Warranty, Maintenance and Support

How would you define these three terms: warranty, maintenance and support?  Many times in conversation I hear these terms used interchangeably.  I’m guilty of it too as there can be overlap in the definition of these terms.  However, I will argue in this blog that when it comes to selling software and especially hardware these terms are distinctly different.  I’ll begin by first providing my working definition of these terms. Then I’ll share where and why I see these terms used incorrectly.


Warranty: warranty is the guarantee that a product will meet certain specifications.  For software this can be a detailed description of feature functionality that may even include scalability and performance.  With standard hardware this is typically a guarantee for how long the parts will last.  With specialized hardware (i.e. appliances) this will include both software feature functionality descriptions and part longevity guarantee.  There is one other aspect to warranty, which is the warranty service.  Warranty service should really be its own term altogether as it is the specification of what service will be rendered when a warranty breach is found (i.e. hardware failure).  For one product there might be more than one warranty or warranty service option available for purchase such as the option to extend the term of the warranty or the level of repair service provided.


Maintenance: maintenance is the access to bug fixes and new features.  If you do not have maintenance on a product, you will not be able to receive software or firmware updates.  Maintenance is typically a software term only.  It can apply to hardware but really only for firmware updates.  Bugs are not always a warranty breach.  The specification in the warranty may not provide granular detail.  Some bugs can fall outside a warranty definition or in a gray area.  Having maintenance provides access to bug fixes in this category and can often include major software updates with new features.


Support: support is in essence assistance with the product – answering configuration questions, help with diagnosing issues, etc. Support is also used to facilitate warranty, warranty service, and maintenance.  For example, helping to determine a hardware issue resulting in an RMA or identifying a software issue resulting in accessing a maintenance release.  Support can require an interaction with a live person or it can simply be authorized access to an online knowledge base.  Much like warranty service vendors may provide support service with different options for the level of that service.  A SLA (Service Level Agreement) may contain both warranty service details and support service details with response times for both.


One key reason these terms are used interchangeably is because vendors prefer that customers go through support to address warranty or maintenance issues.  The vendor wants to make sure that the issue is not configuration related before providing a maintenance release.  Likewise, the vendor wants to make sure that the problem is indeed a hardware issue and not environmental, software, or configuration.  Since it issues typically funnel through support, the terms warranty and maintenance are bundled in with “support”.


From a pricing perspective it can be a challenge when these terms are not used distinctly.  Let’s look at a hardware appliance for example.  Let’s say it is a phone or a gateway that does not require any software licensing.  Depending upon the level of complexity it may or may not require much support.  What is the expectation with the pricing of that device?  If it does not require much support, you may expect to pay one time for the product with no reoccurring maintenance or support fees.  You may like to have the option to extend your warranty or warranty service without paying for support to diagnose issues.  Now if the product is more complex requiring more support it might be acceptable to include a bundled warranty, warranty service, maintenance, and support option.


Comments welcome!