Microsoft Software Assurance – do you really need it?

Microsoft Software Assurance – do you really need it?

May Turnbull tackles the confusion over whether you need to buy Software Assurance with your Microsoft licensing.

Published on 21st August 2018

For those of you that follow my articles, you will know that I often write about software licensing faux pas, and Software Assurance (SA) is an umbrella topic that encompasses so much misunderstanding. There is always huge confusion regarding whether SA is needed or not and organizations that are unsure usually just end up biting the bullet and over licensing in a ‘rather-safe-than-sorry’ approach.

A good place to start would be common misunderstandings when it comes to software assurance:

1. You do not need SA on your Windows Server Licensing to enable License Mobility across your server farm/cluster

If you need to license a virtual environment where load balancing is prevalent and virtual machines require movement across the cluster…what you need here is Windows Server Datacenter licensing. Should you wish to make use of the latest version rights, Disaster Recovery Rights or Azure Hybrid Benefit etc., you should explore SA on your licensing here.

Remembering that you can sometimes get some great packages if you do bundle SA into the picture and if you choose not to purchase SA and change your mind later; you will have to repurchase the license all over again. Software Assurance cannot be added back in after the fact unless you make use of the 90-day window to add SA onto OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) purchases.

2. You do not need SA on your desktop applications when streaming through RDS/Citrix/VDI

A common misconception is that software assurance is required on products like Office, Project & Visio if you wish to stream them. When the truth is that you only require software assurance on these products if you wish to make use of Roaming Use Rights. This would allow access by the primary user of a licensed device from a third-party device. If you only provide access to desktop applications to users from work devices, SA is not required.

3. Software Assurance is required for SQL and Productivity Servers to enable mobility across your server cluster

So, what do I mean by productivity servers?

I’m talking about Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business etc. If you have virtualized these or any SQL Servers (where licensing nodes with SQL Server Enterprise with SA for unlimited virtualization has not been done), you WILL need software assurance to allow these virtual servers to move freely within the cluster. The only way around this is to lock these virtual machines down or to prove that they haven’t moved more than once every 90 days (licenses are allowed to move once every 90 days without SA).

4. You need software assurance on your Windows licenses if you want to use VDI. VDA (Virtual Desktop Access) is a software assurance benefit

If you haven’t purchased SA on your Windows licenses, you will need to purchase Virtual Desktop Access Subscriptions for each one of the users to allow them access to their virtual desktops. Many people aren’t aware of this and its extra cost implication.
So now that you know some of the more common mistakes when it comes to selecting software assurance, let’s look at some other reasons you might want to consider SA on your products:

Training Vouchers

If your company has a Software Assurance membership in the application or system pools, you are eligible for Microsoft SA training vouchers. NB! This benefit is not available to Academic Select License, Select Plus for Academic, Campus Agreement, or School Agreement customers. Training vouchers entitle you to receive courses from Microsoft Learning Partners for a specific number of training days.

The number of days granted varies by program and the number of qualifying Office and/or Windows licenses covered with Software Assurance. The training vouchers are electronic and can be used at any participating Learning Partner location worldwide.

Step-Up Rights

A step-up is a license type that allows a customer to move from a lower level edition of selective products to a higher-level edition without having to repurchase the full license e.g. stepping up from Windows Server Standard to Windows Server Datacenter. A customer must have active (current) Software Assurance for the underlying qualifying product (the lower edition) to qualify for this benefit.


Another SA benefit is 24/7 Problem Resolution support for business-critical support as well as unlimited email support. Again, the no. of incidence and type of support available to you will depend on your agreement and the products covered with SA.

Disaster Recovery Rights

This is a SA benefit you will need if you want to make use of ‘cold’ disaster recovery (only allowed through SA purchase). Or should you wish to make use of passive server rights where you want to reinstate the primary server earlier than the 90-day license re-allocation restriction.

Hopefully, just hopefully, this has helped shine a light on some murky waters. And fighting the urge to turn this topic into an essay, I leave you all here to digest the key tips provided for you above.

Written by

Picture of May Turnbull

May Turnbull


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