Microsoft software licensing confusion grows with new program

With Select Plus, Microsoft adds another licensing program for partners to track.

The latest Microsoft software licensing program has gone live, further complicating what is already a confusing system for some Microsoft partners.

Select Plus Volume Licensing targets medium-sized and large businesses, promising more purchasing flexibility and easier management of Microsoft software licenses. Select is one of the four main categories of Microsoft software licensing programs, along with Open, Enterprise Agreement and Enterprise Subscription Agreement. Each category also includes several different programs, and there are additional programs that target customers in vertical industries.

"You need a degree," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Microsoft partner in Fairfax, Va. "I don't understand how they think we can keep up with all this stuff."

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With Select Plus, customers can buy Microsoft software licenses on an as-needed basis and receive a full three years of Software Assurance, a customer support and training program. Under the regular Select program, customers would get a prorated Software Assurance term if they did not buy licenses on the anniversary date of a purchase.

"We're trying to be more nimble, and we're trying to work ourselves to the way customers buy, as opposed to the way Microsoft traditionally sells," said Jason Kap, general manager of Microsoft's worldwide volume licensing and pricing.

Sobel said the Software Assurance change makes sense, but the addition of another Microsoft software licensing program makes it even harder for customers and partners to keep track of licenses. In fact, his company outsources its procurement process because it's such a pain, he said.

Michael Cocanower, CEO of itSynergy, a Microsoft partner in Phoenix, agreed.

"It's virtually impossible to track the licensing," he said.

Cocanower said Microsoft does a decent job notifying customers when Software Assurance is expiring, but not so much when it comes to software licenses. And often, the problems that arise afflict the partner as much as the customer.

"With [small and medium-sized businesses], license management is not a strong point," Cocanower said. "A lot of that responsibility does fall to us today -- not necessarily because we wanted it, but because the customer's not doing it."

In the past few years, Microsoft has stressed the role of its large-account resellers (LARs) in software license management. Those LARs are Microsoft software licensing experts that help customers manage the licenses they have and find out what licenses they need to buy through other partners, Cocanower said.

"That relationship's working really well," he said.

Purchases of over 500 points -- which equates to 250 Microsoft Office licenses, or a couple of servers -- are eligible for Select Plus. It uses the same transaction process as other Microsoft software licensing programs, Kap said. The company does not expect the new option to drive additional sales but to provide a new option for customers.

"This is just around the way that customers want to buy," Kap said.

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