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Six Benefits Enhanced or Added to Software Assurance

Microsoft is broadening the list of benefits available to its Licensing 6.0 Software Assurance subscribers to include three new pieces of desktop software, deployment assistance, enhanced support and extended training. Most of the new benefits take effect in March.

In a statement, Microsoft positioned the additional or improved six benefits, which bring SA's total benefits to 18, as a demonstration of the company's continuing commitment to extend the program beyond a typical maintenance offering of support and upgrades.

"Since its inception four years ago, we've regularly fine-tuned Software Assurance in response to feedback from our customers and partners, " Brent Callinicos, Microsoft corporate vice president of Worldwide Licensing and Pricing, said in a statement. "We've substantially revamped the Software Assurance offering with new benefits that we believe IT professionals will find even more relevant and accessible in helping their organizations drive business results with Microsoft solutions."

Response among partners and analysts was positive about the changes that Microsoft plans to start including in Software Assurance.

New benefits include exclusive access for Software Assurance customers to Windows "Eiger," Windows Vista Enterprise Edition and Virtual PC Express. Other benefits, formally announced Thursday and reported by ENT last month, include Desktop Deployment Planning Services, Information Worker Desktop Services, enhanced support and extended training.

Eiger is the code-name for a version of the client operating system now officially called Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs. The OS is based on Windows XP Embedded with Service Pack 2 and is supposed to provide a bridge solution enabling customers to get additional life out of older PCs that don't have the horsepower for Windows XP or Windows Vista. Many of those older PCs are running Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT. Eiger is a thin-client OS, so any applications the users must run would have to be hosted on a Citrix box or a Microsoft Terminal Server. The benefits, however, would come from reducing the security risks inherent in those older operating systems and improving the manageability of the environment. Microsoft also intends for Eiger to provide an easier upgrade path to new PC hardware running Windows XP or Windows Vista.

When Windows Vista ships in late 2006, Software Assurance customers will have exclusive access to a special edition called Windows Vista Enterprise Edition. Distinguishing features of the Enterprise Edition will include Full Volume Encryption through integration with specialized hardware and inclusion of all Windows language versions in the single edition. The idea of the multi-language support is to give administrators a way to maintain a single system image across multiple PC configurations for multiple countries in a global enterprise. Another exclusive feature of Windows Vista Enterprise Edition will be an integrated version of Virtual PC called Virtual PC Express. The version will run legacy applications in a virtual machine on a Vista system to help with compatibility. As a further enticement to Software Assurance, customers will get early access to a standalone version of Virtual PC Express running on Windows XP in March.

Desktop Deployment Planning Services are 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, $150,000 will get three days, $600,000 will get five days, and $1.25 million will get 10 days.

Information Worker Desktop Services is a smaller-scale version of desktop deployment planning services for Microsoft Open Value customers. These customers can convert two training vouchers for the one-day Information Worker Business Value Discovery service or convert four vouchers for the two-day Information Worker Architectural Design Session.

Microsoft significantly overhauled the support offerings available through Software Assurance. "We heard from customers and analysts that we needed to beef up the support offering," said Sunny Jensen Charlebois, Microsoft senior product manager for Worldwide Licensing and Pricing. "One of our goals was easier integration with Premier Support for our larger customers. Because they can apply their support incidents to their Premier agreements, they can reduce their support costs. We also wanted to make sure it scaled to meet the needs of diverse organizations." To that end, Microsoft is offering one phone support incident for every $200,000 of Software Assurance spending for Office and Windows Client. On the server side, every customer gets a complimentary phone incident; an additional incident for every $20,000 in Software Assurance spending on servers and CALs; and unlimited Web support for covered servers. Customers with Premier Support can transfer SA incidents into Premier contracts.

Another significant change within the support benefit involves phone support hours. Previously, Software Assurance allowed phone support during business hours for Enterprise Editions of servers. Now phone support is 24x7 and can be used for Standard Edition servers and desktop products.

The Software Assurance training benefit is also extended with a huge increase in the number of vouchers Microsoft will hand out to customers with 30,000 or more licensed desktops. Previously, the largest number of vouchers a company could receive was 165, according to a Microsoft representative. Under the changes taking effect in March, companies with more than 30,000 SA licenses can get substantially more training vouchers. At the highest end of the scale, customers with 600,000 or more SA licenses can get up to 2,100 vouchers.

Some partners are enthusiastic about selling the new package of features. Peter Ells, who manages the Microsoft business relationship at the New Berlin, Wis.-based Microsoft Large Account Reseller Software ONE, said, "With Microsoft's enhancements, really across the board, it adds just that much more to the offering for us to continue to successfully sell Software Assurance." Highlights for Ells included training vouchers and the enhancements to problem resolution support. "Any time customers can obtain additional support from Microsoft, they are very open to listening to that," Ells said.

Analysts agreed that the new group of benefits included something for every size customer and partner.

"The most significant benefit change for large customers is to support, and for smaller and midsize firms the consulting and planning benefits," said Julie Giera, an analyst at Forrester Research. "For large companies it's going to be expansion of support hours and the fact that support is going to cover some of the desktop products."

Giera recommended that companies take a hard look at Software Assurance in light of their Microsoft support contracts to make sure they are optimizing their budgets. "There's certainly more value here on the support side. I would say companies should definitely look at what's available in SA now and what they may or may not need in Premier Support," Giera said.

To analyst Laura DiDio with Yankee Group, the voucher enhancements and deployment training are huge. "I think that the training benefits are the most valuable to customers because that's something that has been slashed out of budgets. Any time these folks can get out and mingle and talk to professionals and have it bundled in as a free service, that really does add to the value of a Microsoft license," DiDio said.

DiDio contended Microsoft's continuing investments in Software Assurance are probably fueled by Linux and Open Source competition and the difficulty of getting the installed base to upgrade older Microsoft software. Whatever the motivation, she said Microsoft's response has markedly improved the Software Assurance program since its debut four years ago.

"You're paying a lot for these licenses, but you're getting a lot, too. These are real, tangible benefits," DiDio said.

At the same time that it is launching the new benefits, Microsoft is changing the way it talks about all the Software Assurance benefits to emphasize the role that each benefit plays in the software lifecycle.

The change arose as Microsoft spoke with customers about the benefits they used and the benefits they needed, Charlebois said. "What bubbled up was the software lifecycle. [Customers] need help with planning … with deployment. A lot of customers aren't doing zero-touch employment. They're still sending administrators to each desktop," she said.

Microsoft now presents the Software Assurance benefits as part of a lifecycle that goes from planning to deployment to use to maintenance to transition. "Planning" benefits are the original SA benefits -- Upgrade Rights for new versions and the ability to spread payments annually. For the "deployment" phase, Microsoft now will have Desktop Deployment Planning Services, Information Worker Solution Services and the existing Windows Preinstallation Environment benefit. During the "use" phase, customers will be able to take advantage of Windows Vista Enterprise Edition, Extended Training, the Microsoft eLearning Program, the Home Use Program, the Employee Purchase Program and the Enterprise Source License Program. The "maintenance" phase includes 24x7 Problem Resolution Support, TechNet Plus, Corporate Error Reporting and "Cold" Backups for Disaster Recovery. The "transition" phase will encompass Extended Lifecycle Hotfix Support, Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs (Eiger) and the Enterprise Edition Step-Up License.

For more information about details of Microsoft's new Software Assurance benefits, visit microsoft.com/licensing.

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