Partners: 6 Ways To Get Free Microsoft Product Licenses

When it comes to Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) benefits, sometimes not even the most connected partners are aware of what's available to them. Julie Bennani, general manager of the MPN, recounted a recent conversation with one of the company's longest-standing ISV partners.

"The [business decision maker] brought the CTO up with him," Bennani recalls. "The three of us were in a room. I looked at the CTO, and said, 'Do you know that we have online technical communities with an SLA and phone-based presales advisory hours?' His face lit up. He went back and he started to get his full technical team plugged in directly."

Microsoft, of course, doesn't offer its partner benefits for no reason. The company wants partners to leverage them. "We want to help partners, we want them to be current, we want them to be agile," Bennani says.

Nowhere is this truer than with one of Microsoft's most valuable benefits. Known as Internal Use Rights, or IURs, they basically amount to free licenses for Microsoft products, one of the most critical benefits for Microsoft partners.

Why Internal Use Rights Exist
The advantages of the licenses for partners are obvious. When it comes to running an IT-based company, one of the biggest expenses is software costs. For a few hundred dollars, partners can find ways to fully outfit a 10-person firm with more Microsoft software than they would otherwise use. For less than $4,000, partners with up to a few hundred people can completely outfit their organizations. And for partner companies interested in putting their infrastructure in the cloud and selling Microsoft cloud-based solutions, a free sign-up supports an organization of up to 250 people.

"There's a small percentage of partners who completely maximize their IUR and then there's a lot of partners that aren't even close."

Julie Bennani, General Manager, Microsoft Partner Network

"It's a very valuable benefit both for the partner organization as a whole, but then [also for] skilling their people. The best way to do that is to play with the product," Bennani says.

Naturally, MPN membership requires a fair amount of training, and IURs help partners' technical staff prepare for exams.

Obviously, Microsoft has a vested interest in minimizing software costs to reduce the start-up costs for businesses that will sell Microsoft solutions and any friction those partners might have in getting their people trained.

But there are other, more complex reasons. The more familiar partners are with Microsoft products from everyday, in-house use, the better they're able to articulate the benefits of those products in presales discussions. Partners who use the software know the features at a deep level and understand the core value proposition of the products in a more visceral way. The more they troubleshoot the products in their real-world internal deployments, the more experienced their technical people are when it comes time to install and support their customers' Microsoft-based systems.

Even partners who use products internally that they don't sell or support can become important advocates for the value of those products in their roles as trusted advisors for certain customers.

One example is Brittenford Systems Inc., a Washington, D.C.-area Gold Certified Partner. While most of the company's business is in other areas, the 30-person firm has been on Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 internally for two and half years and recently moved to Lync 2010.

CTO Ryan Risley recommends the product for other partners, even if they don't plan to sell Lync.

"The cultural aspects have been astounding," Risley says. "It's really helped us become even more tight-knit [as a company]."

Brittenford uses Lync to bring new staff up to speed more quickly through the presence-aware contact lists and screen-sharing capabilities, to help the office manager route service calls immediately and to brainstorm through the shared whiteboarding capabilities.

Risley is finding one other benefit that every consultant can relate to: "Our old phone system was at headquarters, and we didn't have soft phones. If you called out from a client [to another client] and you used your cell phone, they'd love to hang onto that cell phone number. Having a client have your cell phone is not always the best solution."

For Microsoft's mature products that are rich in little-known features, partner enthusiasm often grows with familiarity -- helping the partners make a solid case for the products and helping Microsoft's bottom line.

That said, this win-win is rarely fully utilized by partners. "There's a small percentage of partners who completely maximize their IUR and then there's a lot of partners that aren't even close," Bennani says.

While many partners had a pretty good idea about their IUR allowances under the old Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP), Microsoft rearchitected its benefits in the gradual rollout of the MPN over the last few years. Given the new structure of the MPN, a refresher on where to find the license benefits in the new MPN is in order.

There are many ways to obtain IURs from Microsoft. Here we provide detailed descriptions of six of Microsoft's best caches of software licenses intended for partners.

1. Action Pack Solution Provider
Under the old MSPP, Microsoft Action Pack Subscription (MAPS) was one of the best deals for partners interested in getting a lot of software to test and use for a very minimal commitment. In the MPN, Microsoft has changed the program somewhat, dividing it in two parts, tinkering with the exact benefits and changing the price. Nonetheless, the changes haven't altered the fundamental character of the Action Pack. The kit remains one of the best tools for jump-starting a solution provider or developer business in the Microsoft channel ecosystem.

The Solution Provider version costs $329 (all prices in this article are for U.S. partners), and the rule of thumb as far as licenses go is 10 for client and one for servers. Client software in bundles of 10 in the Action Pack Solution Provider are

  • Office 2010 Professional Plus 2010,
  • Windows 7 Professional,
  • Visio Professional 2010,
  • Business Contact Manager 2010,
  • MapPoint North America 2010 and
  • Client Access Licenses (CALs) for Lync Server 2010 Standard, Exchange Server 2010 Standard, SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise, SQL Server 2008 R2, System Center Data Protection Manager 2010, System Center Essentials 2010, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 Terminal Server and Windows Small Business Server 2011.

There's one license for each of the servers for which the Action Pack offers CALs, except for the two System Center products, each of which comes with three server licenses.

Exceptions to the 10 client/one server rule are Project Professional 2010 with five, Windows 7 Ultimate with one and Dynamics CRM Workgroup Server 2011 with one server and five users. An upgrade is available for partner organizations looking to support more than five users.

Action Pack Solution Provider also comes with TechNet subscription benefits.

All the software in the Action Pack is provided via digital delivery; for an extra $100 per year, partners can get discs mailed to them.

2. Action Pack Development & Design
For ISVs and custom-development partners, the Action Pack Development & Design is a low-cost way to flood the organization with licenses. Generally the program will also outfit an organization or department of about 10 people.

The developer version includes just about all the software in the Solution Provider version, but combines that software licensing with some critical development tools. These tools include a Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscription, Visual Studio 2010 Professional, Expression Studio 4 Web Professional, SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, Office SharePoint Designer 2010, Hyper-V Server 2008, Virtual PC 2007 and Virtual Server 2005 R2.

The kit sells for $429 for digital delivery and $529 for physical media.

3. TechNet
Partners can be forgiven for not thinking of TechNet when they think about license benefits. It's taking Microsoft a little time to realize that there are extra partner license rights in that part of the Action Pack subscription as well.

During a virtual town hall webcast between Microsoft executives and partners earlier this year, a partner asked, "Why doesn't Action Pack include home OS products? Small businesses and many PCs buy home OSes and I have a very difficult time supporting these."

At first, partner executives on the call commiserated that it would probably be a good idea to make some license rights available to partners to support home-use product versions.

Then Eric Ligman, worldwide experience lead for the MPN, piped in to point to the cache of licenses in TechNet, which wasn't part of the original MAPS but is now included in Action Pack Solution Provider. It's also included in the core IURs for silver competencies and gold competencies (more on those to follow).

"One thing to remember is that, if you have the Action Pack Solution Provider, you have access to the TechNet subscription in there. In your TechNet, there's actually a lot of the home products in there," Ligman said. "If you're looking to do evaluations, you have evaluation rights within the TechNet subscription that you get. If you're focused on the small space and you have an Action Pack Solution Provider subscription, please take a look at the TechNet benefits that you receive, because you can actually access a lot of those home products through TechNet and that should help you in what you're looking to do."

4. Silver Competency
For companies with 11 to 25 employees, the silver competency is worth a hard look when it comes to licensing. Silver is a significant step up from the Action Packs in terms of both cost to join and the kinds of internal investment in technical and sales training for employees and developing case studies with customers. But the benefits ramp up substantially as well, including for IURs. The straight cost of joining the MPN at the silver competency level is $1,850. The training and time costs vary by partner.

An important note about the difference between the old MSPP and the newer MPN is that silver is earned by competency (such as Business Intelligence, CRM, ERP and so on), not by company.

At the same time, while the training and time costs go up with each competency pursued, a partner only pays the MPN joining fee at the silver level one time. That silver competency joining fee covers a core set of user licenses that accrue to every Microsoft partner with any silver competency. Each competency then brings additional use licenses specific to the competency. A calculator on the MPN portal is handy for a quick look at the types and number of licenses that a partner will get by combining the core IURs with the benefits of the 28 available competencies.

In general terms, the core silver license benefits wind up conferring 25 client licenses and one server license for most Microsoft products. One interesting exception is the inclusion of 16 IURs for Windows HPC Server 2008 R2, allowing partners to set up an internal high-performance computing array. Silver also comes with three TechNet subscriptions, rather than one. Meanwhile, the list of server and client products with IURs for silver is much longer than the one for the Action Packs. More than matching the developer Action Pack, core silver includes five licenses for Visual Studio 2010 with an MSDN subscription.

Add a competency into the mix, and licenses go upward. In the case of the Midmarket Solution Provider competency, one of the broadest competencies in the MPN, partners get 10 additional licenses for Windows 7 Enterprise (although not for Office Professional Plus 2010) and 10 more CALs for Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and SQL Server. The midmarket competency also brings eight additional CALs for Windows Server 2008 and five more CALs for Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services.

5. Gold Competency
When a company has more than 25 employees, the gold competency starts to make a lot of sense from a license perspective. Joining the MPN with a gold competency costs $3,800, and the soft costs of training people, covering other Microsoft paperwork and obtaining customer case studies ramp up, as well. But the IUR allowances quadruple in many cases compared to silver.

Suddenly, organizations with 100 or more people in their Microsoft practice are thoroughly covered, as far as Microsoft-related software costs.

The core set of gold-related IURs is generally 100 client licenses and two licenses for core server products. Boutique server products, such as Groove Server 2010 and Project Server 2010, stay at one license. Meanwhile, Windows Server 2008 R2 gets bumped up to four licenses, and Windows Small Business Server 2011 conveys 75 CALs, the product's max.

While going gold doesn't increase the three TechNet subscriptions that come with silver, it doubles the number of Visual Studio 2010 licenses with MSDN subs to 10.

6. Cloud Essentials
While most caches of partner licenses come with at least a partial price tag, partners interested in working with Microsoft in the cloud can get access to Microsoft products for free. Called Cloud Essentials, Microsoft launched the offering at the 2010 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference to encourage partners to kick the tires of the Business Productivity Online Suite, Dynamics CRM Online, Windows Azure and other cloud offerings.

With the launch of Office 365, the package is still a deal for partners.

"Community members basically give us 10 pieces of information," Bennani said of the minimal sign-up requirement for partners interested in Cloud Essentials.

Once signed up, partners get access to 250 licenses of Office 365, a 10-PC subscription to the Windows Intune system-management tool, 250 licenses of Dynamics CRM Online and hundreds of hours of Windows Azure usage.

Benefits for Small Partners
Many partners have worried that the changes in the MPN favored large partners over small. In at least one way, Microsoft's focus on large organizations provides a benefit for smaller ones.

"I think the midsize and smaller organizations have a lot of potential to gain a lot of value," Bennani said in the webcast. "When we looked through and thought about how we structured the requirements and also things like Internal Use Rights, as we give you access to software and services, we targeted what we thought on the gold side was an average of a good large practice from a technology perspective of about 100 people. So we're enabling you for a practice of 100 people with the requirements for about four technical people in most gold competencies. The ratio is heavily in the partners' favor, basically," Bennani said.

"I'd strongly encourage partners to recheck what their organization has rights to," Bennani said. "My guess is that, in 95 percent of the cases, they haven't used what they have rights to."