Microsoft To Offer 'Premium Assurance' for Servers Adding 6 Years of Patch Support

Microsoft this week unveiled coming licensing additions that will extend patch support for Windows Server or SQL Server products for six more years.

The new licensing products to come are called "Windows Server Premium Assurance" and "SQL Server Premium Assurance," but they aren't available yet. Microsoft expects them to be on the market in "early 2017." The idea is to provide extended patch support for older servers because "some mission critical and legacy applications just need to keep running without disruption," Microsoft explained, in its announcement.

That's a tacit acknowledgement of server migration issues that many organizations face. Expensive "custom agreements" offered by Microsoft Premier Services have been the traditional way that large organizations have gotten such extended patch support in the past. Premium Assurance is a new approach.

Many organizations likely are familiar with Microsoft's lifecycle support policies for its business software. It's a 10-year policy. It consists of a five-year "mainstream support" phase initially, plus a subsequent five-year "extended support" phase. With Premium Assurance, a server can get patch support for 16 years total, rather than just 10 years.

Under Microsoft's traditional support policy for business software, security patches stop getting delivered when extended support ends. Organizations may have reasons for continuing to run an out-of-support server, but it can be risky. They're subject to so-called "perpetual-day" security exploits where software flaws, even the known ones, don't get patched by Microsoft.

Specifically, under Premium Assurance licensing, Microsoft will continue to provide "Critical" and "Important" security updates for six years beyond the end of the product's extended support phase. The plan kicks in when extended support ends, which is when the product is considered to be "unsupported." For instance, Windows Server 2008 R2 loses extended support on Jan. 14, 2020. With Premium Assurance, it'll get Critical and Important patches till Jan. 2026.

Using the Premium Assurance additions requires having Software Assurance (SA) coverage, calculating through Microsoft's tiered pricing and ensuring that the servers were purchased under eligible plans.

Software Assurance Required
The new Windows Server Premium Assurance and SQL Server Premium Assurance additions have requirements to consider. The main point is that Software Assurance (SA) will be required to use them. Microsoft refers to its Premium Assurance additions as SA "add-ons."

SA is Microsoft's annuity addition on top of software licensing costs. It's mostly known for its benefit of permitting an upgrade to the next software product release within an SA contract time period. Logically speaking, there's no particular reason why SA should be required with the Premium Assurance add-ons since organizations wanting the six years of additional patch support likely don't want to upgrade the software. The SA requirement is not about logic, of course. It's about how Microsoft decides to price things.

SA itself is said to cost around 27 percent on top of the software licensing cost. Of course, the Premium Assurance add-ons also come with a cost. And Microsoft has set up a tiered pricing approach for the purpose that's much like an insurance buy-in plan.

Tiered Costs
The Premium Assurance add-ons follow a four-part tiered pricing structure, which Microsoft labels "Series 1 through 4." The initial cost at Series 1 is 5 percent of the server license cost. The cost then rises to 7 percent, 9 percent and finally 12 percent of the licensing cost in Series 2 through 4. The series pricing seems to be set to increase annually. However, based on examples published in Microsoft's data sheet publication (PDF), the period between series cost increases isn't always a year.

Early buyers fare better than later buyers under the Premium Assurance plans. The buying time fixes the percentage that organizations pay. For instance, buying at the Series 1 period will cost 5 percent of the license cost, and that 5-percent rate then gets renewed each year. Here's how a Microsoft spokesperson described that effect:

If a customer buys Premium Assurance early when the offering price is at 5% of L, then their rate stays consistent at 5% of L even though the offering price in effect increases up to 12% of L with time, provided they maintain Premium Assurance and Software Assurance. Therefore, customers may save (up to 60%) on the offering price by purchasing soon after availability in early 2017 and can keep these savings across future renewals for as long as they maintain Premium Assurance and Software Assurance.

Buyers of Premium Assurance can pay for the add-on at any time, but they have to have SA to do that. Dropping Premium Assurance is another matter. Organizations can only drop Premium Assurance at their SA renewal period, according to Microsoft's data sheet publication.

One other nuance is that organizations have to "purchase the Windows Server Premium Assurance or SQL Server Premium Assurance offering before that version [of the server product] goes out of support," the data sheet explains.

Eligible Licensing
The Premium Assurance add-ons also aren't available under all of Microsoft's server licensing enrollments. The servers have to be licensed under the following enrollment plans:

  • Enterprise Agreement
  • Enterprise Agreement Subscription
  • Enrollment for Education Solutions
  • Server and Cloud Enrollment

The products that are eligible under Premium Assurance coverage are all of Microsoft's Windows Server and SQL Server products that are still considered to be supported products. For instance, Microsoft permits Premium Assurance add-ons all of the way back to Windows Server 2008. It permits Premium Assurance add-ons back to SQL Server 2008. Organization, though, need to be using the latest service packs, the spokesperson clarified.

Microsoft also makes organizations buy Client Access Licenses (CAL) for user access to servers, which typically gets covered by SA. However, organizations aren't required to purchase Premium Assurance for those CALs, Microsoft's data sheet clarified.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.


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