Customer journey migrating to Azure and licensing considerations

The SAM Club’s 6th Azure User Group meeting was kindly held at Neon Underwriters, a long-term client of ours based in London. The topic for this meeting was about a customer’s journey migrating to Azure. The SAM Club also presented on some of the licensing considerations that firms need to consider when planning their Azure migration.

Customer journey migrating to Azure event

Azure Licensing

Ian Nicholls from The SAM Club kicked the event off with a presentation on Azure licensing, discussing how Windows Server on premise licenses with SA (Software Assurance) can be used within Azure via the Hybrid Use Benefit. Emphasis was placed on the planning phase when considering moving to Azure and the importance of licensing.

Microsoft use the ‘Group of 8 Rule’ which refers to the number of cores, so a VM (virtual machine) must be licensed for 8 cores minimum. If a Windows Server Standard license for 16 Cores is used within Azure under Hybrid Use Rights, this can be used for a max 2 VM’s (2 x 8 Cores) based on the specification of the VM. The rule for a Standard license is that it can be used for an on-premise server or in Azure but not both. But you get 180 days of concurrent use rights whilst migrating servers.

This rule also applies to Windows Server Datacenter (DC) which seems strange as DC is for unlimited VM’s within a host server on premise. But within Azure there is no concept of a host server. A Datacenter license can be used both on premise & in Azure – based on the Group of 8 rule. So, a 16 Core DC license can be used for a max of 2 VM’s within Azure.

You can also stack licenses so by adding more cores, you can run a VM for 16, 24, 32 cores etc. Savings of up to 40% on VM’s can be seen when using the Azure Hybrid Use benefit.

SQL licensing

The Azure Hybrid Use Rights for SQL Server within Azure only applies to the per core licensing model for SQL Server Standard and Enterprise per core licenses with SA.

SQL Server licenses on the server/CAL model are not applicable for Azure Hybrid Use Rights.

SQL Server Enterprise when used for General Purpose or Hyperscale Service Tiers are entitled to 4 cores for 1 core with SA owned and used. Business Critical or Azure Virtual Machines are only entitled to 1:1 core.

Each VM must be licensed for every core with a minimum of 4 cores per VM.

With migrating to Azure there is also 180 days of concurrent use rights to assist with the process.

BYOL – Bring your Own License

Where software licenses that are owned and used within Azure outside of the Hybrid Use Benefit, such as SQL Server on the Server/CAL model, a License Mobility Verification Form must be completed within 10 days and submitted via the LSP/Reseller.

Azure Dedicated Host

Azure Dedicated Host (DH) is a new service that is currently in preview from 1st August 2019 so has some limitations.

Azure Hybrid User Rights can be used for a Windows Server Datacenter license being applied to the DH for all the cores. A DH can also be used for SQL Server with an Enterprise License also being applied based on the number of cores on the DH.

It is also possible to group DH together, like an on premise ESX farm for example.

The DH addresses compliance requirements by giving the ability to place Azure VMs on a specific & dedicated physical server with host level isolation – no third party VM’s will be placed on your hosts.

With Azure VM’s, Microsoft complete and apply maintenance to the VM’s as required. With Dedicated Host servers, you have the option to defer host maintenance for up to 35 days, thereby gaining full control over the sequence and velocity of the maintenance process. Most maintenance events have little or no impact on your VM’s. But there may be some sensitive workloads where every second of pause could have an impact. You can therefore opt in to a maintenance window for control and to reduce the impact on your service.

Existing Azure VM’s can be moved to Dedicated Hosts and it is our understanding that portal support for this will be available soon.

Pricing

  • Charged per dedicated host – not VM
  • No upfront costs
  • Host price based on:
    • VM series (Dsv3 & Esv3 – support for Fsv2 coming soon)
    • Hardware Size
    • Region
  • Software Licensing, Storage & Network usage billed separately – no change compared to Azure VM’s
  • No termination Fees
  • Reserved Instance are not currently available during the preview phase.

Below are the current Dedicated Host options. It is worth noting, that with an on-premise server running VM’s there are no limitations on the number of VM’s.

With DH there is a limit based on the number of virtual CPUS available:

Azure Dedicated Host options

Updated License Terms:

On 1st October 2019, Microsoft updated their licensing terms for dedicated hosted cloud services.

Due to the emergence of dedicated hosted public cloud services, beginning 1st October 2019 on-premise licenses purchased without software assurance and mobility rights cannot be deployed within the following public cloud providers: Microsoft, Alibaba, Amazon (including VMware Cloud on AWS), and Google. They will be referred to as “Listed Providers.”

These changes don’t apply to other providers and there will be no change to the Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) program or to the License Mobility for Software Assurance benefit, other than to expand this benefit to cover dedicated hosted cloud services.

Farrer & Co LLP: Journey to the Azure Cloud

Neil Davison IT Director at Farrer explained, signing an agreement with Net Documents in 2013/14 was Farrer’s first toe in the water with their journey to the cloud. Farrer were one of the first law firms to move their infrastructure to the cloud, which was considered due to aging technology during a review of their infrastructure. There were server room issues, cabling issues and technology nearing end of life, so a full replace was needed. Dell worked with Farrer on a review strategy roadmap so they could consider replacing their on-premise infrastructure, versus Private and Public Cloud options. When this was presented to the board it was clear that Public cloud offered the best solution.

Any security issues that the board raised were addressed by Microsoft’s trust center and they found this resource invaluable in helping convince the board to approve the project. In 2016 the project was approved, so Farrer set about finding the right partner to help them with help from Microsoft. After tendering to 4 partners, SystemsUp were chosen and they led Farrer through every aspect of the migration.

The planning phase took 14 months and their infrastructure was mapped so they could see what was in place and which systems linked to each other. From here a migration plan was formulated and as the integration between systems was crucial, the decision was taken to move everything to Azure at the same time.

Security

Microsoft offers a very high level of security, but it is still a shared responsibility. So, Farrer had to put a plan in place for security on servers and patching, mapping against CIS benchmarks – which is run by Microsoft and advises on measures to take to help improve your company’s security score.

A high-profile client did an audit at Farrer and security was a high concern all round, but Azure was not the concern, most questions were around the Net Documents software with Azure being a tick box exercise.

Farrer backfilled their infrastructure team and utilised SystemsUp to upskill the team so that they had in house knowledge once the project was completed.

Farrer have other security products in place aside from Microsoft’s; currently on the Microsoft M365 E3 plan they use products from Checkpoint and Tenable.io to complement their security and are considering moving to Microsoft M365 E5 next year.

Testing

Testing took thousands of hours and they had a team test the migration plan before it was executed live. Some of the systems were 20 plus years old so some latency was picked up. The decision was made to use the Amsterdam datacentre as this is one of the first locations to receive updates with London being the second datacentre location.

Changes did happen during the migration with updates from Microsoft coming through regularly in Azure, but SystemsUp understood Farrer’s environment and were able to adapt accordingly. A question was raised in the room about how this new adoption of technology is being received within the law firm. There is always resistance to change but that is the nature of the world we live in now and technology is becoming more of a competitive edge for law firms to have over the competition.

There is a testing group in place at Farrer who meet every 6 weeks to review changes and decisions made on which updates to implement.

Changes internally

The infrastructure team at Farrer have changed the way they work, and the team have reskilled using resources such as the Microsoft Enterprise Skills initiative for support and training. They are more focused on being proactive and looking at what’s coming; which makes them more agile and able to leverage new technologies such as AI.

Farrer see Azure as much more than a lift and shift and feel they have only touched the surface of what is possible in Azure. Re-platforming of systems is taking place now and considering other cloud services.

Since migrating their entire infrastructure to Azure and using Microsoft 365 Farrer have had 100% uptime.

Regarding Business continuity Farrer have completed fail over testing for a week with the London Datacenter being used during the DR (Disaster Recovery) period which ran as good as the live environment. Remote working is enabled through a Checkpoint VPN providing direct access with an always on VPN connection.

The next step for Farrer is a review of the infrastructure and costings, they have some servers on Reserved Instances (RI) now and they review them quarterly with SystemsUp.

Additional resources

Microsoft have a Fast Track Service team for Azure which is available based on eligibility.

Discussion on next topic and host

Ideas for the next meeting topic were:

  • Azure Sentinel demo and security discussion
  • Dictalogic demo (an alternative to BigHand)

The date and location are to be confirmed.

You can find blog articles from our previous events here:
Azure User Group meeting
Azure User Group meeting 2 Dev /Test
Azure User Group meeting 3 Security & Compliance
Azure AI Chatbots is the hype justified?
Microsoft Cloud Economics Assessment

Are your Microsoft Azure Costs Spiralling?

As more organisations start to use Microsoft Azure it is important to review your Azure portal(s) on a regular basis.

Spiral Staircase - Microsoft Azure Costs spiralling?

There are two portals. The original portal, aptly named ‘Classic’ and the newer version Azure Resource Manager (ARM). Moving from Classic to ARM is not straight forward but it’s worth considering for potential cost savings as Classic has limitations.

Windows Server Hybrid Rights

As you start to migrate VM’s to Azure, your Windows Server Datacenter & Standard Edition licenses with SA or Windows Server Subscriptions can be used with Hybrid Rights for the OS’s hosting VM’s within ARM. This saves you licensing additional Windows Servers for the Azure VM’s thereby helping to reduce your costs. *Note that this option is not available with the ‘Classic’ portal.

Disks

If you review the Disks that you’ve purchased, there is a column called ‘Owner’. Where this is blank it indicates that the Disk is not being used by a VM. However, this Disk would have been purchased and is, therefore, contributing towards your costs.

Reserved Instances (RI’s)

This is where a VM can be reserved for dedicated use on a one- or three-year basis. RI’s require a one-time up-front payment but can offer discounts up to 70% when compared to the standard on-demand pay-per-use VM pricing model. *Note RI’s are not available within the ‘Classic’ portal.

The ARM portal also provides performance information on VM’s. After a 30-day period, you can see information on VM’s that may have been specified incorrectly and only using a small % of the CPU available. This provides another option to review and reduce Azure costs.

Are you using Azure for Test and Dev environments? Are you making full use of the Azure credits which come with your Visual Studio subscriptions? Visual Studio Professional provides a credit of US$50 per month and US$150 per month with Visual Studio Enterprise. But, these credits are for use by your named licenced developers and cannot be used on a team basis.

At The SAM Club, we monitor our clients’ Azure Portals and provide regular reports for review, highlighting potential cost savings for consideration. Contact us if you would like to know more about our independent Software Asset Management Service. We are not a license reseller, so you can be confident that the information we provide is unbiased and, in your organisation’s, best interest.

If you are considering moving to Microsoft Azure you might find attending our regular Azure User Group meetings useful.

Microsoft SQL Server – Cost Analysis / License Review/Case Studies

Recently, The SAM Club has worked on three Microsoft SQL Server licensing projects all with different scenarios and saved our clients significant costs on each occasion.
Micrsosoft SQL Server

Case 1:

Client A had a mixture of SQL Server Standard (licensed with User CALS) and SQL Server Enterprise licenses. On comparing their installations with licenses owned, it quickly became apparent that the client was severely under-licensed. SQL Server Enterprise was being installed as the ‘norm’. After an initial clean up exercise, the whole SQL Server estate was reviewed, and each installation reconsidered as to whether SQL Server Standard or Enterprise was required. The current and immediate requirements were considered as well as the SQL Server 2014 User CALS which didn’t have SA. Based on the client’s plans we reviewed the licensing options; considering SQL Server Standard with User CALS and the Per Core permanent licensing models, as well as the subscription model, over a 6-year period. The license costs ranged from £316k to £210k, a significant difference and proved invaluable in helping the client with their decision process.

Case 2:

Client B following a merger of two firms, the SQL Server estate needed a complete review. One firm had been licensed on the SQL Server Standard + User CALs model whilst the other firm had older Per Processor licenses without SA. The client had been through a process of decommissioning several applications and reviewing its IT infrastructure. After discussions and examining the pricing of different licensing models and options it was decided that, in the longer term, it was best for the client to opt for a separate SQL Server VM Farm. Two servers were commissioned and licensed for SQL Server Enterprise to allow the client to run a mixture of SQL Server Standard and Enterprise VM installations, ensuring they are compliant and to provide the longer-term flexibility for the numerous SQL Server instances required.

Case 3:

Client C has an SCE agreement covering all its SQL Server estate. On comparing their installations to the licenses within their SCE agreement, we identified a shortfall of more than £300k per annum. A project was kick started and discussions held as to how to reduce the deficit. A decision was made quite quickly, based upon the number of SQL Server Enterprise installations, to consider a separate SQL Server VM Farm licensed with SQL Server Enterprise. On completion of the analysis the shortfall was reduced to less than £70k per annum.

Also, in Cases 1 and 2 we were able to help resell the SQL Server licenses no longer required to offset some of the costs.

As part of our analysis we consider:

  • Full history of the SQL Server licenses purchased
  • The installed base and SQL Server purposes, including:
  • SQL Server installations for Dev and Test
  • Active / Passive Servers
  • Installations where no separate license is required e.g. SCCM & Commvault
  • Installations nearing end of Microsoft Extended Support

Question : How does your SQL Server installation base compare to your licenses owned? Are you using the most cost-effective license model?

Over the years, SQL Server costs have significantly increased, and Microsoft has changed its licensing models and SA benefits between major releases. Contact The SAM Club if you are interested in an independent licensing review of your SQL Server environment. We will provide a report based on our findings for your review and consideration. The SAM Club is not a license reseller, so you can be confident that the information we provide is unbiased and in your firms best interest.

Azure DevTest – SAM Club Azure User Group meeting 2

Azure DevTest was the topic of the 2nd SAM Club Azure User Group meeting, that was held this month at one of our clients who kindly hosted in a central London location. The number of clients attending increased and all those in attendance agreed that the discussions are useful and interesting.

Microsoft started the meeting with a ‘hot off the press’ announcement that Azure can now be purchased direct from Microsoft. The Azure price will be based on the US$ exchange rate which will be set at the beginning of each month with Microsoft making a commitment to not make a profit on exchange rates. The benefits were discussed around flexibility of billing and being able to move away from the ‘use it or lose it’ format of the minimum monthly commit, Azure SCE agreements.

Organisations using Azure can still purchase via their preferred reseller also.

Microsoft talked about the Cloud 9 portal which was recently acquired and how this can help analyse usage.

Azure DevTest – Test and Development in Azure

The discussion then focused around the agreed topic of Azure DevTest environments which tends to be a popular starting point for moving to Azure.
Open discussion between our clients identified some of the issues they have with their developers and managing their needs.

Some of the key points were:

  • Understanding of the developer’s specific requirements
  • Backups and ability to spin up new systems quickly with the latest copy of the live system
  • Balancing overheads for storage requirements
  • Development teams always want more space/resource which can’t always be provided easily or quickly
  • Number of people working on an app at the same time
  • Visual Studio license credits being allocated to an individual, there is a need to pool for a team of developers
  • Controlling costs, how can IT heads manage developers spend in Azure
  • Access required to full dataset / data security – where is the data?

Some benefits Microsoft highlighted around Azure Test and Development labs:

  • Ability to set spending thresholds and set up alerts at spending levels and the ability to turn an environment off when required
  • Central reporting
  • Multitenanted so multiple users can run apps at the same time
  • Pool Visual Studio credit into test and development labs
  • Complete cost management control – can set a period of the day developers can access
  • Allows Dev teams to spin up new environments when required quickly

Microsoft talked about their client Centrica who have been using Azure test and development.

Azure DevTest quote Centrica

Azure App Service

The Azure App Service was briefly discussed as an option for clients to move apps from on-premise to cloud and deploy web/mobile/API apps.
The issue around some of the legal vendors not being on board with cloud was raised with clients as a blocker to this. In house apps could be used within this service.

Chatbots

Microsoft discussed running use cases with Microsoft technical teams to use chatbots within Azure to help fee earners. Azure cognitive services could help potentially analyse initial case communications to drive efficiency with ability to search precedence library as an example.

Azure Infrastructure Cost Analysis

Microsoft mentioned that they provide funding for full infrastructure scans using a Movere – described as a MAP Toolkit on steroids. The scan is run for a minimum of 2 weeks up to a month and aligns all apps and infrastructure to a cost in Azure.

Taking a high-level lift and shift exercise considering existing licenses i.e. SA for Hybrid Use Rights can save up to 70% of the costs.

Calculating the compute for 1 or 3 years for always on production applications and using Reserved Instances will also help to reduce costs.

The next meeting

As security and data breach keeps coming up in discussions around cloud it was decided that for the next meeting we invite Stuart Aston, who is Microsoft National Security Officer along to share Microsoft’s stance on security and compliance. All attendees will provide their list of questions for Stuart before the meeting so that they can be addressed. If you are interested in attending the next meeting, which is being held on 9th April, in London then please get in touch for further information.

You can find out more about previous SAM Club Azure User Group meetings in our blog post here and subscribe to our blog updates.

Azure User Group Meeting

The SAM Club’s first Azure User Group Meeting was held at Microsoft, 2 Kingdom Street, Paddington, London, W2 6BD on Thursday 24th January 2019 with several of our clients in attendance.
Azure User Group event - The SAM Club
The objective of the Azure User Group is to help educate and provide a means of communication with Microsoft and peers on the Azure Infrastructure solution.

Microsoft started off talking through some use cases of Legal Services clients who have made a transition to Azure – including Taylor Wessing, Farrer and other clients who cannot be named.

Another firm was mentioned but is to remain anonymous, who run their production workload on-premise, but are using AI to get better insight into identifying fraudulent claims. AI augments work in the middle office to flag claims that could be fraudulent based on intelligent analytics. They have already flagged over 100 cases using the technology.
Azure User Group attendees - The SAM Club
Open discussions followed which touched on the following subjects:

Security

A big concern amongst the Legal firms; was Client and Personal confidential data in the Public Cloud & Security.

Microsoft discussed the level of security in their datacentres from a physical aspect, the datacentres are protected to military levels and are not found on maps. Any visitors to the datacentres are checked out and all electronic devices are taken from them before they can enter. All data held within the datacentres is anonymised, so no member of staff could identify which data set belongs to which organisation.

Compliance

Legal firms are regularly audited by their biggest clients, particularly big banks which may be using Azure themselves. However, the compliance teams don’t understand Azure and want to be able to see and access the data.

A point was raised to Microsoft to educate the Compliance industry – Microsoft do have a large list of compliance accreditations and can discuss compliance organisations such as SOX, SRA & Banks.
Partners in legal firms are more concerned about where data resides and if something goes wrong; it is their reputation on the line.

Resilience

It was mentioned that Azure and Office 365 does take away control with getting the infrastructure back up if there are outages. But there is nothing the IT team can do and feel powerless. With a new site going live it can leave confidence a bit shaky. There needs to be more detailed information available from Microsoft in these situations to help manage expectations.

Microsoft mentioned that they replicate an organisations server in the cloud two times to ensure resilience.

Blockers

Microsoft advised that they are actively working with vendors to ensure their applications are available and can be run within the Public Cloud.

Auto scaling and Optimisation of VMs in Azure

Optimisation of workloads was not seen as a big concern for legal firms as they don’t have a ‘Black Friday effect’ sometimes there is a slow down in app performance if a SQL report is run and fee earners all launch an app at the same time. Microsoft talked about daily peaks and troughs in app usage and possible savings Azure can offer in working out compute costs.

The next meeting

The Azure User Group attendees agreed that the discussions were informative and would like to continue monthly initially. The next agenda topic was agreed to focus on Test and Development environments and the benefits of Azure.

Here are some testimonials from the event
“Great kick off to the Azure User Group. Found it very insightful. Looking forward to the next one and hopefully using the sessions to assist us with our thought process for moving to Azure. Looking forward to the next meeting.”

“I found the Azure User Group meeting extremely useful, as it was good to meet up and discuss with fellow counterparts in other organisations that are in similar positions and are able to share their experiences. Also, being able to provide feedback to Microsoft face to face and how they can help was also very beneficial. Can’t wait for the next one”

If you have not already subscribed to our blog subscribe here to keep up to date with the Azure User Group updates and if you are interested in attending please get in touch.

Azure Cloud Solution Provider vs EA

Azure Cloud Solution Provider
The Azure Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) is being mentioned more by the Licensing Solutions Partners (LSP) when discussing Microsoft renewal options. At The SAM Club we have been asked several times – what the difference is between the Azure Cloud Solutions Provider and the Enterprise Agreement (EA). Recently Microsoft have produced a PDF to help differentiate between the options.

Having analysed this further, we have the following observations which should be considered:

  • The EA is now for a minimum of 500 Users. Organisations that are below 500 Users with an existing EA which expires before 30th June 2019 are allowed to renew their EA one more time.
  • The CSP doesn’t provide a from SA SKU. For example, an organisation that is licensed for Office Pro Plus and Enterprise CAL Suite with SA wouldn’t gain a price reduction for owning these products with current SA.
    However there may be an option/benefit to resell the existing Microsoft Licenses when moving to Office 365 for example.
  • A CSP allows the LSP to determine their own pricing and can provide support for an inclusive / additional fee. Are you reviewing your options adequately?
  • Do you have seasonal staff increases? The CSP option allows for the number of licenses to be trued up or down on a monthly basis.
  • Price Protection – The CSP only provides for 12 months whereas the EA is for the 3 year term.
  • The EA allows for On-premises Server Installation Rights with Microsoft 365 E3/E5: Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business Servers. This is not available via the CSP for Microsoft 365 E3/E5 plans.

If you are unsure which agreement is best for your organisation, or would like an independent view of your options, then please do not hesitate to contact The SAM Club.

SAM Club Merry Christmas and a look back on the year – 2018

Merry Christmas - SAM Club 2018 update
Well the year is winding down, less than a week until Christmas. So, we thought we would do a roundup of the SAM Club’s year.

We have had a year of growth and are very excited for what 2019 will bring.

Some of our achievements:

• Increased our client base by 25%

• For 15% of our clients, we have assisted with and completed sign off for a Microsoft Compliance Review

• Worked with 28% of our clients on their Microsoft Enterprise Agreements – reviewing their installations, discussing their future requirements and advising on ideas / solutions. Including completely relicensing SQL Servers for 2 clients which resulted in large cost savings for them

In April we opened our new office at Kings Court, Stevenage. It’s a managed office with great facilities and services that we love working in. To coincide with the new office, we expanded our team to include our new Business Support Assistant, Neeley Casserly – who is helping to keep our clients’ licensing and SAM Workbooks up to date.

Some of our improved business processes:

• Implemented an online accounts system for the SAM Club

• We have now made the SAM Workbooks accessible via a link. So our clients can always see the latest version of their workbook in real time

• Installed Webroot to secure our laptops

• GDPR – as everyone had to tackle this year, we climbed the GDPR mountain, researched and implemented the required processes to ensure we are compliant

We have written more blog articles, providing our clients with regular updates on product lifecycles, new product releases, licensing changes and some great licensing tips. There will be more to come next year, and we have had some great feedback on the topics covered so far. Suggestions are always welcome.

Thank you to all our clients and partners, old and new for 2018. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. We look forward to working with you all, for what will be a great 2019!

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