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EXCLUSIVE: New Software Assurance Benefits to Include 24x7 Support, Virtual PC Express

Microsoft plans to bolster the Software Assurance component of its volume licensing program next month with several additional benefits covering deployment services, enhanced support, training and exclusive software, according to a source familiar with Microsoft's plans.

Microsoft will officially unveil the new Software Assurance benefits during a series of Web conferences starting at midnight on Sept. 15. (Click here to register). But the company has not publicly detailed the benefits.

Sunny Jensen Charlebois, product manager, Worldwide Licensing and Pricing, Microsoft, declined to comment on the specific list of SA benefits assembled by ENT.

"Microsoft is continuing to enhance the value of Software Assurance to ensure it meets the needs our customers throughout each phase of the software lifecycle. We are in the process of training our field and partners on the forthcoming enhancements. On Sept. 15th, we will honor our commitment to communicate the new SA benefits directly to customers to ensure they have the information they need in a timely manner to make the best decision for their organizations," Charlebois said.

The update for the program comes as part of Microsoft's continuing effort to deliver additional benefits to Software Assurance customers. Many customers complain that they don’t get real value from their three-year SA contracts if no new software versions are delivered during the contract period. When Windows Vista arrives in the second half of 2006, for example, it will come five years after Windows XP first shipped.

According to the source, who asked not to be identified, specific additions to Software Assurance will include:

Desktop Deployment Planning Services. Designed to assist in planning deployment of desktop software such as Windows and Microsoft Office, the planning services will be delivered by Microsoft partners and measured in engagement days. The number of days will depend on how much a customer spends on desktop SA over three years. Customers spending $60,000 will get one day, $300,000 will get three days, $600,000 will get five days, and $1.25 million will get 10 days. Customers will be able to trade training vouchers for additional deployment planning service days. The benefit is scheduled for 2006. A smaller-scale version for Microsoft Open Value customers, called Information Worker Desktop Services, is also planned.

Enhanced support. Customers will now get one free base support incident per Software Assurance agreement, and incremental incidents for every $20,000 spent on servers and CALs and $200,000 spent on Information Worker and Client software. The 24x7 Web-based incident support currently available to SA customers for standard editions of servers will be extended to enterprise editions and desktop products. Customers with Premier Support contracts will also be able to convert incidents earned through SA into Premier Support incidents. The benefits, planned to be available in February, are apparently intended to cover 40 percent to 100 percent of a customer's regular Microsoft support costs.

Virtual PC Express for SA. A previously unannounced version of Microsoft Virtual PC will become part of the Software Assurance package next year. Intended to reduce compatibility issues with legacy applications when users migrate to the next platform, customers will get one instance of Virtual PC Express with each Windows client Software Assurance license. The product will allow users to run two Windows client operating systems at the same time.

Extended training. Starting in February, customers with 30,000 or more licensed desktops will receive larger numbers of training vouchers. Those can be used for certain courses or traded in for additional desktop deployment planning assistance.

Windows Vista Enterprise Edition. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last month mentioned an Enterprise Edition of Windows Vista that would be a level above the Professional Edition. The special operating system appears to be part of Microsoft's Software Assurance plans. With Vista deliverable late in 2006, it's not immediately clear if Microsoft has finalized plans for the Windows Vista Enterprise Edition as a Software Assurance--only benefit, but it would make sense.

In previous interviews, Microsoft officials said that any new Software Assurance benefits would be retroactive to customers with current Software Assurance contracts.

The approach would be similar to what occurred in September 2003, when Microsoft greatly expanded the value of Software Assurance with a number of benefits. Current SA benefits include new version rights, spread payments, eLearning, Home Use Program, Employee Purchase Program, Enterprise Source License, TechNet Plus, Cold Backups for Disaster Recovery, Corporate Error Reporting and Extended Hotfix Support (introduced in July).

Microsoft's Webcast introducing "The Next Generation of Software Assurance" are scheduled for midnight, 8 a.m., noon and 6:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sept. 15. The sign-up page is microsoftsoftwareassurance.savvislive.com/.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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