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Slaying the dragon and saving the princess – audit style

We all love stories.  All of us. We love to hear about good overcoming evil – the prince saving the princess, the bad guy that's captured by the good guy.  In short, what we love are fairy tales.  The reality is we do not live in a world of fairy tales and sometimes, yeah, the bad guys do win. The prince, admired by many, is not such a good prince after all.  We trust without knowing they can be trusted.  So, what does this have to do with audits?

Businesses are built based on one concept – to solve a customer's problem.  You are their hero to save whatever pain they have or problem they can't seem to overcome.  You, are (as the story goes) their knight in shining armour.  Your customer needs someone to deliver a solution, you are just the good guy to do it.

Fast forward a couple years, your business is booming, your customers are happy, and in walks every IT nightmare…the auditor.  Eye glasses the size of saucers, a necktie tied just a shade too short, and a laugh that is about as annoying as a nail on a chalkboard; you are succumbed to a software audit.

How do you defend such evil?  The biggest mistake a hosting partner (or enterprise's in general) often makes is being fearful.  They give the auditors everything they ask.  That's not always bad, but if you don't understand why they are asking for certain things or feel they are painting you in a corner, take a step back.  Don't give in without understanding what they are asking and why.  Why do they want to know who your customers are?  Why do they ask about customer owned licenses?  Software Assurance? Historical information?  If you can't answer "why" maybe you need help.  In walks SPLA Man.  Nah, in walks Mrs. SPLA Man, every auditor's worst nightmare.  She put together the following list on how to better prepare yourself for the unexpected.

Mrs. SPLA Man's List

  1. Don't be fearful – no matter what, it's your business and YOUR customers.
  2. Have a plan.  Know what's in your customer agreements.  If you need to refresh your agreement language, do it.  Software licensing rules change daily, if you have not updated your contracts on license mobility or datacenter outsourcing, update it now.
  3. Don't bring unwanted attention to your organization.  Always report usage on time and pay on time.  80% of all delinquent reporting has nothing to do with the reseller or Microsoft.  It has everything to do with a SPLA partner's account payable dept.
  4. Don't have one person manage your usage reporting.  In a lot of cases, a person leaves a company who was the only one who worked with the reseller directly.  When that person leaves, who is responsible for reporting?
  5. Don't be pressured.  Audits can take up a lot of resources.  Don't give up customer engagements to satisfy an auditor.  Your customers are the lifeblood of your business, don't delay meetings with your clients.
  6. The publisher needs you.  You are their sales arm.  You bring the hybrid cloud to life.
  7. Find out from the publisher who manages your account.  When was the last time you spoke to them about strategy or best practices?
  8. Relax.  It's not the IRS auditing you (yet)
  9. Don't settle just to settle.  You didn't grow your business to the magnitude you've grown it without having negotiating skills (and guts).
  10. Don't be scared to ask for help.   Have a question?  Email info@splalicensing.com

Thanks for reading,

Mrs. SPLA Man

PS – Slay that dragon!

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2017 in Compliance

 

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Yikes…how to move from one cloud to the next.

The latest buzz word in this crazy IT world in which we live is not “Cloud” it’s “Hybrid Cloud”.   Even the definition of hybrid cloud has evolved throughout its short existence. Having a mix of on premise workloads and cloud workloads has transformed into having workloads spread throughout different cloud vendors as well.  “Cloud Sprawl” is born and guessing is here to stay.

In this article, we will review how the licensing works to move a customer’s workload from one cloud to another; customer’s owned licenses back to on premise; and customers on premise licenses back to your cloud.  As the title of this article states..Yikes!

Moving away from your cloud to another cloud

So, your sales rep “accidentally” promised the world to your customer that he/she could not deliver.  Unfortunately, they now want to move to another provider.  First thing to do is fire the sales rep.  Second thing to do is read your SPLA agreement.

When you sign a SPLA agreement (or any Microsoft agreement) your license keys are your license keys.   The data is not yours, but the keys are (at least while you have an active agreement – remember, SPLA is non-perpetual license). License keys are not to be transferred, resold, etc. over to another datacenter provider.   Where does it say that?

In section 6C, page 5, of the 2017 SPLA Indirect Agreement “Copying and distribution of Products and Software documentation” states: “customer may distribute original media or software contains products only to outsourcing company and affiliates.”  Another cloud provider is not your affiliate or outsourcing company, they are your competitor.  The section continues: “Customer may distribute original media or software containing client software and/or redistribution software to its end users.”

What that statement is saying is the service provider can provide the image to their client but not to another service provider.  If they do this, Microsoft requires the license keys to be removed first.  Remember, your keys are your keys, not theirs. As mentioned, the data is not yours either.  An end customer has the right to transfer their data from your datacenter to another provider.  You can also transfer the media to your customer, but not to another service provider as the statement suggests.

Over the years, the transfer of data, transferring images, and using outsourcing companies has made it difficult to track which media/keys belong to which company.  My recommendation is to have language in your agreement that is like the one in your SPLA to protect you.  Is this a gray area?  Absolutely.  My other recommendation is that no matter which keys belong to which organization – be sure to license the environment correctly; in the end, that’s the most important part.

Customer’s owned licenses back to on premise 

The same sales rep screwed up again.  They promised the customer that by moving to your cloud environment they would never be audited again.  Guess what?   They got audited.  Now they are upset and want to move back to on premise.  How does the licensing work?

In this situation, let’s assume the customer is moving workloads that have software assurance (SA) and are using license mobility. (even if they didn’t, same rules would apply.  I just like using license mobility because it’s more common).   Whenever an end customer transfers their own licenses (not SPLA) it’s important to read the Product Terms, not just the SPUR.  The Product Terms is for volume licensing, which applies to customer owned licenses.  The SPUR, as we all know is for SPLA.  Two different programs, two different use rights.

Page 84 (good Lord this is a massive document) of the 2017 Product Terms states “Customer (your end customer) may move its licensed software from shared servers (license mobility) back to its Licensed Servers or to another party’s shared servers, but not on a short-term basis (not within 90 days of the last assignment).

When you buy a license through volume licensing (VL), you assign that license to a server.  That’s one of the reasons you cannot mix SPLA and VL on the same server (different use rights).  When you assign that server to a different server farm (another datacenter provider) that server license cannot move within 90 days of assignment.  If your end customer gets upset and demands you transfer their licenses back to their premise, you can pull out this little blurb in the Product Terms.  I would recommend having language in your agreement that states the same.

You might be wondering – “isn’t the benefit of Software Assurance the ability to move workloads freely without worrying about the 90-day rule?”  That’s true and I’m glad you brought that up.  If it’s within the same server farm, workloads can move freely.  Pay attention to page 84 of the Product Terms as well as the definition of a server farm.

One of the best lines in the Product Terms happens to be on the same page (84).  “Customer (again, customer in this example is your end customer) agrees that it will be responsible for third-parties’ actions about software deployed and managed on its behalf” I would definitely include that statement with your customers.

Moving back to your cloud

You gave your sales rep an ultimatum, win the customer back or lose your job!  Your sales rep won the customer back.  Now your customer can move back to your cloud, but make sure you follow the license mobility use rights as mentioned above.  Remember the 90 day rule.  Once a customer assigns a license back to their premise, they have to wait 90 days to move it back.  Secondly, if they do not have SA, you must dedicate the entire infrastructure for your customer.  Dedicated means the hardware used to support the solution.

The moral of this story?  Make sure you have a good sales rep!  Secondly, read the SPUR, Product Terms, SPLALicensing.com, and have language written in your agreement to protect yourself.  Lots of talk about moving to the cloud, moving away from it is just as important.

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2017 in Compliance

 

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Help me SAM!

I was on a call the other day and the customer was pleasantly surprised to learn about the SPLA program. Although I do not manage the program in its entirety like the old days, I will say this was a refreshing surprise. When you mention SPLA to a customer, account manager, or even Microsoft, more times than not you here a groan. ABS – Anything But SPLA! I am sure if there are resellers reading this, they would probably agree. Why no love for a program that is growing exponentially year/year? What are better alternatives…buy the licenses outright?

I don’t think the issue is with the program itself; after all, the ability to get started with zero upfront costs from a licensing perspective is pretty cool! I don’t even think the licensing is all that difficult once you get started. The pain point is understanding all the “gotcha’s” and the “in’s” as well as all the “outs” to make sure what you are doing is both compliant and cost-effective.  SPLA is an honor based system, but if you are found dishonest, it will cost you.

One of the biggest hurdles is tracking licenses. With the release of Azure, license mobility, and regular SPLA licenses, the ability to track licenses is becoming more complex.  End customers do not want to double pay for licenses already purchased and service providers don’t want to report SPLA if they don’t have to.  So what do you do?

That’s where my old friend named Sammy comes in. On premise customers have used SAM (Software Asset Management) for years as a mechanism to track licenses purchased and/or deployed.  This is not a one time snapshot, (although I guess it could be if you want it to be) but an ongoing strategy to make sure licenses are being consumed properly.  If they are not, at least they catch the problem before they get audited.

Service providers are different; very few have a SAM strategy.  Most service providers are taking part in license mobility and customer owned licenses more regularly. If you don’t believe me check out all the license mobility partners on Microsoft’s website.  If you thought SPLA is complex, try combining on premise licensing and SPLA and see what you have!

What does SAM really do? It’s a strategy. It will give you tools and a team of experts to help guide you through the ever-changing license use rights (SPUR or PUR for those playing at home).  In most cases, it provides you with the necessary resources to help protect you from vendor audits.  There are different levels of SAM to cater towards different types of environments.  Just like service providers, no two environments are the same.

Here’s my advice (if you are wondering) – if you are a service provider, get a SAM strategy in place.  There’s a saying I read somewhere ( I believe LinkedIn) that said if you think audit prevention is expensive, try being audited.  (paraphrased here but you get my point).

If you don’t have a SAM resource, email me, (blaforge@splalicensing.com) I can be your SPLA/SAM resource.  I guarantee I know the program better than most.  You can also check out our SAM services at SoftwareONE here

As always,  hope you find this helpful and gives you some ideas.

Thanks for reading,

SPLA Man

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Compliance

 

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