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While the planned obsolescence of Microsoft Corp’s Windows NT 4.0 comes as no surprise, still, some customers have been slow to hear the warning bell, especially in the financial services industry. So a non-profit group comes to the rescue, letting commerce—and the oh-so important security patches—continue unabated. But at a cost.

BITS, a nonprofit consortium of 100 of the largest financial institutions in the United States, announced on Monday that Microsoft will “provide financial institutions and other [NT 4.0] customers with security updates for an extended period during which they will migrate their systems to more recent versions of Windows,” according to a Microsoft press release.

According to officials, Washington-based BITS got involved in the support effort at the request of many of its members. BITS Project Director Ann Patterson, who acted as the liaison with Microsoft, said the consortium opened negotiations in November 2003, defining some concrete areas to discuss.

The issue of supporting NT 4.0 past its announced lifecycle, Patterson said, has an industry-wide impact. The financial services industry relies on proprietary service providers.

What kind of opportunity does NT 4.0’s end of life present to resellers and IT consultants? Click here to read the prediction from Ziff Davis Channel Zone editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

Although many large enterprises with legacy applications dependant on NT 4.0 have undertaken migration projects, financial institutions had the additional time concern from the “cascading effects” of different programs that rely on one another.

“If your business partners don’t upgrade their product, then you have to support the platform that they’re providing the service to you on,” Patterson said. “Financial institutions often rely on outside providers for payments, settlements, transaction processing and other key components. If your business partners haven’t upgraded, then you can’t upgrade either.”

BITS persuaded Microsoft to provide custom support for NT 4.0. While lifecycles will still end June 30 for workstation and December 31 for servers, Microsoft agreed to support custom contracts for customers who are willing to pay to continue long-term support.

For other products, the end-of-lifecycle contracts eliminate support whether a customer will pay or not. Patterson stated, “We feel this was a victory for BITS and its member organizations.”

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