Microsoft Licensing: Part 8 (software assurance)

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

In my earlier post on how to buy Microsoft software, I mentioned Software Assurance (SA).

SA includes upgrade rights for all software released during the period of the agreement along with a number of additional benefits. Purchased as part of a volume license agreement or on an individual product, SA is a contraversial subject – Microsoft will highlight the many advantages that it offers to customers, whereas IT Managers will often question its value.

Unless included within the terms of an Open Value License or Enterprise Agreement, SA costs between 25 and 29% of the accompanying license price and, although it can be renewed, it ends when the accompanying agreement terminates. An ROI tool is available to help assess the likely financial benefits of SA but the trouble with software is that it’s a bit like the proverbial London Bus – you wait years for a new release and then they all come along at once…

For an IT Manager, this may mean that they don’t percieve their SA as having provided much benefit (e.g. if they didn’t see many new releases during the period of their agreement) but it can also work the other way. For example, I know of at least one Microsoft customer that has not resigned their EA because in the last few years they have gained the rights to upgrade their desktop from XP to Vista, their Office productivity suite from Office 2003 to 2007, their server infrastructure from Windows Server 2003 R2 to 2008 and to perform a number of server application upgrades (Exchange Server 2003 to 2007, Live Communications Server 2005 to Office Communications Server 2007, SharePoint Portal Server 2003 to Office SharePoint Server 2007, Systems Management Server 2003 to System Center Configuration Manager 2007, Operations Manager 2005 to System Center Operations Manager 2007, etc.). Now they have the right to use all of that software so they have their infrastructure upgrades for the next few years “in the bag” and see no reason to resign the EA. That’s not good for Microsoft, but very good for my anecdotal customer.

The full list of SA benefits, at each stage in the lifecycle, includes:

Lifecycle Stage Benefit
Plan New Version Rights
Spread Payments
Deploy Desktop Deployment Planning Services
Information Work Solution Services
Training Vouchers
Use eLearning
Home Use Program
Employee Purchase Program
Windows Vista Enterprise Edition
Desktop Optimisation Pack
Enterprise Source License Program
Maintain 24×7 Problem Resolution Support
TechNet Plus subscription
Cold backups for disaster recovery

There exact benefits that are available depend on the volume licensing agreement in place and an SA benefits comparison chart is available for download.

One of the major benefits for corporate users with Select or Enterprise agreements is the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). This contains five additional technologies: Microsoft Application Virtualization (formerly Softricity SoftGrid); Microsoft System Center Desktop Error Monitoring; Microsoft Asset Inventory Service (formerly AssetMetrix); Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (formerly Winternals Administator’s Pak); and Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management (formerly DesktopStandard GPOVault).

MDOP is a big pull for many organisations – particularly the Application Virtualization element – but it is a subscription service which means that when the accompanying volume license agreement ends so does the right to use the MDOP tools.

For many, a crystal ball would be useful when deciding if SA is appropriate – it all depends on how an organisation’s roadmap is aligned with new product releases and consequentially whether the benefits of SA will actually be of use. My view is that there are some substantial benefits available – and I’d suggest that the MDOP benefits might actually help to reduce operational costs and therefore finance the SA.

In the final part of this series on software licensing, I’ll summarise the eight posts so far and provide links to further information.

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