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Category Archives: Compliance

Don’t be Jimbo

Jimbo had a small IT firm for which he provided backup, security, and hosting for two clients.  He also purchased Office 365 licenses for a handful of users directly from the Microsoft Office 365 website and would bill them accordingly.  Jimbo also had an application he tried to develop to help end users better communicate with one another. It was similar to SharePoint, but more seamless and had better integration with third-party applications.  He had a SPLA, and had one person who submitted their usage report to their reseller.  Unfortunately, that person got sick and passed away.  Jimbo was sad and so was the rest of the staff.

To put his mind at ease, he spent every waking hour improving his application.  He thought it was going to be the next best thing.  I experienced the application firsthand myself, and found it to be a powerful tool.  I even asked to invest in it, but without any money, (Mrs. SPLA Man spent it all at Target), I had nothing to invest with.

Fast forward a year later.  Jimbo is still working on improving the application, and he's still hosting.  One day, Jimbo received an email from Microsoft.  It was titled “Self-Audit”, Jimbo was getting audited.  One thing left unmentioned, Jimbo is the nicest guy on the planet. He replied to Microsoft and in the end, provided them with everything.  All his server information, customer name, and reporting history.  It was an auditor’s dream.

Several weeks later, Microsoft provided Jimbo with the findings.  He owed $450,000 in unreported licensing fees.  Why so high?  No usage was being reported since the lady who reported SPLA passed away.  When she was reporting, she reported the wrong thing.  Instead of licensing Windows Datacenter, she reported Standard.  Instead of reporting physical processors and/or cores, she reported per VM.  Everything was a mess.  Jimbo, who neglected his hosting practice for months to focus on his application, was left feeling very uncertain about his future.  He did not have the funds to pay for licenses.

It’s unfortunate, but Jimbo had to shut down his hosting business.  The application he built?  Stopped.  He tried to sell it, and last I heard very few were interested.

Why such a depressing story and was it true?  Yes, the story is true (although slightly embellished).  Why share it?  I am telling you the story because there are too many organizations doing the same thing.  They have one person who manages the licenses, one person who was in contact with the reseller, and one person who knew what they were reporting.  What happens if that person leaves?  Too many organizations are also buying Office 365, but not getting the best discount.

Licensing is challenging, and in the case of Jimbo, his love wasn’t reporting usage, it was developing an application.  He should have had allocated resources to help manage his SPLA, so he could focus on what he knows best, the technology.

I am always asked why I created splalicensing.com and what's so different about SPLA Man than other blogs.  I think the main difference is honesty.  I am your licensing Siri or Alexa.  I am SPLAlexa. (that was bad).  Don’t be Jimbo.

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man/SPLAlexa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2017 in Compliance

 

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Opinion – Microsoft audits will skyrocket in 2018

Microsoft compliance programs are not going away and will increase significantly in the coming years.  Why such a doom and gloom outlook?  In this article, I will highlight some of the reasons but more importantly the ways to stay ahead of the game before Mr. Audit comes knocking on your door.

This past week, most of my articles had to do with CSP, Azure, and more CSP.   To no surprise, CSP is the direction Microsoft is moving towards for the partner community.  Check out my friend www.csplicensing.com 🙂 Licensing is not getting easier, in fact it’s getting harder.  Check out my Azure Stack article if you don’t believe me.  That article will either put you to sleep or give you a headache.

In today’s world, a service provider is not just licensing SPLA, they are combining on premise licenses, different cloud vendors, and hybrid licenses.   Unless you focus full-time on licensing, one misstep can ruin an organization.  In the coming weeks and months, I will focus heavily on all the cloud transitions and as the title of this blog site states ‘uncover the complexities of SPLA licensing.”

So why will audits rise?   There’s two reasons: 1) Licensing is confusing.  Publishers know there’s no “one-size fits all” solution to solving all licensing complexities and scenarios.  2).  With the push towards the public cloud (such as Azure), CFO’s and owners will start to wonder why they mess with the licensing at all, especially after a large compliance settlement  from an audit.  The goal will be to move to AWS or move to Azure and let them deal with the complexities licensing.

What do you do?   Throw in the towel and say, “they win” or develop a strategy to maintain compliance and create a solution to help your customers?  My advice? Don’t throw in the towel.

  1. Develop a license management practice.  Licensing is a full-time commitment (Full-time job).
  2. Don’t cave in.  I get it, that’s easier said than done – even for SPLA Man.  I HATE confrontation in all areas of my life but compliance.  I always like to see the underdog win the audit battles.  When SPLA started, I felt it was the rest of the world v. the SPLA community.  ABS – Anything But SPLA.  I still feel that way today (even stronger).  When was the last time you talked to a representative or were offered advice to help grow your business?  I am an advocate for the hosting community and the primary reason I started this blog in the first place.  Checkout my “About” section written over 4 years ago.  Don’t get bullied into the tricks of the audit.  If you need help, ask.
  3. Eliminate risk before it becomes a risk during the audit.  Going back to point #1, create a practice, understand the areas of concern, and correct it before the auditors force you to.  The time is now.
  4. I promote 3rd party advocacy for support.  I like to say, “there’s the publisher’s way and then there’s the real way” both are compliant, but one will cost you a lot more than the other.

Will audits be on the rise in 2018?  Yes. And 2019, 2020, and 2021.  After that who knows, we might be flying around the moon and vacationing on Mars.  Licensing is a dangerous game but everyone can win – if they have the right strategy in place.

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Compliance, Uncategorized

 

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What is a Service Provider?

The year 2017 has brought on A LOT of change for the hosting community.  A hosting company used to be an organization that hosted Exchange – fast forward to today and a service provider takes on a whole new meaning.  In this article, we will take a look at defining a service provider and how it applies to licensing.   Let’s play a little game called “Do they qualify”  Have a question?  Email info@splalicensing.com

An organization that provides or extends  litigation software (that they leased from the publisher) to law firms and other legal entities who are not wholly owned by the organization providing the solution. Does this organization qualify for SPLA?

Yes.  If you are an avid reader of splalciensing.com, you probably read my article on EMR Software The same holds true for any software (not just EMR) that runs on Microsoft technology that you do not own, but lease from a third-party.   Remember “AS”  If you are providing software AS a service that’s hosted from your datacenter environment,  SPLA must be part of the equation.  Why does this solution qualify for SPLA?

#1 they don’t own the software they are hosting

#2 they do not own the organization(s) who are consuming (using) the software for their benefit.

An organization who sells a product on a website to external users –   do they qualify for SPLA?

No.  Although they are selling something to consumers via the internet, the software used to deploy the solution benefits the e-commerce company, not the end-user.   Where SPLA does fit is if the web company decides to host a website on behalf of another organization.  The web company would fall under the SPLA rules.  Who benefits from the access is a key question to ask yourself.  Second question – is the access used to run their business or my own?

An organization who provides SharePoint to end users to share information.  Do they qualify?

No.  Simply sharing information does not qualify.  If the organization was hosting SharePoint on behalf of another organization, that’s SPLA.

A company hosts Exchange on behalf of another organization but does not charge for this access.  Does this qualify for SPLA?

Yes.  Microsoft doesn’t care how much money you make from the solution.  The question remains – are you providing this “as a service” for a third-party?

A company decides to use AWS as their datacenter provider to host an application they use internally.  Do they need SPLA?

No.  In this example, you are the end-user.  AWS has a SPLA to cover all infrastructure products they host on your behalf.  If you were to use AWS as a datacenter provider to host SharePoint to your end customers employees; you would pay AWS for Windows and SQL and report on your SPLA SharePoint SAL licenses.

 

I have 25 Linux machines that I host for my customers.   Do I need SPLA? 

No.  You have 25 Linux machines.  If you had 24 Linux machines and 1 Windows VM, you would have to license the host machine to cover that Windows VM through SPLA.

My reseller told me I didn’t need SPLA because the access qualifies for Self-Hosted.  The auditors told me it does not qualify.  Why?

All software used to deploy the solution has to be self-hosted eligible.  I bet you are running an application that does not qualify as part of your solution.  This would be SPLA.  Secondly, if you did not buy the software with software assurance, that is out of compliant.

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2017 in Compliance, Uncategorized

 

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How to Report SPLA Usage to be Compliant

The biggest benefit to SPLA is the month-month licensing rules.   The biggest downfall to SPLA (and CSP for that matter)  is its month-month licensing rules.  What’s a benefit to some is a nightmare for others.  In this article, we will review the tips and tricks to properly report Microsoft SPLA usage on a monthly basis and break it down using a fictitious scenario using my friend Joe Hosting.

Scenario  – The under licensing but also over paying SPLA reporter.

Joe’s Hosting  reports to his Reseller SharePoint Standard, Exchange Standard, Windows Standard, and SQL Standard every month.  They installed Exchange Enterprise and Windows Standard.    For simplicity, let’s say he has 8 VM’s on a host, and licenses SQL per instance on a VM, they also have 100 mailboxes he supports.

The Problem

Each month Joe had (key word) his employee Julie place their SPLA order each month to the Reseller.  One day, Joe accidentally backed his Porsche 911 into Julie’s car.  Furious, Joe yelled at Julie for parking near his precious Porsche and blamed her for the damage.  Julie got upset, and quit on the spot.

Julie was a dedicated employee.  Each month she would report to the Reseller almost the exact same thing (with minor fluctuations) – 100 Exchange Standard licenses, 16 Windows Standard processor licenses, 100 SharePoint Standard licenses, and 40 cores of SQL Standard.  Sometimes, she would change the counts based on customer’s coming and going but for the most part the report was stagnant.  The Reseller, happily placed the order without ever asking about their business.   Now that she left, what will Joe do?

Joe is a busy man.  He would never make time or the effort to learn how to submit SPLA usage or understand the licensing rules.   Once Julie left, his workload increased ten fold because not only did Julie report SPLA, but she was responsible for HR, scheduling, customer satisfaction, and making sure the annual company picnic went on without a glitch.  Joe was busy to say the least.  To make matters worse, Julie was the only person in the company to interact with their SPLA Reseller.

Several months went by and no usage was being submitted.  Sure the Reseller would send reminder emails to Julie, but there was no response.  Finally, Microsoft took notice, and started digging into Joe’s reporting.  Now Joe’s problems suddenly took a turn for the worse.

The Audit

It was a cold, rainy Monday, and Joe was really upset – not only did he have a ton of email to go through from the weekend, but his Porsche was getting wet.  He kept staring out his office window at his precious fire engine red baby; soaking wet, with streaks down the windshield.  The site made him sick,  he couldn’t bare to watch anymore.  He took to his email and noticed immediately – Microsoft Self-Audit Review in the subject line.  Joe opened it without hesitation.

The email thanked Joe for his partnership, but informed him that from time to time Microsoft will provide a self-audit compliance check to ensure accurate reporting.  From the email, Joe was to download the MAP toolkit (Check it out here) and provide the data back to Microsoft within 10 business days.  Joe surprisingly cancelled all his meetings that day and proceeded to download the tool.   Once the data was collected, he was to send the data to Microsoft and set up a call to review.  What happened next shocked even the Microsoft compliance guy.

Conference Call with Microsoft

Microsoft:  Good Morning Joe, after some analysis I have a few questions about the data you sent over.

Joe:  Absolutely Mr. Softy.  

Microsoft:  Umm…Say again?

Joe: C’mon man.  Mr. Softy…Microsoft???

Microsoft:  Whatever.  Let’s get to the data, ok?  In my analysis, I noticed you haven’t reported usage in 3 months.  Why?  Are you not providing commercial hosted services?  Your website indicates you are.  Just wondering why you haven’t reported?

Joe:  We had an employee leave the company who was responsible for reporting.  We did everything we can to retain her but she was simply out of control.  

Microsoft:  I don’t really care about why she left, but more concerned about why you didn’t report after she left. 

Joe: Sorry.  I don’t have an answer for that.  I was busy and forgot.

Microsoft:  I noticed you reported essentially the same thing every month which tells me you did not grow or shrink your business.  I did see on your website a press release that mentioned how excited you were to host email for Oil Tankers Inc, one of the largest Oil transportation services company’s in the US.  

Joe:  Yes. It was one of my finest sales calls.  

Microsoft:  I’m sure it was.  That being said, I noticed in the data you sent that over 5,000 users have access to Exchange Server but you were only reporting 100.  Why?

Joe:  I wish I knew.  That darn admin had no idea what she was doing.  I am sorry.  

Microsoft:  Apology accepted.  Now, back to Exchange.  You have 5,000 active users but you only report 100.  There is a license gap of 4,900 licenses.  It looks like they were active six months ago.  That total comes to roughly $50,000 in underreporting.

Joe:  Chuckles.  Yes, but I just sold them the licenses last month.  So really, I only have 1 month of underreporting.  Besides, Exchange is licensed per mailbox. 

Microsoft:  Try again. I just said they were active six months ago.  In addition, I find it hard to believe you just sold the licenses last month when your very own press release matches this date as well.  Last, Exchange is licensed per user, not per mailbox.  Even if it was, the mailbox number and actual users are almost the same.  

Joe:  Ok.  Well sorry.  I will correct it moving forward.

Microsoft:  (Ignores Joes’ comment).  Let’s move on to Windows Server.  You have an ESX host with two processors each.  You are running 8 VM’s on that host.  You are actually over reporting here sir.  Why are you not reporting Datacenter?

Joe:  Because Standard is installed. 

Microsoft:  Actually, you can report the higher edition.  What you cannot do is install Datacenter and report Standard.  Datacenter allows unlimited virtualization.  You could of saved money here.

Joe:  Wow. I had no idea.  I can run Standard but report Datacenter?

Microsoft:  Sighs.  That is exactly what I just said.  Let’s move on to SQL.  You are reporting 40 cores but only have one VM of SQL Server running.  Why so many cores?

Joe:  Because we have over 10 instances running on that VM.  We report 4 cores per instance running on that VM.  

Microsoft:  Yes, but you can run unlimited instances on a VM.  You should really be reporting 4 cores, not 40.

Joe: What!  I am looking at a BIG pay day from Microsoft.

Microsoft:  (Again, ignores the comment).  Let’s move on to SharePoint.  SharePoint, it looks like you have Enterprise installed.  From the data you sent over, it also looks like you provide only Standard features to your clients.  Is that accurate?

Joe:  Yep. Only Standard.

Microsoft:  I can’t believe it.  You are actually reporting SharePoint correct.  Did you know SharePoint and Exchange is licensed by the features accessed not what is actually installed?  

Joe:  No I did not.  The darn admin should’ve told me that.  When can I expect my check from Microsoft for the over reporting of SQL and Windows?

Microsoft:  Well.  Let me think about that.  Never.  

Joe:  Fine!

Conclusion

Throughout my twelve years of managing SPLA, I have had similar conversations and heard scenarios similar to the fictitious story mentioned.  In a lot of compliance situations, a SPLA customer has one person who reports usage.  If that person leaves the company without telling anybody how to report usage or what data is used to collect it, the organization can quickly get of compliance.

In reading the above, you might think that ole Joe came out ahead.  Yes, he did not report accurately or in the most cost effective manner, but he did come out of the audit unscathed.  I would argue that he wasted more money, should have invested in the right resources, and ultimately could have saved his customers money by licensing in the right  manner.  I highlighted below some of the ways Joe could’ve licensed to reduce his exposure and reduce his monthly spend.

  1. Report Windows Datacenter.  If you have more than 7 VM’s on a host, it is more economical to license Datacenter than Standard.
  2. Report the Productivity Suite which bundles Exchange Standard and SharePoint Standard.
  3. SQL Instances – you can run unlimited instances on a VM as long as the VM is properly licensed.
  4. Report USERS not mailboxes when it comes to Exchange
  5. Remember with Exchange and SharePoint, you report the features they have access to not what is technically installed.  Most hosters install Exchange Enterprise (Standard only supports a small number of mailboxes) but report Standard because users only have access to the Standard features.
  6. Reporting usage and stopping will get flagged for compliance.
  7. Stagnant reporting will get you flagged for compliance.
  8. Not reporting what you are advertising.  “I don’t host anymore” when your website says your are is difficult fact to overcome.
  9. Self-audits are exactly what it means “Self”  and “Audit”  The vendor is dependent on the data you provide them.
  10. If you report usage, build a team to make sure it gets reported correctly.  Most compliance gaps happen when an employee leaves the company.  Don’t be dependent on one employee.  If you are dependent on one employee, treat them right!  Poor Julie!
  11. Report on time.  The SPLA agreement says you must report by the 10th for the previous months usage.

Have a question?  Contact info@splalicensing.com

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2017 in Compliance

 

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Top 5 Compliance Trends for MSP’s and SPLA

There are so many license changes and gotchas with SPLA, Azure, AWS, and all the others that I thought I would highlight for you some of the trends we see when it comes to compliance.

  1. Licensing Office Standard when Office Professional is installed.  In many cases, an IT administrator will inadvertently install Office Pro, report Office Standard to their procurement team who in return reports it to the reseller.  The IT admin will leave the company, and the procurement team continues to report Standard not knowing Pro is installed until audit time.  In this situation, Microsoft will check when Office was installed, and take the delta of what was reported (STD) v. what should be reported (Pro).  Don’t make this mistake.  Many partners are only charging their customers for Standard pricing!
  2. Not reporting SPLA at all.  Sounds silly, but many providers focus on developing software and not on the licensing.  We have found instances in which the procurement manager (who was in charge of reporting SPLA) left the organization and no one else took over their responsibility.   The reseller continues to email the procurement manager but obviously the email goes unnoticed.  After many months, their SPLA will be terminated and all licenses will have to be trued up.  The problem with this scenario is not just unexpected licensing expense, but when your SPLA terminates, you must sign a new one.  When you sign a new SPLA, you must adhere to the latest SPUR use rights.  As an example, if you had a SPLA prior to the Windows core licensing change, you could continue to report processors.  If your SPLA terminates, you would be forced to license by core now instead of later when your previous agreement (that is now terminated) expired.
  3. Using a VL copy of Office to deploy Shared Computer Activation (SCA).   SCA is specific to Office 365.  If you install Office Pro Plus VL, it goes against the product use rights in which Office (without SCA) cannot be installed on shared hardware.  It takes a lot of negotiation power and time to prove you are SCA eligible, the customer purchased Office 365, and you inadvertently installed the wrong product.
  4. Using License Mobility without License Mobility.  This is by far the most popular compliance trend.  Many organizations do not know what is installed in their datacenter when it comes to customer owned licenses.  Be sure to have the right documentation, addendum, and licensing to ensure compliance.
  5. Leasing an application, hosting the application, and purchasing volume licensing agreement to offer software as a service.   A healthcare company may lease an EMR application, host the application to other healthcare organizations, and license the infrastructure through volume licensing.  If your organization does not own the application you are hosting, you must license it through SPLA.  Self-Hosted for ISV is only eligible for providers who develop and own the application.  This means the code, the rights, everything must be owned by the organization.  Leasing the application and using other plugins you may have developed does not qualify.

I hope this provides you a little insight into the world of compliance.  If you find yourself out of compliant, let us know and we can connect you to the right resource.  info@splalicensing.com

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Compliance

 

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Steps to take to limit SPLA audit exposure

It’s the fourth quarter at Microsoft, this means audits are in full swing.  One of the easiest ways to collect large upfront payments are through SPLA audits.  Knowing this, what steps can you take to limit your audit exposure?

  1. Inventory – Although you submit a SPLA usage report each month, licenses are missed inadvertently.  When collecting inventory of what you should and should not report, be sure to include customer owned licenses.  If ANY customers are bringing licenses into your datacenter, they must have software assurance if it’s a shared environment.  Secondly, make sure to take a hard look at SQL.  To no one’s surprise, SQL is very expensive.  If you miss license SQL, it can add up really quickly.
  2. Agreements – Which MBSA agreement did you sign?  Don’t know what a MBSA agreement is?  Please ask your reseller for a copy.  Every SPLA customer has a signed Master Agreement.  This is the umbrella that ties all your Microsoft agreements together including SPLA.  There’s specific language in the agreement that goes over audits and the timeframe in which they are able to audit historically. Look closely at your agreements with your customer.  Did you mention they are responsible for licenses they bring into your datacenter?  Did you send them a license verification form for license mobility?  Do you have language that states they are responsible for anything under their Microsoft agreement but you are only responsible for yours?  Do you make the end user license terms (part of your signed SPLA) available to all customers?  Don’t know what an end user license terms agreement is?  Ask your reseller.
  3. Check AD closely.  Do you have administrative accounts that you are reporting?  What about test accounts?  Read your Microsoft SPLA agreement around testing, developing, and administrative access.
  4. Label server names appropriately – Label if a server is “passive” and label a server if it’s “development”.  This can save you time with the auditors.
  5. Check server install dates – If a server was active June, 2013 but nothing was reported on that server until June, 2015; Microsoft is going to ask A) what that server is doing and B) Why haven’t you reported it.  If it’s doing nothing, than shut it down before the audit.
  6. Check SAL licenses –  Do all users who potentially HAVE access are being reported?
  7. Check Office licenses – Do all users need access to Office Pro Plus?  Can they get away with Standard?  Did your engineers inadvertently publish Visio to every user when it only needs to go to a handful of end users?
  8. Double check server versions – Did your engineers accidentally install SQL Enterprise when it should be Standard?
  9. Are you taking advantage of all the use rights available?  As a SPLA, are you aware you can provide demonstrations to your customers at no charge?  Are you aware of the admin rights?  Are you aware you can run 50% of what you are hosting externally – internally?  (must actually report it all under SPLA – they are not free).
  10. Virtualization rights – Are you reporting SQL Enterprise to run unlimited VM’s? Are you running Windows Datacenter?  Remember, you do not license the individual VMs for Windows Server.  (You count physical cores which allows 1 VM for Standard or unlimited for Datacenter).
  11. MSDN, VDI, and other restrictions – No, you cannot host VDI and MSDN in a shared environment.  If you are, dedicate the servers immediately.  If you are hosting from the same hardware you are running internally, this also must be separated.
  12. Hiring Experts – Are they really experts or just advertise as such?

Hope this helps.  Any questions email info@splalicensing.com

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in Compliance

 

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Epic Community Connect and SPLA

The healthcare community has increased concerns with the way they have deployed (and licensed) their electronic medical record (EMR) software such as Epic Community Connect and others.  As a reader of this blog, you know that when you deploy software for the benefit of a third party (non employee) SPLA must be part of the conversation.  The only exception to this rule is if you actually own the code to the software you are hosting.  In other words, if you developed the software, you can use your own volume licenses to host your software.  If you host a third party software (such as Epic) you must license this in SPLA.   In most cases, many healthcare companies do not own the application, but lease it from the EMR vendor.

Rewind a few years and let’s pretend you are a large hospital who partnered with Epic to provide best in class patient record management for your clients, doctors, and other clinics. Your Epic deployment resides on a Windows Server, SQL Server, and RDS.  As the IT director, you purchased several server licenses and hundreds of Client Access Licenses (CAL) to cover all the external users.  You think you are covered; no one mentions you need to license this via SPLA.  Your reseller didn’t tell you, Microsoft didn’t tell you, and for that matter the vendor didn’t tell you.  You think all is well based off the information you received.  Fast forward 3 years and your volume licensing agreement is up for renewal.  Someone on the licensing side informs you that you shouldn’t true-up licenses or renew your agreement under volume licensing, you need to license SPLA.  You think that’s fine, if you must license under a different program who are you to argue. But what about all those license you already purchased and own?  Unfortunately, you cannot return them, you must allocate those internally.  You think to yourself that’s fine, except for one minor detail…. you purchased hundreds of CALs and you do not have hundreds of employees; those license you own are essentially worthless.  On top of everything else, you just received an audit notification.

Why would they receive an audit notification?  Once a vendor recognizes you have been under-licensed, the vendor might want to dig in deeper to see how long you have been out of compliant and if you purchased enough licenses to cover all the users.  In 90% of all audits, the customer is under-licensed.  Now you own licenses you don’t need, but should’ve purchased more because you don’t own enough licenses to cover all external users initially.  The vendor will want you to pay the delta of what you should’ve paid under SPLA and what you purchased under volume licensing (plus an audit fee).

If you are a healthcare provider and have been notified by Microsoft or any other vendor, please contact us.  We have found that in many cases the licenses report is not always 100% accurate.

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2016 in Compliance, EMR Software, Self Hosted

 

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