How Does Premium Assurance Differ from Custom Support Agreements?
We detailed the new Premium Assurance in a previous blog post. At a high level it looks similar to an existing Microsoft service called Custom Support Agreements.
They are very different beasts though. Custom Support Agreements are where organisations cannot move off an older software version and take out a support contract with Microsoft. They are typically expensive, not off-the-shelf and thus taken by larger organisations with complex needs. They cover different products, are sold and supported by different Microsoft teams, have different objectives, business rules and pricing.
Premium Assurance is a standard add-on to Software Assurance and is listed in the price list. It’s easy for customers to purchase, for partners to sell and for everyone to understand.
Will Premium Assurance spell the end of Custom Support Agreements? Microsoft hasn’t elaborated at this stage but so far it looks like all existing CSA products in the market today will continue unchanged.
Software Assurance Add-on (requires SA)
Only for Windows Server and SQL Server starting with 2008 versions
All eligible servers must be included
Up to 6 extra years of support
Includes ‘critical’ and ‘important’ security updates
Available through certain volume licensing programs
Sold via Worldwide Licensing with commissions paid to sellers
Discounts and price-protection for signing up early
Custom Support Agreements
Premier Support Add-on (requires Premier)
Software Assurance not required
Covers multiple products including Windows and Office but does not cover Windows Server or SQL Server
Typically last 1-3 years, not 6
Customer can cover just a subset of affected licences and pricing is tiered according to numbers
Only includes ‘critical’ updates but ‘important’ can be included sometimes for a fee
Bought when a product goes end-of-support; no discounts for buying early
Sold through Microsoft Premier and Services staff
Faster support through Premier-level support services and Technical Account Managers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.