Microsoft licensing agreements for businesses are famously complex, with prices varying depending on how many copies you're buying of what product, with what support and upgrade rights, and who you're getting them from. The new Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA) that's rolling out to more countries this year aims to simplify things, especially for mid-sized companies.
It's not just that you get a single, short licensing document instead of nearly 40 pages of different agreements, or even that instead of going to a different Microsoft website to see each of your agreements they're all on one portal, complete with your volume licence keys and software downloads – handy as that is.
The advantage of the MPSA is that it's a single way to buy Microsoft software and online services, with or without Software Assurance, even from multiple sources, that everyone in your company business can use to get volume discounts – without having to buy the same software.
"Especially when they're using multiple partners, people have ended up with a proliferation of agreements so they have to stitch together their own reporting. We're trying to give customers a one shop stop, no matter what type of organisation they are; big, small or diversified, they have a single mechanism to buy software and services through one portal," Microsoft's Mark Croft told TechRadar Pro. "They always get the right price and they get central reporting. They can rest easy, knowing who has done what and that they will be automatically getting the best price."
If you have branch offices or multiple departments, you can let them use your Microsoft purchasing account and add up all the Microsoft products you buy individually and use the total to qualify for volume pricing. That's everything from Windows to desktop Office to server software like SQL Server to cloud services – currently Office 365, Intune, Dynamics CRM Online, Project Online, Lync and Yammer. Azure (including services like Azure Active Directory Premium) and the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite are "on the roadmap".
"If you want Office 365 you can buy it through the MPSA as a subscription, or if you want the Office client you can install you can buy that, or if you want the next version included so you're always up to date – it covers all of that," Croft explains.
Money to be saved
That adds up to both simplicity and savings, according to Stacie Boulay of Microsoft licencing partner En Pointe: "This is an initiative to simplify the customers' overall experience by allowing them to consolidate all of their purchases under one agreement. And customers are going to save money overall; this affects their total operating expense and cost of business. The pricing hasn't changed much but with the ability to self-provision, a customer reduces the amount of downtime for a PO to be processed, and they have immediate access to latest technology for any project deadline."
Boulay describes the tools in the new portal as "pretty easy" to use.
The MPSA doesn't replace all of Microsoft's other licensing programs. For very small businesses, Croft says the Open and Open Value programmes are more relevant – "we're going to add more cloud options for very small business users through Open," he claims.
And if you're buying thousands of licences a year through an Enterprise Agreement, you're going to be doing that for a while (although Croft says the MPSA will evolve to be more attractive to large customers). If you're currently signed up for Microsoft Select Plus licensing, the MPSA is what you'll be looking at.
"The MPSA does everything that Select Plus does, it does it better and crucially it does both on premise and cloud. We've announced that we'll be retiring Select Plus over the next couple of years and that's deliberate. Of course, if you've bought through Select Plus you don't lose those rights even once it's retired, but we'll be trying to slowly bring people over onto the MPSA."
Until you move all your licences to the new agreement, you can't manage them all with the new portal (or use them to qualify for discounts).
"The challenge for a customer is going to be if they have a legacy VL agreement which uses one tool while MPSA uses another," Boulay points out. "They will need to manage two separate portals and there is no functionality at this time, nor are there any plans in the future, to incorporate old licences from legacy tools into the new MVLC platform. MPSA can only be viewed on the new Microsoft Volume Licensing Centre and the traditional volume licensing programs can only be viewed on [the current] Volume Licensing Service Centre."
250 users and up
To qualify for MPSA volume pricing, you need to be buying for at least 250 users or devices and you need to have bought 500 points worth of software by the end of your first year – as you buy more points worth of software, you qualify for bigger volume discounts (the discount levels run from A to D, with D being the highest discounts).
Microsoft products are divided into three pools (operating systems, servers and productivity software), so you have to earn 500 points in each pool to get volume discounts in that pool. "Think of it like earning airline frequent flyer miles," Croft suggests. The point system is simpler than trying to deal with multiple currencies and he says the 500 point level "is not an aggressive target".
MPSA currently covers the UK and indeed the whole of the EU, and by summer 2015 "it will be global, with the possible exception of mainland China," Croft told us. But you don't get it from Microsoft, rather, it's available through Microsoft's 400 licensing solution partners – although once you have an MPSA you can just go online and buy more licences or new online services without going back to the partner.
"If a customer is opening a new branch office over the weekend and wants to set up ten new employees with Office 365 they can log in, add those ten users on the plan they want, provision those users and have them up and running without needing to go back and forth to the licensing partner. The partner can see what the customer is doing but the customer doesn't have to wait on the partner and the customer doesn't have to micromanage the partner."
Simple and unified
You can have different licensing partners, so you could get your OS and data centre products from Dell but your productivity tools from another partner. But Microsoft partners who resell services like Office 365 with their own products – like email archiving or encryption services – aren't yet able to offer the MPSA. So this is a simpler, unified system, but unless you're buying your first Microsoft products you probably can't use it for everything.