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After 10 hours of meetings with Microsoft Services this past week, I can share with you the big picture in terms of how Microsoft supports its customers, which include everyone from governments all the way down to my own family.

Before I get into the details of Microsoft Services, let me just say what you're probably already thinking: Why is it so expensive? It's true; some of the options are not cheap. One quotable line from my meetings is "Microsoft is not a nonprofit company," and that's easy to see. However, I came away believing that Microsoft's profits aren't coming from support services.

I found the overall picture for Microsoft's support services to be fuzzy at first, and I suspect you share that view. So let me walk through Microsoft's support offerings and levels, going from the top down.

Enterprise Strategy Program
You can think of the enterprise architect in the Enterprise Strategy Program as the crew chief on a Nascar team. Just as the crew chief is pulled in to communicate with the driver, the owners, and the squad to ultimately maximize the value of the entire team, an enterprise architect offers similar services to customers. The enterprise architect first considers what technologies -- all of them, not just Microsoft -- you currently have in play and assesses your goals from a business perspective. The enterprise architect (many are former CIOs and CTOs) then analyzes these details and helps the executive board plan, design, and manage the technology implementation based on business needs.

Skeptical readers may suspect that if an enterprise architect comes on the scene, the architect will recommend you switch to Microsoft-only products. That's not typically the case. Much like a crew chief who arrives after the car, tires, and so forth have been purchased, the enterprise architect may recommend that you modify your product set, but that is incidental to the goal of matching the technology to the business goals.

You may wonder where these enterprise architects (formerly known as Advisors) are coming from.  "We are hiring senior level people that come from CIO and CTO backgrounds," said Kathleen Hogan, corporate vice president, Microsoft Services.  "These are senior-level people that have experience transforming companies and organizations through technology."

Consultants take on the next part of the services portfolio in a role similar to that of a Nascar team's car chief or expert mechanic. They help with the actual adoption and deployment of Microsoft technologies, particularly around technology optimization and business application services.

Let's say you have a hosted email service in place but are concerned about being legally compliant. An enterprise architect might first suggest you use a hosted Exchange service that includes archiving. From there, a Microsoft consultant with expertise specifically in Exchange deployments and migrations would step in and help deploy the hosted Exchange. You don't have to hire an enterprise architect before hiring a consultant; if you know you want certain Microsoft technology and need help deploying it, you may decide you don't require the enterprise architect service.

Premier Support
Once your Microsoft technologies have been architected and implemented whether by you, Microsoft Services, or other providers, it's time for Premier Support -- the pit crew, in the Nascar analogy. This Microsoft Services offering is widely used by enterprises and familiar to most.

You typically call Premier Support when something goes horribly wrong and you cannot get your systems to function properly. But the Premier Support group would prefer to be called on for more proactive needs. After all, if you give Microsoft the time to familiarize themselves with your environment and potentially make recommendations to improve your overall IT health, you may reduce the need for reactionary support.

Broad customer service and support
What about support for your small business or your family? What does Microsoft offer there? There are several options, including paid per-incident phone support, various forums (such as Microsoft Answers, MSDN, and TechNet), support though social media sites like Twitter, and -- one of my favorites -- the new Fix it Solution Center. Microsoft has also recently launched the beta Microsoft Fix it Center, a client- and Web-based service that guides users through the complete support experience with automated fixes, customized self-help in the cloud, and escalation to paid support if needed.  "For every issue we find, we work to identify the problem, verify the root cause and then build a proactive solution or self-help that addresses the issue."  said Barbara Gordon, corporate vice president, Microsoft Customer Service and Support.

Microsoft offers a variety of free tools, such as the new Exchange Deployment Assistant and the Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer, that are worth thousands of dollars in time savings and peace of mind.

Ultimately, if you use Microsoft products, it's good to know you have this kind of support to reach out for.