I specialise in Microsoft licensing and spend much of my time advising customers and helping them through its complexities. There is a lot that comes up time and time again, so here are my top five recommendations for improving your Microsoft licensing.
1 Get a grip on software asset management
Software asset management (SAM) isn’t much fun and that’s why it’s often done badly. But doing it well (or having it done for you) can save money, and prevents nasty, and potentially costly, surprises when you are audited.
As a result of poor, or non-existent, SAM, it’s surprising how many organisations are over-buying software – effectively buying products that they already possess. On the other hand, they may be deploying licenses that they don’t actually own and that can cause a world of pain when there’s a Microsoft licensing audit.
Many companies tend to buy their licenses in an ad hoc way without real planning, and this makes it much harder to keep track of exactly what they own.
Fundamentally there are two parts to SAM: having a record of what you own and have deployed, and ensuring that this tallies with Microsoft’s records. There are tools, both free and paid-for, to help you take an inventory of your licences, and Total, like many Microsoft partners, has a SAM service to assist with this. We can help by finding out what licences Microsoft have recorded for you (which is something you do through a Microsoft partner), comparing this with your records, and resolving any discrepancies.
Good SAM also protects you against the pain of unexpected and unbudgeted expenses in future. If Microsoft decide to audit you and find a shortfall in licensing, they will need the licenses to be purchased, with potential penalties on top.
While you could just wait for them to catch up with you, being told to stump up thousands of pounds that isn’t in your budget is going to be a nasty surprise – far better to plan ahead. If you haven’t heard from Microsoft’s SAM audit team for a couple of years or more, they’re probably going to get round to you soon, so it’s time to get organised.
2 Think about EMS for mobile device management
As mobile working becomes more prevalent, mobile device management (MDM) becomes more and more important, and you need an effective solution in place to manage mobile devices and applications, and protect your data.
What few people seem to realise is that Microsoft has an excellent MDM solution, with its Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS), which is well worth checking out. As well as providing a solid MDM solution, EMS also provides application control and streamlines the user’s login experience by utilising Active Directory within Azure. EMS is multi-platform, covering devices running Windows, Android or iOS. It can also protect your company data by ensuring that critical information is not distributed outside your organisation. Microsoft Threat Analytics within EMS will help you identify network intrusion with its sophisticated behavioural analytics.
3 Consider TCO when buying licenses
As well as determining which licenses you need, you should think about how best to purchase them. Many businesses just look at up-front purchase cost, but this can mean they end up buying boxed copies or downloads from multiple sources, which can create a logistical nightmare with hundreds of different keys.
Instead, you should balance cost with the impact on your business. You need to consider total cost of ownership (TCO), and how much time it’s going to take the IT department to manage the licenses and keep the business compliant.
It’s for this reason that many enterprises have a single source of supply, which they also lean on to remove some of the burden of software asset management.
4 Moving to cloud licensing is as much a business as an IT decision
Microsoft is increasingly moving to a cloud, subscription-based delivery model; not just with its pay-as-you-go Azure infrastructure and Office 365 but across all platforms. 2016 sees major new releases of Windows Server, Exchange Server, SQL and SharePoint, and while all can be licenced for cloud or on-premise delivery, typically the cloud licence/subscription has additional functionality.
The availability of new releases also means that some older versions will become unsupported, and this will prompt many IT managers to think about adopting cloud/subscription licensing.
But moving to the cloud is as much a business decision as a technology choice, since it also shifts you from outright purchase to monthly subscriptions and hence from cap ex to op ex. Some business models (and/or finance directors) are pre-disposed to cap ex, and I’ve known this derail IT plans of moving to the cloud at the eleventh hour. So make sure you involve business and financial decision makers in the discussion, and think about whether the cloud model suits you financially.
If it does, having Windows 10, Office 365 and Azure services on subscription is an easy way of ensuring you’re always on the latest, fully-patched versions of the software, as well as running on the latest virtualised hardware – and Azure provides a very cost-effective way of handling your licensing. This means that lower licensing costs can be a powerful motivator to move into the cloud.
5 Pick the right version
Having decided to move to the cloud, how do you decide which licencing package is right for you? It comes down to analysing what features and benefits your users actually need, and how often they use them, and then working out what is worth paying for.
This sounds simple enough, but I know that many people find it mind-boggling and way too time-consuming. I live and breathe this stuff, day in day out, and am happy to share my knowledge and experience. You could, for example, save money by not giving all users the same package – does everyone really need the fully-fledged Office suite?
Overall, I’d say my biggest piece of advice would be that you don’t need to do all this alone. Licensing can be complicated, and picking the right answer is not obvious, so getting expert advice from Total, or elsewhere, can make life a lot easier, and ensure you get the best solution for your needs.