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Microsoft Software Assurance To Offer FastTrack Instead of Deployment Planning Services

Microsoft this month described benefits changes coming next year to its Software Assurance program for organizations, with a shift more toward its FastTrack program for training.

The details are described at Microsoft's "Software Assurance by Benefit" page. There's also an "Overview" document describing the benefits changes (PDF download). The fact that the benefits had changed at all was noted by Adam Fowler, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, in this Tweet.

Software Assurance is an extra annual charge on top of Microsoft's software licensing costs. It adds the ability to upgrade to the next software release at no cost to an organization, provided that the Software Assurance contract gets maintained throughout the software release period. In addition, Software Assurance offers some education and training perks.

Deployment Planning Services Ending
In essence, Microsoft plans retire its Deployment Planning Services benefit in Software Assurance, starting in "February 2020." Instead, organizations will be directed to use the Microsoft FastTrack program when planning moves to Microsoft services such as "Azure, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365."

Deployment Planning Services, offered by Microsoft Services or Microsoft's partners, just offers training and does not include the actual deployment work. The FastTrack program offers "design and deployment" help from "Microsoft engineers or approved partners" on such moves, as well as help on data migrations and security, according to the "Overview" document and this document description.

The retirement of Deployment Planning Services is kind of confusing. For instance, Microsoft's benefits page indicated that "Deployment Planning Services will be available until January 2022." It added that "cloud deployments will be retired from Deployment Planning Services and move to Microsoft FastTrack in February 2020."

Apparently, that means that cloud support will be the first aspect to get replaced by FastTrack services, or something like that. Organizations with Software Assurance coverage will be able to apply to use FastTrack services starting in February 2020.

Training Vouchers Ending
Microsoft also offered some confusing information about Training Days Vouchers. Training Days Vouchers are a Software Assurance benefit. They represent days of training available to organizations and are issued by Microsoft based on the amount of an organization's "qualifying Microsoft Office and/or Windows software licenses that are covered by SA," according to this Partner Network page description. Once issued, an organization has 180 days to use a Training Days Voucher.

In February 2020, organizations won't be able to convert their Training Days Vouchers to Deployment Planning Services training days. Microsoft will stop the accrual of new Deployment Planning days in "February 2021." Jan. 1, 2022 will be the "last day to redeem Planning Services vouchers."

If that weren't confusing, Microsoft's benefit page offered this advice on converting unused Training Days Vouchers, which gets done by an organization's Software Assurance manager:

Your Software Assurance manager can increase the number of available Planning Services days by converting unused Training Voucher days in the Volume Licensing Service Center. See step-by-step instructions in the VLSC Software Assurance Guide (PDF, 785 KB).

Coming Changes
There are also oblique references to other coming Software Assurance changes in Microsoft's "Overview" document, although the timing wasn't mentioned. For instance, Microsoft Learn, a free online training platform for learning about Microsoft products, will be getting future investments from Microsoft. In addition, Microsoft is planning to release role-based workload training and certifications, plus there will be "local in-person training events."

The "Overview" document also briefly mentioned that Microsoft will be "replacing incident-based support with as-needed support and credit toward Unified Support." Organizations spending $250,000 on Software Assurance will get basic support for technical problems. They'll also get "credit to upgrade to Unified Support." Specific details associated with all of these changes weren't described.

Unified Support is Microsoft's top-of-the-line technical support program for organizations using Microsoft's software and services. Years ago, Unified Support replaced Microsoft's Premier Support program. Unified Support, with pricing based on an organization's Software Assurance payments, purportedly resulted in cost increases for organizations, according to early analysis by Gartner Inc.

Software Assurance benefits are tied to certain Microsoft commercial software licenses, which can be purchased based on the number of devices used by organizations. The overall benefits available with Software Assurance are shown in a "Software Assurance Benefits" summary document (PDF download).

Some benefits, such as Windows To Go, are already deprecated. Microsoft recently announced a common end-of-support date for its Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack tools, which also is a Software Assurance benefit.

About the Author

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

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