'Nightmare' at Microsoft's Volume Licensing Sites

Frustrated customers and partners continue to experience confusion and delays after Microsoft revamped its Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) and associated Web sites in December.

Users have reported similar instances in which they were unable to get past the site's initial security check. The problem is that the site's log-in procedure may reject users' access based on the e-mail address they entered. With Microsoft's revamp of the sites, a user's e-mail address now has to exactly match the one originally assigned with the contract.

Users have also complained about an inability to access specific features or create new accounts on the sites. Software downloads are sometimes blocked, even though users may have purchased the licensing before Microsoft began the upgrade.

A catalog of user woes can be read at this Microsoft blog. One commenter in that blog described being unable to access the VLSC's "Manage Software Assurance Benefits" feature, adding that "it's all a bit of customer service & public relations nightmare I think."

Microsoft has acknowledged the access problems, saying that they affect just some customers and partners. A step-by-step troubleshooting FAQ is described in a blog post by Eric Ligman, global partner experience lead for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group. If the FAQ isn't clear enough, Microsoft offers a 67-page illustrated "VLSC User Guide" as an 8MB download here.

Microsoft started updating its volume licensing sites sometime in December, taking them down for a period of days. Services were restored on Dec. 18 for the VLSC, Volume Licensing Contract Manager and Web sites, along with the eMSL and MOET ordering tools, according to a blog post by Ligman. He acknowledged that Microsoft is still having problems with the sites' registration system.

The sites were upgraded for a number of reasons, according to Stacie Sloane, a director at Microsoft. They were redesigned so that customers and partners now use the same portal, and that has had some spillover effects. Customers now have to validate access to the sites via an e-mail sent by Microsoft, which Sloane describes as a standard security practice. In addition, because customers are legally responsible for the agreements, they now must confirm that a partner is acting on their behalf by granting permission rights to that partner.

The redesign of the sites has led to problems for some users, Microsoft has acknowledged.

"We are taking all necessary steps to resolve the situation and we are working with each customer or partner to restore permissions if they can't be resolved online," Sloane wrote in an e-mail.

Some users have reported waiting 45 minutes and longer to talk with Microsoft's phone support to get their issues resolved.

"As with any new experience, we anticipate that many partners or customers may have questions, which can cause a longer than average hold time in some regions so we have increased customer service staffing to help partners or customers when they call or e-mail us for support," Sloane explained.

Some customers could face problems with contract renewals because of the delays associated with accessing Microsoft's volume licensing Web sites, but Sloane didn't think many would be affected in that way.

"To your question, Microsoft doesn't expect this to impact many customers," Sloane replied by e-mail. "If a customer is impacted, they [Microsoft] will do everything necessary to ensure their customers are taken care of."

Customers and partners typically don't access Microsoft's volume licensing sites often, according to Scott Braden, senior vice president for distributed desktop services at Net(net) Inc., a consulting company. However, when they do, it's typically "a time-urgent situation."

"Why they [Microsoft] chose to go live near the end of the quarter (December) -- that's their second largest transaction period (after June) -- I simply do not understand," Braden stated by e-mail. Those having access problems might try going through their large account resellers, he suggested.

Microsoft's problems may have stemmed from having to deal with some difficult legacy code, according to Paul DeGroot, research vice president and channel licensing strategies analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"The main thing I know is that Microsoft's back end systems are very old and brittle," DeGroot stated in an e-mail. "It inhibits their licensing in certain ways. And the Open system is the oldest."

Braden noted the irony of users paying for Software Assurance and having to wait to gain access, especially since Software Assurance requires upfront payment for "non-guaranteed, undefined future products."

"The fact that they [Microsoft] can't post up a Web site that is essentially just a reporting front end to a relatively simple (but large) database should inspire customers to carefully reconsider their validity as an enterprise business software supplier," Braden said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 Stephen_Jacks MtVernon, WA

Passport works. MSN, sorry, Windows Live ID Server components still alpha/beta Technet downloads and aren't integrated with passport at least on Microsoft sites. I went round with support (outsourced to Sykes) on the same problem on MS Partner site. Microsoft does eat its own dog food but things look different on their side of the firewall; same issue with all cloud apps. I was escalations engineer for MS US outsourcer. Hard to "post" a fix as v-, probably harder from India, which does most license/activation issues now. culturally difficult to say no but they follow their call scripting. Best solution may be a graduated Value Added Tax: the higher the gratuitous markup the higher the tax byte. It would renew low margin industries like American made memory and American Steel (which affected Rare Earth mining in U.S. which affects electronics).

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 Chuck Charleston, SC

A thousand times yes: the licensing models are out of control. By comparison, these VLSC access issues are infinitesimally light afflictions compared to the assault on reason and valuable time wrought by Microsoft's abysmal licensing convolutions. I almost had my boss convinced to replace his Ubuntu desktop with Windows; then we tried to buy Windows 7 for our ESX environment. He was immediately reminded (in the form of VECD) of why he prefers to avoid Microsoft, and I was swayed very near to his position. Forget the site. It's licensing that needs an overhaul. VECD is a prime example. Subscriptions. S u b s c r i p t i o n s ! I know I am not the only person this offends. And if I VMotion between four hosts, thats FOUR SUBSCRIPTIONS for ONE MACHINE because the license is DEVICE BASED ...or so I'm told. But who besides a Microsoft auditor can know anyway, right? Well, I am sad to report that I am presently too busy getting my mind right about that to be very upset that my VLSC portal provides a download for every VECD Win 7 download BUT the one for my country!

Mon, Jan 11, 2010 Eric Twilegar Madison, WI

MS needs to completely reinvent there licensing model. Things have changed and this continues to make MS look as if "they don't get it". The site is too complicated because the process is. First off do not use passport...just don't...don't think about it...just don't use it. Second drop everything and start over...all licensing should go thru the same name...I don't understand what the difference between open select and anything else...and I don't want to. Just say got a Windows 7 here to get a key...get the key and install the machine. When the machine goes away allow me to release the activiation crap. Drop CALS!!!!! for the love of god drop CALS...forget charging commpany A more than B because they are larger... Exchange server has a cost...Outlook has a cost...connecting to it does not...what is it 1993 out here...I could go on and on and on....main point eat your own dog food...if MS had to actually license there MS prodcuts in the same way it'd be different...but I bet they just get it all free so they don't "get it".

Mon, Jan 11, 2010 Peter Oakland, CA

I have spent around 7 hours on the phone in the past 8 days, including waiting an astonishing 5 hours to get through last Wednesday. My first call was ok; I got in pretty quickly, the rep knew what was up and explained it, told me that she'd fixed the problem and the fix should be hot within 48 hours. Wednesday, the fix was not hot; I put MS on speaker and waited, I muted them and went to lunch, I came back, ate, and finally got through. They are able to replicate my problem - most of my licenses are available, but the newest one, which I've paid for and want to deploy, is not - but cannot fix it. I escalated Wed, spoke to a supervisor Friday, and do not understand why MS has not simply voided the original license and cut a new one for me. I have made this suggestion, but the supervisor felt confident that the fix would move quickly. It didn't; it's past insane.

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