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Lesser Known Microsoft Licensing Challenges


Customers of Microsoft face a number of challenges with Microsoft licensing. However, there are a number of challenges that organisations may not be aware of that also need attention and the correct management. In this article we will go over a few of the lesser known Microsoft challenges that are currently faced by organisations in todays climate.

Microsoft Products on Mobile Devices

Portable device rights is a hot topic at the moment with the introduction of tablets and mobile devices into organisations, and also the fact that Microsoft are now licensing some of their applications on a subscription, ‘cloud’ user base. This means that a user can install the software that they are licensed to use on up to 5 devices, including portable devices.

This is where user management comes into play, as organisations need to manage user accounts rather than installs. Through Microsoft licensing portals (and some very sophisticated SAM solutions) you can see how many devices a user has installed Microsoft software on. Thanks to the subscription and cloud-based technology, a user will not have the ability to install the software on more than 5 devices. However, not knowing this rule or the license metric could result in an organisation thinking they need to purchase multiple licenses for desktop and mobile devices when this isn’t the case.

There could also be an argument for a mobile device management solution in helping Microsoft customers manage their mobile instances of software. MDM solutions can show the hardware spec of a mobile device, where it was last seen, how much data is being used on Microsoft applications and how often the mobile application is being run. However, this is more of a general ITAM function rather than Microsoft license management.

90- Day Rule

The 90-day rule is often overlooked by organisations actively trying to recycle or reclaim software licenses. The 90-day rule is defined in the Product Use Rights (PUR) of Microsoft applications and states that ‘you may not reassign licenses on a short-term basis (within 90 days of the last assignment), nor may you reassign licenses for Rental Rights, or Software Assurance separately from the underlying license to which the Software Assurance is attached’. [source]

Organisations usually trip up with this rule through a lack of knowledge, and reassigning licenses too quickly. This will be identified in an audit situation as Microsoft have the tools (such as MAP) to see the date when a license has been first installed, and then if it has been moved or reassigned. Moving a product that has the 90-day rule before the 90-days is unfortunately a breach of organisations rights, and will therefore mean the organisation is not compliant with the terms of the license contract.

However, we have heard stories of organisations demanding that the 90-day rule be removed from their license agreement with Microsoft. The organisations that we have heard having this granted are usually very large, enterprise organisations that spend an awful lot of money with Microsoft. Microsoft would rather remove the ruling for them and keep their investment, than argue with them and potentially lose their custom.

There are a number of ways in which an organisation can manage the 90-day rule. There are a number of SAM technologies that will show timestamps for when a piece of software has been installed on a machine. SAM users can create alerts within the SAM tool to alert them in 90-days time, so they know that the licence can then be recycled or reassigned. If an organisation does not have a SAM tool implemented, then a spread-sheet with dates, user names, machine names and versions of Microsoft products installed would be an alternative method. Whilst not very sophisticated, that type of method of managing the 90-day rule is better than no method!

Secondary use rights

Secondary use rights allow you to use software on two devices. The secondary device may be a home PC (home use) or a laptop (portable device). It is important to note that secondary use rights are only available with specific Microsoft application software, such as Microsoft Office. It is important that organisations check their license agreement or the EULA (end user license agreement) for their organisations rights regarding secondary use rights. These rights do not exist for Microsoft operating systems and server products, or to OEM software.

A lack of knowledge or understanding of secondary use rights means that some organisations will purchase a separate license for a users laptop instead of exercising their rights to installing Microsoft software on a secondary device. This result in un-necessary spend, over-licensing and a clear indication of a lack of internal expertise around Microsoft licensing. If your organisation does not have the internal expertise or resources to fully utilise Microsoft licenses, then we would suggest looking to out-sourcing the Microsoft estate to a third party such as an MSP or a Microsoft Licensing Consultant.

Using multiple versions under one License

Some Microsoft products allow the licensee the rights to use previous versions of the software simultaneously. A prime example of this is Visual Studio. If you purchase a license for Visual Studio 2010 for example, you can also use the 2008 and 2006 editions simultaneously without needing additional licenses. This is particularly useful for organisations that want the option of upgrading to the newest version of Microsoft software, but have some users that still require a previous version for compatibility or preference reasons.

It is important that organisations do not count simultaneous installs as more than one license; that could get very expensive! SAM tools need to be configured correctly to ensure that they recognise the right license metrics so that they do not provide the customer with an inaccurate license position. There have been a number of instances whereby a customer has been unaware of their rights to install previous versions at the same time, and have counted the number of instances of the software that has been installed on the machine. This has resulted in a much larger than required spend on the software and having a large amount of excess licenses. Being over-licensed can be as bad as being under-licensed!


I hope that you have found this useful and that we may have made you aware of some of the lesser-known Microsoft licensing challenges. There are Microsoft experts out there that know far more about Microsoft licensing than I do, so if you feel I have missed something out or there are inaccuracy’s please let me know in the comments below!

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About David Foxen

David Foxen is a Software Asset Management expert and enthusiast. He had a vast experience of successfully implementing SAM, SAM tools and also made huge cost savings. A member of the ISO Standards WG21, David is a massive ITAM geek, so uses any opportunity to talk about the subject to who-ever will listen. He believes that the industry needs to share its knowledge and success stories to help the SAM industry mature and become more effective. Always willing to help, his primary goal is to make a difference to organisations and the SAM industry so everyone will know how epic SAM is!

One Comment

  1. Kris Wong says:

    David great Article.

    One point on 2nd Use rights… These are next to impossible to manage unless you have a tool that can help, at least at scale. If you have 50 employees this would be easy but at 1000 or even 10k it is very difficult. At least that is my humble opinion. I would rather organization invest in a tool to manage these than to sit with the risk of over-deploying/under-licensing base don 2nd use rights.


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