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.
Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) face a complex and changing landscape when it comes to understanding all of the different ways new technologies can help their businesses.
Many Microsoft partners are capitalising on the opportunity to grow their businesses by expanding their roles to that of a trusted advisor and business consultant — looking for ways to help SMBs modernise across the IT platform.
Microsoft is focused on helping you deliver solutions that address your customers’ key goals and business challenges. So you can use technology to help make them be more successful, whether by improving operational efficiency, protecting data, helping employees be more productive, or better connecting with customers. In fact, only Microsoft offers a complete platform with the flexibility to deliver the solutions your customer’s need, from server to cloud, desktop to mobile devices.
ModernBiz Technical Series
The ModernBiz Technical Series provides training, demonstrations and hands-on instruction on how to use the latest Microsoft technologies to deliver solutions to SMB organisations. This set of training courses is designed to prepare Microsoft value-added reseller (VAR) partners to help customers get the benefits of the modern business by providing solutions and services that span the entire IT ecosystem, from server, to cloud, to devices.
In this training, you will:
Get hands-on experience: With a focus on building real-world solutions, this training consists of presentations, demos, and hands-on labs.
Get the skills you need to build real-world SMB solutions: This technical series is designed specifically for partners working with SMB customers to build solutions using the latest products and technologies from Microsoft.
Any of the ModernBiz Technical Series courses can be attended as a standalone course or as a part of the complete series.
Who should participate: The ModernBiz Technical Series course is for Microsoft value-added reseller (VAR) partners who work with small and midsize organisations. The training is designed for those who are ready to learn more about meeting the technical needs of SMBs with Microsoft solutions.
Audience: IT Professionals, Consultants, SMB Resellers
Level: 200 (Technical) This training aligns to the Microsoft ModernBiz campaign for SMB partners.
There are free one or two day courses for each of these key technology areas.
These courses are designed to help you migrate customers off legacy infrastructure and get the most out of their technology. Example topics are Windows Server 2012 on-premises, Azure infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Windows 10, Office 365, and Azure.
Grow Efficiently Track 1 is designed to teach you how to migrate SMB customers off of legacy infrastructure to either Windows Server 2012 on-premises or Azure IaaS
Track 2 covers how to migrate SMB customers to Windows 10 and get started with Office 365
Track 3 teaches how to integrate on-premises infrastructure with Microsoft Azure
Safeguard Your Business
In this track, learn how to use the latest Microsoft technologies to deliver solutions that help SMBs protect company information and improve business continuity. Modules in this track include Azure Backup and ASR, Securing Windows 10, Data Loss Prevention in Office 365, eDiscovery and Archiving in Office 365, and Office 365 and Azure AD Premium RMS.
Connect with Customers
These training modules cover Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online as well as Office 365 collaborative services.
Track 1 is devoted to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, including Introduction to CRM Online, CRM Online Integration with Office 365, and CRM Online Integration with Power BI
Track 2 teaches how to implement Office 365 collaborative services and business intelligence to solve business problems. Example modules include Modern Collaboration, SQL Server 2014 Data Platform, Azure Relational Database Services, Creating and Exploring a Power BI Dashboard, and Reporting from On-premises Analysis Services with Power BI.
Here, you’ll learn how to enable SMBs to work from anywhere on any device. Topics include Windows 10 Management (with IE 11 and Edge); Mobile Device and Identity Management with Intune, EMS, and Office 365; Remote Desktop Service and Azure Remote App; Deploying Office 365 ProPlus; Skype for Business Conferencing; and Securing Windows 10.
Imageframe are pleased to be running many of these courses so come along and say hi!
July 14th is a day perhaps better known as Bastille Day. History buffs might remember it as the birth day of both former US President Gerald Ford and Jim Gordon (drummer for one time super group Derek and the Dominos). Windows focused IT pros, on the other hand will know that July 14th 2015 is when the lights go out for Windows Server 2003 (and Windows Server 2003 R2). In less than 200 days’ time from now, Server 2003 will no longer attract bug fixes or patches.
Looking Back at Server 2003
Server 2003 was another great version of Windows Server with a wealth of new and improved features. It was released to manufacturing in April 2003. This release coincided with the release of Windows XP as the client operating system for both home and business users, in effect replacing Windows 98/ME.
Windows Server 2003 included a load of new and improved features including Distributed File System, support for SANs, ISCSI, NUMA and Multipath I/O. Active directory and it’s underpinnings (including DNS) were also much improved.
Server 2003 shipped in a large number of separate SKUs: including Standard, Enterprise, Data Center and Web. Server 2003 shipped for 32-bit and 64-bit processors and for the Intel Itanium range. In addition a number of derivative versions were also shipped, including Windows Computer cluster Windows Storage Server, Windows Home Server, Windows Server for Embedded systems and of course Small Business Server
In December 2005, Microsoft issued a major update, Windows Server 2003 R2 (which also reaches its end of life this summer coming). The R2 version kept the same kernel and driver set of Windows Server 2003, but included a number of non-kernel improvements, including better branch office support, improved identity and access management and, in an attempt to improve manageability a free add on Services for Unix (aka SFU) was also included.
But in just a few short month, the Server 2003 party will be over. From that all free support will cease. There will be no further publically issued patches. Organisations may be able to contract with Microsoft for longer support – but such contracts will be expensive (certainly more expensive than the cost of upgrading).
From August, Microsoft will issue patches for bugs that may well have been in Server 2003 – but no patches will be issued for Server 2003 itself. These later patches provide significant input to the hackers who can use the patches to help develop malware that would target Server 2003 specifically. At some point in the future, any Server 2003 box that is internet facing will simply not be safe (or yours).
Now of course the sky won’t fall down on the 15th of July the day after end of life. The world will not cease to exist from then. But from that point on, your older systems are increasingly at risk. One could argue that IT departments and possibly the company’s management, that fail to upgrade in time and later get hacked, were negligent. If those servers are running inside some sort of compliance regime, you may find those servers out of compliance. In the case of PCI compliance, you could find that Visa/MasterCard may cease doing business with you – and for some companies this could mean the end of the organisation. Other compliance regimes can impose other sanctions. All in all, there’s little upside to continuing running Server 2003.
There may be some cases, where upgrading is difficult, if not impossible. Server systems running certain applications or supporting specialist hardware may find that software or hardware is not supported on later versions of the OS. It’s easy to say that you should have had a plan B for such situations and had it figured out a long time ago. But upgrading is rapidly becoming a requirement not an option.
Upgrading to what?
So let’s assume you do want to upgrade – what do you upgrade TO? There are a lot of factors that you need to take into account. These include the advances in hardware and software as well as the impact of both virtualisation and the cloud.
A lot of systems still running Server 2003 and R2 are old and well ready to be retired. Technology has improved significantly since you implemented Server 2003. Server hardware today is significantly faster and more energy efficient. X64 systems now allow huge amounts of RAM, and SSD disks are significantly faster. Networking has seen speeds rise by several orders of magnitude. The whole hardware landscape has evolved significantly.
Newer versions of Windows Server have also provided significant new features, not least of which is Hyper-V, Microsoft’s approach to virtualisation. If you are wanting to upgrade, it makes sense to go for Windows Server 2012 R2.
Virtualisation has been another huge change in the way one designs a data centre. In the Server 2003 era, virtualisation was not all that common, with VMware being about the only serious game in town. Whereas Virtualisation was once a niche approach, today, there’s almost no system that cannot be easily virtualised. There are of course some exceptions to this, i.e. servers that utilise specialised hardware – but for almost all commercial applications – virtualisation should be the only option.
In summary, you should be upgrading to the latest version of the Server OS you can. Given that upgrading to a new version may well incur costs relating to the new Operating System – you might as well get the latest version (Server 2012 R2). Besides the obvious feature benefits, Server 2012 R2 mean your next upgrade will be as far away as you can get!
It might be tempting to just wait for the next version of Windows Server (aka Windows Server 10). But since Microsoft announced that this version would not ship for another year – you are going to be at risk till you can get the final version. You could just go live on the beta versions – but going live on beta server software seems to me to be even riskier! Waiting for the next server release is possible – but certainly a risky plan.
Your Upgrade Project
Gartner reckons it can take anywhere from 6 to 9 months to carry out an upgrade. Now for some simple scenarios (a Server 2003 File and Print server), moving to the Server 2012 R2 for those features is going to be pretty simple. But moving LOB of apps is likely to be harder. And of course, almost every organisation has a number of applications that may not be simple or straight forward to upgrade.
To assist in the Upgrade, Microsoft has a couple of really helpful packages. The first is the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (AKA MAP). Microsoft say: “The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit is an agentless inventory, assessment and reporting tool that can securely assess IT environments for various platform migrations”. You can get the MAP toolkit for free from Microsoft at: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/solutionaccelerators/dd537566.aspx. This tool should help you to assess your network with respect to upgrading from Server 2003. It will also help you to plan your project.
Another tool that can be useful as part of an Upgrade Project is the Application Compatibility Toolkit. Microsoft describe the ACT kit as: “a lifecycle management tool that assists in identifying and managing your overall application portfolio, reducing the cost and time involved in resolving application compatibility issues and helping you quickly deploy Windows and Windows updates.” The ACT helps you to identify the applications within your overall application portfolio and to evaluate the upgrade. The ACT also enables you to ‘fix’ applications so that they run properly in the latest versions of MS operating systems. As such this tool will be invaluable in making older applications work without having to do costly upgrades.
The ACT and MAP tool sets do overlap a bit but both are extremely valuable. And they are also both free. Having said that, undertaking an analysis of your existing network, a step you really need to take as part of upgrading, can take time. It’s NOT an overnight task. And what’s more, you may find a whole lot of applications that are both critical to the business or some part of the business but are totally unknown to IT. You need time to assess these applications and to plan for moving these applications forward.
Get Started SOON
If you are still running Server 2003 in any shape or form – you should have an upgrade strategy. You should work out what you are going to upgrade, and what to. This is not necessarily a fast process. It can take weeks to work out all the applications you have and analyse each and every one for upgrade potential. And where upgrading to a new OS means an upgraded or a totally new application suite, you can find the upgrade process is going to be longer.
So, bottom line: if you haven’t started now – you are going to be hard pressed to finish in time. Get moving.
About the author: Thomas Lee is a long standing IT Pro consultant, author and trainer. He has had a consulting practice since the late 1980s after leaving what is now called Accenture. Thomas has co-authored several books as well as writing for magazines such as BackOffice Magazine and PC Pro. He has also spoken at Microsoft TechEd across the world.
We recently had the pleasure of co-presenting a series of bootcamp events for Microsoft resellers alongside HP and Zynstra. The content covered Windows Server 2012 R2, Office 365, Microsoft Azure, Service Provider Licence Agreements (SPLA), HP Hardware and Zynstra cloud appliances.
If you would find the content useful, we’ve made the available for you to download: the Microsoft and Zynstra slides and the HP slides. Nothing like attending an event in person of course so if this kind of event is of interest to you please do contact us as there may be some upcoming events we can let you know about.