Microsoft revamps Software Assurance

New features to the oft-criticised software assurance programme include extended training days, 24×7 support for small businesses, and a new desktop deployment planning service — but no increase in price

Microsoft revamped its Software Assurance product for large firms, SMEs and professionals on Tuesday with eight new features.

These include an extension of 24×7 support, an increase in the available training days allowed, more support during desktop deployments and support for Windows Vista.

Software Assurance is a licensing scheme that allows companies to buy Microsoft products and upgrades on a subscription basis. Microsoft says it provides a way for users and corporations to understand how much they are paying for software and to call down support features on-demand.

It has been criticised in the past for being expensive and hard to understand, areas that Microsoft says it has now addressed.

"There is no change in prices for the new features," Microsoft UK's licensing and marketing manager, Ram Dhaliwal, told ZDNet UK. "Yes, customers told us it was too complicated and we have simplified it a lot. We have been making changes and an enterprise licensing agreement which at one time ran to 214 pages is now 20 pages, and an open licence agreement that was around 30 pages is now five."

Software Assurance now includes 18 new features across what Microsoft designates as the five phases of the software life cycle: planning, deployment, usage, maintenance and transition.

There is no change to Microsoft's offering in the planning phase. It continues to offer upgrades to new versions of licensed software released under the agreement, and customers can spread payments annually.

There are two new features covering the deployment phase. Under the 'desktop planning and deployment services', select and enterprise agreement customers with software assurance can have services delivered either on site or remotely by Microsoft certified partners or by Microsoft Consulting Services under one to 10 day engagements. Information Work Solutions Services is a similar new facility for SMB customers.

There are two new features under the usage section of Software Assurance including upcoming support for Windows Vista Enterprise, which will only be available to customers who have signed up for Software Assurance as Microsoft revealed in September 2005.

Windows Vista Enterprise with Software Assurance will provide full volume encryption, multiple language support, Virtual PC Express and a sub-system that allows users to run Unix applications under Vista. According to analysts at Gartner, because these features will only be available to customers of Software Assurance, "many customers who have not bought Software Assurance on the OS will need to re-evaluate their decision".

The second usage feature is enhanced training, which include an extension to the number of training days that are available under software assurance from 165 to 2,100. "We want to offer this to the largest customers and we can now," said Dhaliwal.

Other new features include 24×7 phone support during "business-critical outages for all products eligible for Software Assurance benefits". This including all server editions and Microsoft Windows-based and Microsoft Office applications.

Also, Software Assurance customers with Microsoft Services Premier Support contracts can now transfer their phone incidents earned through Software Assurance for Premier Problem Resolution incidents, "which delivers a higher level of support service such as critical situation management, " the company said.

Microsoft also updated its software assurance programme six months ago. However, this move failed to impress some in the IT industry.

For full details of Microsoft's Software Assurance see here.