Microsoft Blog

Open, CSP and SPLA - A veritable smorgasbord of Microsoft licensing.

John Moran - Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Microsoft licensing has always been seen by many as a black art of sorts. Typically for every rule there is an exception and for every exception, an often convoluted rule. Add to this the myriad of license models and the ever growing product portfolio and you can see very quickly why it makes people’s heads spin.Just when you think you are getting to grips with it, MS drop another bombshell. It is an ever changing world and chances are as an IT reseller in Ireland, you have a lot more on your plate to consider then just Microsoft – from other Software vendors, to hardware to supporting your customer and making sure you are getting paid for all of it!

Thankfully help is at hand. This is what we are known and trusted for. A local Irish distributor with many years’ experience dealing with Microsoft, with local resources and unrivalled subject matter experts. So let’s see if we can break down just a few of the MS Licensing models into real world terms, not into specific licensing differences, but in what matters most to you as a reseller. IE What they mean to your business.


Our old friend – the good old reliable Open. Probably the easiest starting point and a model we have all dealt with over the years. But, alas, Open is creaking under the weight of the new world and may not be the best solution for the new flexible mobile first, cloud first world into the future. Open was designed as a perpetual Transactional License model. We purchased the licences we needed, for the products and the versions we needed and paid for them at that time. This has worked well for years, but it is not the most flexible of models. It creates large upfront capex costs and resulted in customers sweating both hardware and software assets as long as they could before they had to go back with their hands out for more money to try and keep pace with ever evolving technologies.

Anybody who has used open, has also used VLSC – the MS Portal for managing licences and keys. Again this is a tool that is starting to show its age. Trying to get keys from VLSC, whilst simple in principal, is more often than not a frustrating experience and typically ends up in having to put a call in to the helpline to get simple issues resolved.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of time for Open, for a small number of licences for a small company that has the time to manage small incremental purchases it is a perfectly acceptable solution.

But maybe we should want more. Maybe we should expect more. Maybe we should want a more fluid elastic model, one that dispenses with the whole tedious key process and allows us to pay for what we want, when we want in the qtys we want – but if we don’t want them, we don’t have to pay for them anymore – or maybe even allow us to spread the cost over time. Well what seemed to be an impossible dream for those of us in the Microsoft Licensing world just a few short months ago is now a living breathing reality. Time to take centre stage baby brother – welcome to the family CSP – you are long overdue.


So who is this CSP and what makes him the prodigal son? CSP is the new licensing model from Microsoft that allows resellers own the sale from start to finish. A complete end to end customer life-cycle. For the first time combining, licensing, provisioning and deployment, support and billing all under the same model. Whoa there a minute you might say – (after all remember, with complete power comes complete responsibility) there has to be more to it than that? What’s the catch? Well it’s not perfect, there are teething issues that no doubt will be ironed out over time and unfortunately currently it only covers for cloud based licensing, but I would imagine this too may evolve over time. But despite these small speedbumps, surely this is something we all want for our customers? The ability to forge relationships, create stickiness and to make them reliant on us for a growing number of IT Requirements. In the old world maybe we sold a few office licences and a bit of tin, took our few Euro profit and had a pint with the lads in the pub on a Friday evening and then on Saturday, just a little bit hungover, we wondered what we would do Monday morning that would allow us to have a few more Friday socials.

Well how about the new world? What does dining at the new table look like? How about we supply our customer with a better office license – an always updating current version. Add in a bit of enterprise grade hosted Exchange, a dash of SharePoint and a pinch of OneDrive. Do you fancy an extra side or two with your meal sir and would you like us to manage and secure it all with Intune and EMS? Maybe a server or two and some storage from the world’s biggest and securest datacentre deployment? To top it all off, for desert, a generous helping of service opportunity?

And when all that is said and done: “Your Bill sir? Of course. How would you like to settle your bill sir? In small Bitesize monthly payments? No Problem sir – Consider it done”.

CSP allows us to pay for our Cloud services on a monthly basis, eliminating that initial Capex requirement.  Cloud services from Microsoft have been creating opportunities within the market for some time now. Customers have been using products and features that were previously beyond their reach. This is revolutionising their business. Whether it is Skype for Business with conferencing and screen-sharing, or it is syncing files across multiple devices with OneDrive, customers are getting much better value from their IT spend than ever before. Using new technologies is changing their business, opening up new opportunities and potentially saving them money in doing so. All of this without any big upfront cost.

What does this all mean for an IT reseller? Well it means time for change. It means time to start thinking about things a little differently. We need to be a little more flexible and open to change, but in doing so, we are helping secure the future of our business and growing it in the process.

All of this is available to us practically instantly. CSP allows for direct provisioning of cloud services. No more messing with VLSC. No more waiting for keys. CSP allows for cloud services the way they should be. Flexible, agile and paying for only what we use. Paid monthly with margin rich service business.

Pints in a pub on a Friday evening? Sounds good – but a Pina Colada on a beach in Malibu sounds better. I might even run my business from there. I wonder if I can provision some O365 seats and an Azure deployment before the waiter gets back with my next drink?.... If I was a betting man, I would be betting on CSP over Manuel. Simply put – “Mobile First, Cloud First” – it’s just the way it should have been all along and CSP is truly a great step towards getting us there.


So is CSP the all-encompassing answer to everything? Of course not, this is Microsoft we are talking about. Thankfully “where there is confusion, there is margin” and the complicated world we live in keeps people like us employed. The reality is it is not a one-size fits all approach. Yes, CSP makes cloud service provision easier, but currently this is all it allows for – MS Cloud services. However, not all our customers want to fully immerse themselves in the cloud yet. More often than not it is a gradual stepping up process. Maybe they might dip their toe in the water with a bit of hosted Exchange initially. Then maybe the next year they may have a look at that Skype thing you have been harping in about and eventually, overtime they start to trust the cloud a little more and open up to it a bit more. However, this can be a gradual process and that can be because of a fear of public cloud or fear of change or a host of other reasons. So what about Hybrid? Allowing the customer to mix on premise – licensed by our old friend Open, a bit of MS Cloud – licensed with our Prodigal Son CSP and some private cloud to help that transition – licensed by the long lost brother that is SPLA.

SPLA allows you as a partner offer hosted services to your customers from your cloud. Hardware that you may have located locally that you can show to a customer, you can point to and say “there it is, there is where your business is running from and over there are the various levels of redundancy we have built in for you”. If seeing is believing, sometimes this what it takes to help rationalise against the fear of change. The added benefit here is that like CSP, SPLA is also reported and paid for monthly, so this Hybrid solution with the best mix you can offer can be bundled together perfectly. Then as your customers want to move more into the public cloud or pull back into your private cloud, there are little or no large Capex concerns in doing so.

SPLA partners benefit mostly from economies of scale. So the more customers you have on your platform, the better your margins. SPLA enables you to combine the best of your business and expertise with the scale and experience of Microsoft. This has to be a winning recipe in anybody’s book.

Table d'hôte or À la carte?

The chef or Maître D may very well have a great idea how to put a good menu together or how to choose a great wine to compliment my meal just right, but only I know what I am really in the mood for.

Only I know what type of food I like and if I want white wine with red meat, so be it. It is my choice despite if they think it makes me uncouth. I am the one paying the bill at the end of the day, so if it is all the same to you, can I please have a deep fried mars-bar, with tomato sauce and a glass of champagne?

Licensing is no different, we can now choose what we want. Mix them how we like and pay for it in different ways. Change may be difficult, but choice is the meal of kings.

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Are there any issues moving from one model to another? We have a customer for whom we have been managing Office 365 licenses using the open model and/or VLSC. We are renewing using CSP - will the existing assigned licenses simply be renewed, or will they appear as 'new' subscriptions?
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