Use your Microsoft SA Planning Services Soon

Microsoft has announced the phasing out of Planning Services days as a benefit of Software Assurance (SA).

The timeline is:-

  • 31st January 2020 – Training Vouchers can no longer be converted to Planning Services days.
  • 31st January 2020 – All Planning Services related to migration to cloud services are retired
  • 1st February 2021 – SA customers cease accruing additional benefits (days)
  • 31st May 2021 – Last day to create Planning Services Vouchers
  • 31st December 2021 – Remaining Planning Services fully retired

 

  1. URGENT ACTION is required if wish to convert your Training Vouchers to Planning Services days.
  2. URGENT ACTION is required to use your Planning Services days in relation to cloud migration

Planning Services provide deployment planning assistance for On-premises or Hybrid environments with Microsoft Consulting Services or qualified Microsoft partners.

Planning Services are largely focussed on transitioning On-premise workloads, such as Desktop (Office/Microsoft 365 & Windows), Exchange, SharePoint & SQL Server, to Microsoft-hosted or mixed (Hybrid) deployments.

Note: You must pro-actively activate your Planning Services benefit creating a Planning Services Voucher which must be assigned to your Project Manager. This is done via your VLSC and/or MPSA licensing web portals.

Although it will be 2 years before Planning Services are fully retired, we recommend that you consider using your Vouchers soon.

Note, however, that Microsoft has introduced FastTrack  to help organisations move to the Cloud.

FastTrack services are delivered by Microsoft employees, Microsoft-approved suppliers and Microsoft-approved partners (“FastTrack specialists”).

There are some specific eligibility criteria such as purchasing a minimum of 150 licenses from the eligible plans.

Customers with eligible subscriptions to Microsoft 365, Office 365, Azure, Dynamics 365 etc can use FastTrack at no additional cost for the life of their subscription.

If you need any assistance, please contact The SAM Club at info@thesamclub.co.uk

For those clients that have an on-going Service Agreement with The SAM Club we will be contacting you to help you claim and manage any outstanding Planning Services benefits, if required.

Also, see our blog on the phasing out of Training Vouchers as a benefit of SA.

Claim your Microsoft SA Training Vouchers Soon

Microsoft has announced the phasing out of Training Vouchers as a benefit of Software Assurance (SA).

It has been replaced by Microsoft Learn which is available to everyone now, is free and self-paced with options  for certification.

The timeline is:-

  • 31st January 2020 – Training Vouchers can no longer be converted to Planning Services days
  • 31st January 2020 – Azure related training courses removed from catalogue
  • 1st February 2021 – SA customers cease accruing additional benefits
  • 31st May 2021 – Last day to claim accrued Training Vouchers
  • January 2022 – Training Vouchers no longer redeemable
  1. URGENT ACTION is required if wish to convert your Training Vouchers to Planning Services days.
  2. URGENT ACTION is required if you wish to use your Training Vouchers for Azure related courses.

Note 1: Training Vouchers are acquired when you purchase SA on On-premise product licenses such as Windows Server & SQL Server core licenses, as well as purchases of Microsoft 365 From-SA User Subscription licenses. (From-SA indicates a transition from SA for on-premise products such as Client Access License (CAL) Suites).

Note 2: You must pro-actively claim your Training Vouchers via your VLSC and/or MPSA licensing web portals. If you have not done so, we recommend you consider doing so soon. However, note that once created, Training Vouchers are valid for 180 days.

Although it will be 2 years before Training Vouchers are no longer redeemable, we recommend that you use your Vouchers soon as we expect Microsoft Certified Training Centres to start to wind down the number and range of courses offered.

If you need any assistance, please contact The SAM Club at info@thesamclub.co.uk

For those clients that have an on-going Service Agreement with The SAM Club we will be contacting you to help you claim and manage any outstanding Training Vouchers benefits.

Also, see our next blog on the phasing out of Planning Services as a benefit of SA.

How do you know which version of Microsoft licenses your organisation owns and is licensed to use?

Image of trees Photo by Ju On on Unsplash - Mirosoft licensesDo you know which version of Microsoft licenses your organisation owns and is licensed to use? The Microsoft Business Center Portal (BCP) by design displays the original license view in case of licensing model changes. For example, with the licensing model for Windows Server having changed from processor to core licensing with the 2016 release, are you able to tell what your organisation owns and is entitled to?  So, as an example, with licenses for Windows Server 2012 R2 that expired on 31st October 2018, the SA term and the original order proves and guarantees entitlement to use Windows Server 2016 and/or 2019 instead of the 2012 R2 version.  But the BCP does not show or highlight this in any way.  In fact with a recent scenario we have seen the BCP shows no evidence of the SA term and expiry.  This could lead organisations to purchase the current version when in fact it is already owned.

At The SAM Club, we maintain the records for our clients in their SAM Workbooks and provide the help and guidance to ensure new software purchases are not made when a license already exists. If you would like to know more about our service then please get in touch.

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.

Azure AI ChatBots is the hype justified

SAM Club Azure AI Chatbots - User Group meetingAzure AI Chatbots was the topic of the 4th SAM Club Azure User group meeting, the meeting was kindly hosted by Gardiner & Theobald at their offices in London.

The conversations started with a client who is looking at developing Chatbots in Azure discussing the reasons they are considering AI Chatbots. Law firms are increasingly being asked what makes them different from their competitors. Technology is included in this for example: Can they get 24-hour access to policies that can be accessed via mobile apps? Chatbots can be developed to offer these services.

Microsoft invited ANS who are one of only 40 Azure Managed Service Partners (MSP) globally, but headquartered in the UK, who develop and design Chatbot’s. Chatbot’s are more than just a frequently asked question (FAQ) function on a website. The truth is the technology behind it is much more versatile.

Some examples of the different types of bots mentioned were:

    • ExperienceBot

For a website to help a prospect to find the right contact within a firm. An ExperienceBot could help point someone in the right direction of partners with the relevant knowledge.

    • StaffBot

Employees wanting to know how many days holiday they have, requesting holiday, maternity benefits etc this could all be accessed via the bot rather than contacting HR. Chatbots are not only able to automate tasks, they can be proactive. Feedback provided into the bot from staff can help answer common queries and can also be used as an anonymous way to capture data.

    • SupportBot

How many support calls are being received on what topics and it is possible to automate the responses to reduce the number of calls and increase response times.

A Chatbot is only limited by your own creativity. Could we see websites where you answer a few questions such as looking for a new car which then returns all makes and models for consideration?

An example of a successful Chatbot use case is the ‘Do Not Pay’ chatbot that was developed by Stanford University student, Joshua Browder. It is now perhaps the most recognisable name of any legal chatbot and is now known as “The world’s first robot lawyer”. It was developed to help users contest parking fines and has helped save motorists $13 million in parking fines.
The bot is now giving free legal aid to users through a simple-to-use chat interface. The chatbot, using Facebook Messenger, can now help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada. For those in the UK, it helps them apply for asylum support.

ANS created a parking Chatbot to help assist with their staff parking, using a camera in their carpark and data sources such as staff holidays, meetings and weather they can predict when parking spaces might be available.

A Chatbot can never answer every question that anyone will ask. But built in ‘error’ replies such as ‘I don’t know the answer but can ask someone to contact you’ can help. Gathering information on additional questions can then be beneficial to develop the Chatbot further.

ANS have created a ‘BaseBot’ which is free to download on GitHub that enables you to deploy an AI powered Chatbot in under 1 hour. A great starting point for a simple Chatbot for a pilot.

Microsoft offer an QnA Maker in Azure where you can create a simple FAQ service from existing content. This offers an ideal starting point for organisations thinking about Chatbot technology and can be set up for only a small investment.

There are many off the shelf bot technologies, but if more bespoke Chatbots are required then working in partnership with a developer is recommended so they can integrate your data and build to your specific requirements.

A final use case that ANS presented was with Staffordshire University, they developed an AI-driven coach and support assistant using intelligent Chatbot technology. It provides students with key information such as course timetables, campus facilities and extra-curricular activities. It is also a support tool to help identify any at-risk individuals who may be unhappy or unsettled and provide guidance and support.

Feedback from the roundtable highlighted resistance from partners and how to drive change and get buy in, as there can be too much technology. The suggestion is always to start small with a pilot group that can then champion the concepts. ANS recommended a collaborative approach; upfront involvement from partners to discuss their pain points with developers who can translate that into what’s possible with AI Chatbot technology. Also starting off with a version one of a Chatbot to prove it’s use, then develop it further with internal and external data.

Next Azure User Group

The meeting rounded off with discussion on the topic for the next event which was agreed as Microsoft Cloud Assessments. This process looks at client’s workload on-premise and works out the costings/commercials for moving to Azure with a detailed report. The next event will be held in early August and will be announced soon.
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

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.

Microsoft announce the special Office Professional plus installation rights will remain

Microsoft announce that they will not now remove the special Office Professional Plus installation rights that customers are currently entitled to with Microsoft 365 E3 and E5 From SA licences. The current rights are detailed on page 54 of the May 2019 Product Terms, and this announcement confirms that the rights are here to stay rather than being removed after 1st August 2019.

Citrix Workspace - digital workspace

The SAM Club can help you understand your licensing position, document and maintain your software assets and help with new technology planning and renewals. Find out more.

Visual Studio 2019 now available

Microsoft announced that Visual Studio 2019 is available to download as of 2nd April 2019. With improvements on the previous version, Visual Studio 2019 enables users to get into code more quickly by making it easier to use.

Visual Studio 2019

Visual Studio is licensed per developer and provides Azure Credit for subscribers:

  • US$50 for Visual Studio Professions (standard subscription)
  • US$150 for Visual Studio Enterprise (standard subscription)

Note: Overages are billed after the monthly credit has been consumed.

If you are considering Azure for Dev & Test purposes, then check out our blog from our recent Azure User Group meeting on this subject.

Visual Studio is also the perfect solution for gaining access to the latest Microsoft releases for Dev & Test use (Windows Server, SQL Server etc).  See the latest version of the benefits by subscription level here.

If you would like to know more about licensing Visual Studio or to get advice on your current licensing position, please get in touch.

System Center 2019 now available

Microsoft announced the general availability of System Center 2019 on 14th March 2019. As customers grow their deployments in the public cloud and on-premises data centres, management tools are evolving to meet customer needs. System Center continues to play an important role in managing the on-premises data centre and the evolving needs with the adoption of the public cloud.

System Center 2019

Some of the features include:

  • Tools to monitor and manage data centers
  • Support and manage capabilities in the latest versions of Windows Server
  • Enable hybrid management and monitoring capabilities with Azure

System Center 2019 is in the LTSC (Long Term Servicing Channel) which provides 5 years of standard and 5 years of extended support.

Click here for further information on the announcement and how System Center can benefit your organisation.

If you would like independent advice on your current licensing position, please get in touch. We offer an independent SAM Managed Service or can work with clients on a project basis for upcoming Microsoft renewals and compliance reviews.

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.