Microsoft Rolls Out Premium Assurance Plans for Windows Server and SQL Server

Microsoft this month started selling "Premium Assurance" coverage plans for both Windows Server and SQL Server.

Premium Assurance is an insurance-like program for organizations, especially those anticipating difficulties in carrying out future server upgrades. Under the plan, Microsoft is promising organizations that they'll get six years of continued patch support beyond the server's end-of-life phase. Critical and Important security updates continue to get delivered in that six-year period. Microsoft had described this plan back in December, but now it's available, under certain circumstances.

Organizations might use Premium Assurance if they have to maintain a "legacy ERP system" or have custom-built applications that might be difficult to replace, Microsoft's announcement suggested.

With Premium Assurance coverage in place, it's possible to get a total of 16 years of support for the products. Under Microsoft's usual plan for business products, servers typically get two five-year support phases, called "mainstream support" and "extended support," for a total of 10 years of product support. After extended support ends, though, the product is considered "unsupported" and Microsoft stops delivering security updates. The new Premium Assurance plan takes effect when extended support ends, adding six more years of support.

Costs and Caveats
Of course, there's a cost to Premium Assurance coverage, and lots of caveats and nuances to observe. The program is even patterned like a life insurance policy, with early buyers paying the lowest amount. The lowest cost, five percent, is available from March to June this year, but it subsequently increases thereafter to seven percent, nine percent and 12 percent within certain buy-in date spans. The exact rate that an organization pays each year gets fixed according to when Premium Assurance was first purchased.

The main nuance, and cost, is that Software Assurance needs to be maintained for all servers under the eligible agreement plans. Microsoft actually refers to Premium Assurance as a Software Assurance Add-On plan. Software Assurance is an annuity that's thought to add maybe 25 percent to 27 percent on top of the licensing cost. Organizations additionally pay each year for Premium Assurance coverage under the tiered cost system.

Here are the basic requirements for Premium Assurance, according to Microsoft's FAQ document:

  • Active Software Assurance on your servers for all eligible licenses. Eligible licenses are those purchased under these programs and enrollments: Enterprise Agreement, Enterprise Agreement Subscription, Enrollment for Education Solutions, and Server and Cloud Enrollment (SCE).
  • Active Premium Assurance Add-on for all eligible licenses with Software Assurance.
  • Servers must be certified by the hardware vendor to run the product.
  • Servers must be running the latest service packs.

The Premium Assurance plan can be applied as far back as Microsoft's 2008-branded servers, including Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008.

Microsoft's FAQ included some new details and considerations about the Premium Assurance plans. One interesting bit is that security updates to .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 are also included under the plan. Microsoft additionally will provide Critical and Important security updates to System Center Virtual Machine Manager "in a host scenario," although updates to the broader System Center product components aren't provided.

The FAQ suggested, though, that the most current System Center components will be capable of managing the servers throughout the extended six-year support period:

You will not receive updates on Microsoft System Center. Microsoft, however, will ensure that the most recent version of System Center will be able to manage the older versions of Windows Server covered under Windows Server Premium Assurance.

The plan supports security updates for Windows Server Update Services 3.2 and newer versions of that patch management service, but there won't be support for Secure Hash Algorithm-2 in WSUS under the plan. Google recently reported that SHA-1 has been broken. In addition, Internet Information Services is supported under the Premium Assurance plan. Any applications running on the servers aren't covered under the plan, though.

Expensive Offering
Premium Assurance is "a really expensive proposition," according to Wes Miller, an analyst with independent consulting firm Directions on Microsoft. Lots of companies drop Software Assurance periodically, he noted, but Premium Assurance users will have to maintain that coverage in addition to paying Premium Assurance costs that vary based on when they decide to buy into the plan. Miller noted that organizations will have to buy new core-based licenses as well.

The Premium Assurance plan may meet some organizations' requirements, but it's a niche offering for most enterprises, according to Scott Braden, senior vice president of value creation at NET(net) Inc., a consulting firm.

"Overall, I can't say it's a good or bad offering," Braden commented, via e-mail today. "I have to assume that Microsoft has a lot of experience in the costs and needs associated with this topic so there are definitely going to be cases where they sell it. I just think it's a niche offering for most typical enterprise IT shops, and that before signing up, any CIO should check the cost/benefit of simply upgrading/replacing the legacy apps in question."

To illustrate his point, Braden offered some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations, using SQL Server 2008 as an example. Premium Assurance is an expensive plan even if an organization already has Software Assurance coverage across its servers and just pays for the annual five percent Premium Assurance cost.

"So if an enterprise has 100 servers, but only two are candidates for this Premium Assurance, they must pay 5% x 100 x up to 6 years of support," Braden noted. "That's up to 3000% of the SQL license cost in order to get patches/updates for those two SQL servers. Considering the high price of SQL licenses and SA these days, it sure seems to me that many enterprises will find the budget to instead update or replace those servers."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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