I remember getting a Technet subscription..
@ProgMan - Can you think of any major differences between TechNet and MSDN that enterprise users may benefit from by switching?
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ProgMan   Some Alternatives Now That TechNet Is Ending   7/16/2013 11:45:40 AM
I remember getting a Technet subscription..
as part of my MCSE certification, but that was about a hundred years ago when I got the certification on the Windows NT platform.  That was a huge bonus though, I loved that thing but have ready access to MSDN now.

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