Microsoft Software Assurance is a software maintenance program that helps organizations gain access to the latest software versions and releases, without incurring additional licensing costs. The program was introduced by Microsoft in 2002 and is either automatically included in purchase plans or available as an optional add-on.
At the time, organizations were often spending excessive amounts of money on Windows licenses. These licenses were not transferrable when a new Windows version was released. If an organization wanted to upgrade to the latest Windows version, it would have to abandon its existing license investment and purchase new licenses for the newly released version.
What does Software Assurance do?
Microsoft Software Assurance provides licenses for version upgrades. Software Assurance customers automatically receive licensing rights that will allow them to deploy new software versions whenever they are released. The Software Assurance program also provides access to Microsoft Unified Support as well as to other services that are designed to help customers to get the most from their software.
There are four broad categories of features of the Microsoft Software Assurance program. These include:
- On-premises deployment planning services. The deployment planning services are being discontinued in January 2022 in favor of using Microsoft FastTrack to help adopt Microsoft cloud services.
- Training vouchers for technical training (training vouchers are being discontinued in January 2022).
- Discounted cost for those who wish to purchase a personal Office 365 subscription.
- License mobility allows licenses to be used on premises or in the cloud.
Benefits of Software Assurance
Microsoft currently offers six different licensing plans, each with differing benefits. These plans include Open License, Open Value Non-Organization Wide, Open Value Organization-Wide and Subscription, Select/Select Plus for Government, Microsoft Products and Services Agreement, and Enterprise Agreement/Enterprise Agreement Subscription.
There are a number of benefits associated with Microsoft's Software Assurance program, although some of these benefits will eventually be discontinued. Other benefits only apply to specific licensing plans or are only available to those who spend a certain amount of money each year. The benefits include:
- New Version Rights. Upgrade covered products to the latest version at no additional cost, throughout the duration of the Software Assurance contract.
- Planning Service. Get assistance from Microsoft to determine how software should be deployed.
- Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). Get a suite of tools that is designed to help with policy control, diagnostics and recovery.
- Windows Virtual Desktop Access Rights (VDA). A license that allows users to access virtual Windows instances.
- Windows 10 Enterprise Per User Add-on Availability. An optional license that can be applied to a device's primary user.
- Windows to Go Use Rights. Allows users to run Windows from a USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive.
- Enterprise Source Licensing Program. Grants enterprises the right to access Windows source code for the purposes of development and support.
- Office Online Services and Office Online Server. Grants users the ability to access browser-based versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
- Office Roaming Use Rights. The primary user of a licensed device is allowed to remotely access Office, Project and Visio.
- Exchange Online Voicemail. Exchange 2019 users can access their voicemail through Outlook.
- Servers Self-Hosted Applications. Allows organizations to run their own software as a hosted service.
- License Mobility. Servers that are licensed on for on-premises use can be used in authorized clouds.
- Training Vouchers. These allow IT pros to attend classroom training.
- Microsoft Home Use Program. Microsoft provides a discount to users who wish to purchase an Office 365 Home or personal subscription.
- Problem Resolution Support. Access to 24/7 phone support for business-critical support, support for noncritical issues during business hours, and email support.
- Server Disaster Recovery Rights. Microsoft provides licenses for servers that exist for disaster recovery (DR) purposes.
- Failover Rights. This benefit provides licensing for nonproduction servers that are kept "warm" in preparation for a passive failover in a DR event.
- Microsoft Dynamics Customer Source. Microsoft Dynamics customers can get access to Dynamics Customer Source.
- Step-up License Availability. Software Assurance customers have the right to upgrade software to a higher-level edition.
- Spread Payments. Billing can be spread across three equal, annual sums.
For further reference, Microsoft provides a chart that breaks down the benefits associated with each plan.
Drawbacks of Software Assurance
Microsoft's Software Assurance program has drawn criticism for its price, as well as the duration of each contract period relative to the frequency of significant software upgrades. As major operating system upgrades are often released on intervals of greater than three years, the Software Assurance contract would likely have to be renewed for each significant upgrade.
Furthermore, the Software Assurance requirements state that clients must spend specific minimum amounts of money before accessing some of the specific benefits. For example, Microsoft requires a minimum $250,000 in Software Assurance annual spend (starting in August 2021) in order to receive the problem resolution support benefit.
Accessing Software Assurance
Software Assurance is only available through a volume licensing plan. Negotiations for a Software Assurance plan must be done through a Microsoft Authorized Retailer. Software Assurance is automatically included in some licensing plans and available as an additional purchase in others.