Blog Archive

Premium Assurance for Windows and SQL Server

Extend the Life of Line-of-Business Applications with Premium Assurance

I used to own an old laser printer which came with Windows 7 drivers.  It wasn’t the best printer in the world but I relied on it.  Try as I might I could not get updated drivers for it so with Windows 10 I was faced with two choices, keep it running on inefficient and possibly insecure Windows 7 drivers, or buy a new printer.  If I had the option to subscribe to updated Windows 10 drivers from the manufacturer, would I have taken that choice?  Probably; although shopping for new technology is so much fun.

On a larger scale, organisations often face compelling events that force an upgrade of machinery or software that they rely on.  Perhaps the business or product becomes more advanced and existing hardware or software is not capable of the required changes.  Perhaps it’s no longer possible to obtain replacement parts for machinery or support for a software package, meaning if it goes wrong and stops working, the very operation of the company could be at risk.

With software, it may not just be the line of business application that needs to be supported, but also the associated systems including the operating system and data platform.  If your application only runs on Windows Server 2008, you are faced with the choice of upgrading the application along with the business changes that would bring, or remaining on an unsupported operating system and risk exposure to new security threats or falling out of compliance with regulations.

 

Premium Assurance adds an Extra Six Years of Support

Premium Assurance (PA) is a subscription service from Microsoft that extends the product support for Windows Server and/or SQL Server versions by six years.

Under our current model, every application is supported for at least 10 years: five years of mainstream which includes feature updates and support calls; and five years of extended support for just security and critical updates but no hotfixes unless you have software assurance or a support contract.

Adding premium assurance increases that total lifecycle period to sixteen years.

 

Microsoft Product Support Lifecycle

 

Figure 1: Microsoft Product Lifecycle
You can always check the support dates for your products on the product lifecycle page at https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/lifecycle/search.

One thing to bear in mind here is the ten years is at the latest service pack level for most software.  When a new service pack is released, SP1, SP2, etc., Microsoft will provide either 12 or 24 months of support for the previous service pack depending on the product family.  When this period ends, that service pack or initial product release won’t get new updates.  So there’s already pressure on customers to keep up to the latest service pack.

If this all sounds harsh, it might be fair to realise how much additional engineering and support resources would be required to support every service pack of every version of every product.

Microsoft are not promising to support third-party line-of-business applications here, but the attraction of Premium Assurance is to provide additional breathing space to plan how to migrate off these older workloads.  Having the option for Windows Server and SQL Server means you’ll be covered on most key applications.

 

How to Obtain Premium Assurance

To see which servers a customer could cover with Premium Assurance, let’s look at an example server estate.

Example Server estate

Figure 2: example server estate of Windows and SQL Server

We have 9 licences of Windows Server 2008/2012/2016 and 9 licences of SQL Server 2008/2012/2014/2016.  We obtained these via three licensing programs: an Enterprise Agreement, an Enterprise Agreement Subscription and an Open agreement.  Some of our servers are covered with Software Assurance and some aren’t.

Rule 1: Only Enterprise Licensing Programs are Eligible for Premium Assurance

As of March 2017 when Premium Assurance arrived on the price list, licences obtained through an Enterprise Agreement, Enterprise Agreement Subscription, Enrollment for Education Solutions or Server and Cloud Enrollment are the only ones eligible.

In our example estate above, we have six Windows Servers and six SQL Servers through these programs.  We can disregard the licences obtained through Open.

Rule 2: Only Servers Covered with SA are Eligible

Premium Assurance is sold as an Add-on to Software Assurance so a server licence must have active Software Assurance to be covered by Premium Assurance.  This narrows down our eligible servers to four Windows Servers and three SQL Servers.

Rule 3: All Eligible Servers Must be Covered by Premium Assurance

Once you have established the eligible servers, you must add Premium Assurance to all of them.  It is not possible to add PA to just a selection.  You can subscribe to either Windows Server Premium Assurance or SQL Server Premium Assurance or both.

Example Server estate coverage

Figure 3: Servers that would require Windows Server Premium Assurance and SQL Server Premium Assurance coverage

What do you notice missing from this example?  That’s right; any detail around versions.  Let me explain why that is important.

 

What Product Versions are Eligible for Premium Assurance?

Premium Assurance is not by version, it’s by product.  Our example server estate included a mix of SQL 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016.  We want Premium Assurance for the SQL 2008 specifically.  If the 2012 and 2014 versions are also eligible for PA then they must be included.  The earliest version of SQL Server and Windows Server that can be covered is 2008.

To cover a product version, Premium Assurance needs to be purchased before the extended support period for that version ends.  The figure below details the extended support and premium assurance purchase periods.  To ensure we have Premium Assurance support for SQL Server 2008, we must purchase PA before extended support ends in June 2019.

Premium assurance timelines

Figure 4: Support timeline by product and version.

 

Buy Early, They Pay Less

If Premium Assurance doesn’t start until the extended support period ends, why would a customer want to pay for it now?  It’s true that we’d charge customers straight away for a benefit they’re not going to get until 2019.  Doesn’t sound fair does it?  But it allows the customer to lock a low price for all future purchases if they maintain Premium Assurance and Software Assurance.  Once customers enroll in Premium Assurance, they are entitled to the original purchase price even across Software Assurance renewal cycles and even if the underlying base licence price changes.

There are four levels of pricing, expressed here as a percentage of the base licence cost.  The example shown below is for Windows Server Standard edition (2-core licence pack).  Prices are illustrative.

Premium assurance prices

 

Figure 5: Premium Assurance price levels by time of purchase.

As you can see there’s a 58% increase in price if customers wait until the last minute to buy Premium Assurance for Windows Server 2008.  Buying early represents 5% of the base licence cost and this rises to 12% from July 2019.

 

Removing Premium Assurance

You can stop Premium Assurance altogether if it’s no longer required (perhaps you have moved the workloads in question) and you can also reduce the number of Premium Assurance licenses as long as it aligns with your eligible server numbers.  Remember, all servers through the EA, EAS, EES and SCE that have active SA need to be covered; not just some of them.

 

What Product Editions are Eligible for Premium Assurance?

The Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter editions of Windows Server and SQL Server from 2008 onwards are covered.  SQL Server Business Intelligence Edition is not specifically covered.  Windows Server Enterprise editions are covered by purchasing two of the Windows Server Standard edition SKUs for each Enterprise edition server.

Specifically, the new price list titles for these offerings are:

SQL SERVER ENTERPRISE ED PREM ASSU
SQL SERVER STANDARD ED PREM ASSU
SQL SVR STANDARD CORE PREM ASSU
WINDOWS SERVER DC CORE PREMASSUR
WINDOWS SERVER STD CORE PREMASSUR
SQL SVR ENTERPRISE CORE PREM ASSU
WINDOWS SERVER STANDARD PREM ASSUR
WINDOWS SERVER DATACENTER PREMASSUR

 

How Will Premium Assurance Work Technically?

There will be a software package that customers install on eligible servers to enable the provisioning of updates to those servers.  What’s to stop customers installing that package on no-eligible servers?  Like much of Microsoft Volume Licensing, it will likely rely on customer trust and the occasional software audit.

 

To recap:

  • Premium Assurance adds an extra six years of support beyond the extended support of Windows Server and/or SQL Server.
  • Windows Server Premium Assurance and SQL Server Premium Assurance can be purchased independently and this applies to the 2008 or newer versions.
  • You need software assurance on these products to be eligible to purchase Premium Assurance.
  • The support offered by Premium Assurance is intended to keep the products secure and compliant.  It’s not going to involve features changes.
  • Premium Assurance became available from March 2017 through Enterprise Agreements and Enrolment for Education Solutions.
  • There is price-tiering to encourage customers to subscribe earlier.
  • You can add Premium Assurance at any time in your licensing agreement; mid-term or renewal but it must be for all eligible servers.

Windows 10 – How to Upgrade

Windows 8.1Microsoft would quite like to get a billion devices onto Windows 10 so if you could help they would appreciate it.

You’ve probably heard a lot of chatter about Windows 10 being a free upgrade and for many customers that will be true for the first year.  Microsoft has a Windows 10 free upgrade program geared toward consumers, however many SMBs will also take advantage of it.  That’s fine; if their devices will run windows 10 then Microsoft are happy for them to do that.  Microsoft will offer a free upgrade to Windows 10 for qualified new or existing Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices that upgrade in the first year.  After 1 year, you’ll need to buy a full-packaged product (FPP) or volume licence to install Windows 10.

There are things to be aware of for the upgrade so please read about the Windows 10 upgrade specifications.

Windows 10 upgrade paths

 

What do you notice from this eligibility list?  Windows Enterprise editions and Windows RT are specifically excluded.

Windows RT is likely being replaced with Windows 10 mobile edition anyway so more will become known on that in the next few months.  Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 Enterprise edition are not eligible for the free upgrade offer so how would those customers acquire Windows 10?

Customers with Software Assurance (SA) on their Windows licences have rights to Windows 10 Enterprise through the software assurance new version rights benefit.

In the days when you acquired Windows Enterprise by buying Windows Pro + SA, your underlying licence was Pro but even if you stopped SA you could retain perpetual rights to enterprise.  In this case you could revert to Pro edition and go for the free upgrade.  That does involve a reinstall though so not a nice option.

Or you could buy Windows 10 Enterprise + SA all over again.  Possibly not an option which will be greeted by cheers.

Or you could go for Windows 10 Enterprise without SA and stick with the Long Term Service Branch.

Limitations with the Upgrade

The Windows 10 licence created during the upgrade is a consumer licence that is tied to the device.  The licence will continue to work for reinstalling Windows 10 after the free upgrade period ends but only on that specific device.  so if you need to replace the hard drive or do a reinstall for any reason other than replacing the motherboard, it will work.

For volume licensing customers, the licence created is not a Volume Licence (VL) and will not be in VLSC (Volume Licensing Service Centre).  Whilst there won’t be any differences in the end-user experience between the free upgrade and a new VL purchase of Windows 10, the licence is different.  If you buy Windows 10 Pro through VL, you could not use the image or keys from the VLSC to apply the upgrade for free to other, unlicenced machines.  At present the Windows 10 Pro Upgrade licenses will be priced the same as the existing Windows 8.1 Pro Upgrade licences in case you do want to buy the full edition.

A couple of last points; even though customers on Windows 8 will get a lot of nudges to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft will not force people to upgrade.  They can remain on Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 and the support lifecycle for those remains in place.

Education customers have the same criteria.  Upgrade goes by the eligibility of the device and installed operating system; nothing special or limited for education.

See part 2 of this blog post for information on how Windows 10 is becoming an evergreen service.


Never Pay for Windows 10 Again

Windows 8.1

Will Windows 10 be the last ever version?  Is Windows 10 going to be free?  Can you plan a surprise birthday party for a psychic?  Well, let’s tackle the first question here and the second question in our how to upgrade to Windows 10 blog post.

Never Pay for Windows Again

Currently, you might buy a pc and it will come with Windows preinstalled.  You’ve paid for the OEM (original Equipment Manufacturer) licence of Windows.  You’ll get feature updates and security patches from time to time and you can choose to install them or hide them.  It’s up to you (or you organisation’s IT policy).

With Windows 10, you won’t have a choice.  Windows updates will be applied when they’re ready.  So in a way, Windows 10 will be the last version because you will never have to pay for the next version of the client OS on the same pc; new features will just be installed.  If you need to buy a new machine, you’ll pay for the OEM licence as part of the pc’s purchase price and then Windows will just be kept up to date for the lifetime of the device.

You may be concentrating on the negative here that you won’t get a choice and must install new features.  Think about two huge positives though:

  1. you never need to pay for Windows again on the same machine and you’ll always have the latest version
  2. Software vendors and developers can almost guarantee that 90% of Windows users will have the same build

The second point there should make you smile if your pc has ever crashed or you’ve needed to phone support because an application isn’t working.  There are so many combinations of OS, patches, drivers, runtime files and versions around that reliability and consistency are devilishly hard to achieve.  Applications and peripherals should work far better if the manufacturers and developers can work to a stable and single platform.  Sounds a bit Apple-like doesn’t it?

Why is Windows Becoming a Service?

The world of software is changing to cloud aka software as a service.  With that change comes different release cadences.  If you’ve been in IT for a while you’ll be familiar with the terms 3.5 inch floppy, modem and three-year release cycles.  Office 365 has a monthly release cadence.  Azure enjoys weekly updates.  This is the way of the world; goodbye versions and hello evergreen services.  Innovation has become faster and users expect new features quicker.

What if I Don’t Want to Automatically Install Updates?

Microsoft thinks Windows 10 is going to have three demarcations of users: consumers, business users and mission-critical business systems.  For each type there is something known as a ‘branch’.

Windows 10 update Branches

 

Consumers will be subject to the Current Branch and will receive Windows updates as they are released.  Of course, they will have gone through extensive testing via engineering builds, internal testing, early adopters and the Windows Insider program beforehand so several millions of users will already have installed these updates.

Business Users will default to Current Branch but have the option to select Current Branch for Business (CBB).  This allows them to defer feature updates for up to eight months after they’re released to the Current Branch.  This provides ample time for testing, compatibility work and fixes and just to wait and see how the hundreds of millions of Current Branch users get on with the updates.  The updates can be deferred but they will need to be installed within that eight-month timeframe.  Organisations will be able to control and manage how updates (including critical and security updates) are deployed using tools such as System Centre Configuration Manager, Windows Server Update Services or a new Windows 10 service called Windows Update for Business.

Mission-critical systems such as medical, aviation, etc. have the option to deploy point-in-time releases known as Long Term Service Branch (LTSB).  These will not be updated with new features but will have security and critical updates although the organisation can manage and control the distribution of these updates.  LTSB releases will be supported for at least 5 years (10 years if the customers has software assurance).  New LTSB releases will be made available every two-three years and customers will have the option whether to install them or not.

In short, if you don’t want to receive Windows OS updates, you will need to be on the LTSB and that requires certain Windows editions.

Long Term Service Branch is only Available for Windows Enterprise edition

Windows 10 editions and update branches

 

Windows Home edition must be on Current Branch.  Windows Pro can be on either Current Branch or Current Branch for Business.  This means that both of these editions will be updated (CBB allows the updates to be deferred but only for up to 8 months).

Windows Enterprise edition is available with or without software assurance.  Windows Enterprise without SA allows the customer to deploy a point-in-time LTSB release, or previous ones (downgrade rights in other words) and for that release to still be supported for 5 years.  Windows Enterprise edition with SA also gives customers the rights to new LTSB release when they become available (every 2-3 years).  They can choose whether to install new releases or not.  SA also means the customer gains extended support so their chosen release will be supported for 10 years.

One important point to note is that Enterprise edition without SA will not enjoy updates on Current Branch either.  Customers with Home and Pro editions will always get the latest features for the life of the device.  Enterprise edition without SA will not.  The release that’s installed will eventually become out of date and the customer will need to buy a licence again to update.

Windows 10 Enterprise Edition with SA is available through all Microsoft Volume Licensing Programs (Open, Open Value, Select+, MPSA, EA, etc.)


Windows Per-User Licensing

We recently wrote a blog for Microsoft explaining the new Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS).  ECS includes a licence called Windows SA per-user.  You can read the post on the Microsoft UK Volume Licensing site.  In this post, I want to delve a little deeper into how Windows licensing can work on a per-user basis.

Windows and Office have historically been licenced per-device; the machine you use these on had to have a licence.  Software Assurance provided a little bit of flexibility by allowing roaming rights in which the primary user of a licenced device could access the software from outside of the work domain (e.g. at home).  However, mobility is the new norm.  People work on lots of devices and in lots of locations and licensing software per-device is very limiting in these instances.  Office 365 has seen enormous success with per-user licensing (overtaking the number of seats of traditional Office 2013) and Windows 8.1 can now also offer a similar flexibility.

Let’s cover some facts first:

  1. Per-device licensing is not going away and there are myriad cases where it’s preferable; for example libraries, hospitals, warehouses, etc. where many people use the same device.
  2. Office 365 allows 5 local installations of the full Office applications for the licensed user.  Windows per-user allows the user to install Windows 8.1 on an unlimited number of devices for their own use, subject to some pre-requisites which I’ll detail in this blog post.
  3. Windows per-user is not a cloud based service like Office 365.  It can therefore enjoy downgrade rights so the user could install Windows 7 in place of Windows 8.1 for example.
  4. Windows per-user is a subscription licence.  If the subscription is not continued, the licence expires and Windows must be uninstalled.  Whether there’s a mechanism to check for the subscription and remove functionality as there is with Office 365, I don’t know at the moment.
  5. Windows per-user is only available through Enterprise Agreements at the moment so it’s not a case of popping to PC World and buying Windows 8.1 per-user I’m afraid.

I’ll start by looking at some current scenarios.  That will highlight some limitations which ECS can address.

Windows 8.1 is licenced per-device.

Anyone at all can use Windows on the device, anywhere at all (e.g. at work or at home).  It helps to have the device-owner’s permission but that’s just politeness and not a licensing requirement.

Windows 8.1 licenced per device

Running Windows 8.1 virtually.

Many organisations utilise virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) whereby the client OS is not locally installed on the licenced device but stored on a network server and then remotely accessed by the user.  If the Windows 8.1 licence for the device includes Software Assurance (SA), these virtual rights, known as Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) come as a benefit of the SA.  In this way, a user can access a virtual Windows desktop through VDI from a licenced Windows device.  This is fairly simple if the device is corporate-owned, for example, a laptop provided by the company for the user.  If the user wants to use their own (or a 3rd party) device to access their virtual Windows desktop, SA provides roaming rights to the primary user so they can access their desktop from outside work but 3rd party devices cannot be used to access virtual Windows desktops from within the corporate network, i.e. at work.  The primary user is defined as being the person who uses a pc for more than half the time in any 90-day period.  Let’s mention a few scenarios: the user can use their main work desktop pc whilst in the office; they can also access a virtual Windows desktop from their personal pc at home using VDI; they could also use a corporate laptop to access a virtual Windows desktop both at work and outside work (as long as the laptop is also licenced for Windows); they could not however bring their personal devices into work and access a virtual Windows desktop.  I can sense you’re frowning so time for an illustration.

Windows 8.1 VDI licensing scenarios

In summary:

  1. Anyone can use Windows 8.1 locally on a licenced device, anywhere, no matter who owns the device.
  2. To use Windows virtually, the user must be a primary user of a device licenced with Windows 8.1 + SA and furthermore if the device on which the virtual desktop is being accessed is not owned by the company with the Windows 8.1 SA licence, it must be used outside the workplace.

Windows 8.1 licenced per-user still requires a licenced device.

Windows per-user isn’t exactly a case of licensing a user.  The user must already be the primary user of a device already licenced with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8 Pro.  Then that user is eligible to be licenced for Windows 8.1 per-user.  What if the user doesn’t have a primary device that is already licenced with Windows Pro?  There is an alternative called Windows VDA per-user which negates the requirement for a licenced device but as you can imagine is priced higher because Microsoft can’t count on the underlying Windows licence.  So we end up with two choices: Windows SA per-user or Windows VDA per-user.

Ways to obtain Windows per-user

Whichever way you choose, the licensing benefits are the same.  Firstly, it gets around the ‘cannot bring a 3rd party device into work and access Windows’ restriction.  Secondly it allows the licenced user to install Windows 8.1 onto any number of devices.  Yes, that’s pretty generous isn’t it?  I mentioned in the facts at the start of this post there are some pre-requisites and the condition for installing Windows is that on devices with a screen size of 10.1″ and above, there must already be a Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Pro licence.  Even if the device already has a Windows 8.1 Pro licence, Windows per-user allows you to install Windows 8.1 Enterprise and you can access virtual Windows desktops from inside and outside work.  Time for a final illustration.

Running Windows when licenced per-user

That’s a lot of green and green is good unless we’re drinking milk.  The only red is that you cannot install Windows 8.1 on an iPhone, iPad or Android device but you can run it virtually.

In summary, there are still a few things to bear in mind, for example underlying Windows device licences don’t quite go away in most cases, but licensing Windows for a user gives enormous flexibility in allowing people to work wherever they are, whatever the device is and whoever it’s owned by.


Monthly Microsoft Licensing Webinar

Microsoft Volume Licensing Logo

We’re proud to be working in conjunction with Microsoft to deliver monthly webinars on licensing.  The 60-minute calls run on the second Wednesday of every month and will take you through a different topic each month kicking off with Azure in the Open Volume Licensing programme in August.  The calls also include updates on products, technologies and promotions and each month’s call is also recorded so you can catch up with previous topics.

There are three calls on the day, each targeted to a specific audience segment:

10am – 11am Microsoft small and medium business (SMB) partners and distributors

12pm – 1pm Microsoft customers with volume licensing agreements

2pm – 3pm Microsoft Large Solution Providers (LSPs)

Registrations are monitored so please do not register for calls outside your segment or try to register with generic email addresses such as @gmail or @hotmail.

Details for August’s call can be found on the TechNet blog.

If you are an LSP, please contact your Microsoft account manager to register.

If you are an SMB partner primarily transacting Open and Open Value licence agreements, please contact your preferred distributor who can provide details of the registration links.

If you are a Microsoft Volume licensing customer, you have access to a great new UK specific volume licensing site.  The site is a hub through which you can access UK specific VL content and resources. To view details on the Spotlight Calls as well as our upcoming 2-day Licensing Fundamentals events, please click on the events link in the rotating banner.

Microsoft Volume Licnesing webpage

 


Windows 8.1 Enterprise without SA

Windows 8.1

Historically Windows Enterprise edition was only available by attaching Software Assurance (SA) to Windows Professional edition.  The Enterprise edition was never directly listed on the pricelist or listed as an OEM product.  From the 1st March 2014, Windows 8.1 Enterprise is now on the pricelist without needing to pay the recurring Software Assurance annuity.  For volume licensing (VL), this only affects Open and Select Plus programs because all the other VL programs include SA.

Customers who buy through the Open or Select Plus programs can therefore save some money and still get the benefits of Windows 8.1 Enterprise.  What’s the difference between Windows 8.1 Enterprise licence only and Windows 8.1 Enterprise with SA?

We’ll describe Software Assurance in more detail in a forthcoming blog but in a nutshell, you get all the extra technologies with Enterprise but none of the licence modifications that are required to enjoy those technical benefits.  The technical benefits for Windows 8.1 Enterprise include Windows To Go creator, Start screen control, DirectAccess, BranchCache, AppLocker, Virtual Desktop infrastructure (VDI) enhancements and Enterprise Sideloading.  However you’ll still need SA to modify the licence rights to take advantage of VDI or Windows To Go.  So you won’t be able to fully utilise Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) without SA.  VDA is the ability to store the client operating systems on a server instead of directly on the desktop pc or laptop so the user can use any licensed device to access their Windows desktop.  A form of thin client computing which gives IT much more control over the deployments.

This volume licensing brief provides further detail.

Both Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise through VL are still upgrades and they require a qualifying underlying operating system.  Also customers will be able to add SA onto Windows 8.1 Pro OEM licences up until July 1, 2014.  The brief actually says the PC needs to have been purchased before July 1st but of course customers should be ok to add SA up to 90 days afterwards.


How to utilise your SA Training Vouchers

If you have a volume licensing agreement with Microsoft you may have Software Assurance Training Vouchers as an included benefit.  Many customers let these lapse.  So here’s a brief guide on how to use them to fund training or demonstration days.

Verify Eligibility

Customers receive a number of training days based on the amount of their qualifying software licenses that are covered by Software Assurance.  Visit the Volume Licensing Service Centre (VLSC) or contact us to check your SA benefits.

Activate

Your benefits manager will go to the VLSC web site to activate the organisation’s SA training voucher benefit.  The benefit only has to be activated one time and the entire number of training days allotted to the organisation will be activated for use.

Create & Assign

In the SA Benefit Summary page, click Training Vouchers then click Create Training Voucher and assign the vouchers to employees by entering the employee name, corporate e-mail address and number of days the voucher is worth.  The training voucher will be electronically sent to the work e-mail address that you entered.

Schedule

Contact us to schedule your course and provide the code found in the voucher confirmation email.

Video on using SATV

Watch an informative Video demonstrating how to Activate, Create, Assign and Schedule Training.