Monday, December 24, 2007

Mystery of Mysteries Revealed: Software Assurance

I just returned from a week-long training session out in building 25 on the Microsoft campus, in Redmond, Washington. The course was all about the forthcoming Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, or "MDOP", product suite. It will be available only to customers who have purchased Software Assurance (or "SA") on their desktop computers. MDOP includes five (5) main products, all of which were acquired by Microsoft over the past two years.
  • SoftGrid - Microsoft acquired the company Softricity in order to get their hands on their renown application virtualization technology. The current version (4.1 on server, 4.2 on clients) has only been slightly modified from before the acquisition. 4.5 is in beta and set for a release in Q3/08 under the new name of "Microsoft Application Virtualization" and will have some notable enhancements.
  • Advanced Group Policy Management (AGPM) - Microsoft acquired this from the purchase of it's developer "Desktop Standard". Not much has been been enhanced or modified from before it was acquired by Microsoft.
  • Diagnostics and Recovery Toolkit (DaRT) - Acquired along with the purchase of Sysinternals/Winternals, formerly called Winternals' ERD commander. It also includes parts of Sysinternals various utilities and some notable enhancements for Vista.
  • Asset Inventory Services (AIS) - Acquired from Assetmetrix and bundled into Systems Management Server 2003 Service Pack 3, as well as making available within MDOP as "AIS" will be instead an entirely hosted solution.
  • Desktop Error Monitoring (DEM) - Replaces the aging and defunct "Corporate Error Reporting" product for collecting, reporting and forwarding internally generated desktop errors, failures, faults, crashes, etc. DEM is instead built from a subset of System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2007.

But the most peculiar thing I found during this training course wasn't related to any of these technologies. All of which are very good in their own rite. But rather, it was when I asked about SA. I got the same response I get from every sales person, technical engineer, and account manager: "Well, it's sort of subscription with some other goodies, but I don't know exactly".

Say what?!

That's what gets me. The single most important, vital, profitable venture Microsoft has underway is obviously one of the most under-communicated, misunderstood, and poorly explained services they have.

Go ahead. I dare you. Ask anyone around you to list five things you get for purchasing SA on desktops. I've asked people from all kinds of environments, countries, companies, you name it. Most can rattle off two or three at most. I could only list three. Here's what I've managed to cull from various Microsoft and partner web sites...

  • Vouchers for Training Courses
  • Vouchers for Partner Consulting Services
  • Vouchers for 24x7 Technical Support
  • Allows Conversion of Vouchers (training to consulting, to support, vice versa)
  • E-Learning Vouchers
  • Employee Purchase Discounts
  • Home Use Program
  • MDOP for $10/client more (15% discount on Enterprise coverage):
  • Operating System Upgrades (XP to Vista)

Damn! If I were to pass along what many of the sales managers have told me, I would have said "You get upgrades and some support and some other stuff". Wow. That would really sell it to someone. Not. Seems to me that Microsoft needs to (A) simplify what SA "is" and what it gets you, and (B) communicate and educate their partners to better understand it enough to sell it effectively. Holy shit! That sounds like common sense sales and marketing to me.

Selling Software Assurance based on two or three of these key features would be abysmal. I wouldn't want to earn commission upon that horrible thought. I'd starve to death. As soon as you mention "upgrades" as a feature benefit, most customers will immediately shove you out the door and slam it behind you. All the while laughing hysterically. In my (humblest) opinion, Microsoft needs to bundle more than MDOP into SA to make it really attractive. Even as nice as MDOP is (and it is very nice), it's not going to sell itself.

Microsoft's partners will be putting in a lot of face time to get these points across, and hope, fingers' crossed, that customers are receptive and willing to stroke the check. It's a tough sell even so. I realize that much of the reason they have to tread lightly is due to their dealings with DOJ and the EU and their penchant for biting at Microsoft's ankles when they try to knock on doors.

I'm a Systems Engineer and I feel like I know it better than the people who are supposed to be selling to customers.

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