What’s the Best Way for Me to Buy Microsoft Licensing? Part 6: MPSA and Enterprise Programs

Go big or go home! It’s time to continue our series on the best way for you to purchase your Microsoft licensing by talking about licensing large businesses. To get up to speed on this discussion, you can read the previous posts in this series here:

The last two licensing programs we need to discuss are the Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA) and the Enterprise Agreement (EA) programs. If you have 250 or more desktops, then you need to know about these.

Technically, the Select Plus program also falls in this category, but since Microsoft is phasing that program out and won’t be accepting any new orders after July 1, we won’t cover it here. If you currently are on a Select Plus agreement, you will need to look into switching to something else at your next renewal. (Government and academic organizations using Select Plus are an exception; Microsoft will continue Select Plus for public sector organizations.)

Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA)

In a nutshell, the MPSA is Microsoft’s licensing solution for organizations with 250 to 500 desktops. This is a relatively new licensing program that became available in January 2014. Microsoft phased in this program as it started phasing out Select Plus.

You can think of the MPSA as the big brother of the Open Business and Open Level C programs. As such, purchasing Software Assurance is optional, and the MPSA does not require you to standardize all your PCs on a particular product. Also, similar to Open Level C, your discounts in the MPSA program are based on product pools. (For an explanation on how “pools” work, see my blog post here.) However, unlike the Open Business or Open Level C, an MPSA never expires.

This program is designed for large organizations with decentralized purchasing, where each group in your organization purchases their own licenses. One of the nice things about the MPSA is that you can subdivide your organization any way you want: affiliates, departments, local offices, teams, people whose favorite color is red … whatever! You get to decide how your purchasing accounts are grouped. You can even have some purchasing accounts marked as corporate, others marked as charity, and others marked as academic organizations, all under the same umbrella.

The products available through the MPSA are also flexible. You can purchase on-prem perpetual licenses with or without Software Assurance, and/or online services such as Office 365. And to access all your resources, the MPSA has its own new and improved licensing portal called the “Microsoft Volume Licensing Center” (MVLC), which is not to be confused with the old “Volume Licensing Service Center” (VLSC) that every other Microsoft customer still has to use. (Poor souls!)

So the MPSA is the new hotness. You can stop reading now because it is the best thing since sliced bread. But, if you have over 500 desktops then I suppose you should be aware of one other option available to you …

Enterprise Agreement (EA)

The EA is Microsoft’s licensing solution for organizations with over 500 desktops. The current minimum is actually 250 desktops, but on July 1 that minimum is being raised to 500 desktops, so it’s time for a paradigm shift.

You can think of the Enterprise Agreement as the big brother of the Open Value program. As such, Software Assurance is required, and the EA is a three-year agreement. Also, similar to Open Value Company-Wide, you will need to standardize all your PCs on at least one Microsoft product. To do this, you will buy a Windows upgrade license, Office Pro Plus license, and/or one of the Core CAL suites for every PC in your organization.

This program is designed for large organizations with centralized purchasing, where the main headquarters manages the licensing for all the affiliates. Unlike the MPSA, you don’t get to decide how to subdivide your purchasing agents. Each enrolled affiliate must be a separate legal entity.

Similar to the MPSA, you can purchase on-prem perpetual licenses and/or online services through an EA. You also have the option to purchase subscription licenses (which is not available through the MPSA).

Another option that an EA gives you is the ability to start using additional instances of Microsoft software before you pay for them. For example, if you need to set up some machines for new employees in the middle of the year, you just install whatever Microsoft software you need. At the end of that year, you will do a “true up” with Microsoft where you report additional instances and pay for the corresponding licenses at that time. In other words, you don’t need to make several orders for licenses each year; you just pay for all your new licenses at the end of the year.

The EA is the highest commitment level you can have with Microsoft (short of being bought out by Microsoft Corporate, but let’s not go there). As such, this is where the steepest discounts are.  But as you can see, there are pros and cons, so you need to weigh the options.

Comparison

The following chart provides an apples-to-apples comparison between these two programs. If you have 250 to 500 desktops, then you don’t have much of choice: you will need to go with the MPSA. But if you have over 500 desktops, then you should decide which program is right for you.

MPSA Enterprise Agreement
Number of Users or Devices: 250+ 500+
Pricing Tiered pricing based on product pools (applications, systems, & servers) Tiered pricing based on number of desktop PCs
Licensing Offerings: License N/A
License & Software Assurance License & Software Assurance
Software Assurance Renewal Software Assurance Renewal
N/A Subscription
Online Services (such as Office 365): Included Included
Software Assurance: Optional Mandatory
Agreement Term: Agreement never expires 3-Year Term, Renewable
Agreement Structure: MS Products & Services Agreement↙  ↓

↘Purchasing Accounts(subdivisions determined by client)

MS Business & Services Agreement↓Enterprise Agreement↙  ↓  ↘Enrolled Affiliates(separate legal entities)
Payment Options: Annual or upfront payments Annual or upfront payments
Licensing Portal: Microsoft Volume Licensing Center (MVLC) Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC)
How to Buy: Large Account Resellers Direct relationship with Microsoft, supported by Authorized Enterprise Software Advisors
True Up Once Per Year: No Yes
Requires company-wide standardization on at least one type of MS product? No Yes

Much of the information on this chart is based on page 22 of the July 2015 version of the Microsoft Volume Licensing Reference Guide. A current version of this guide is available here.

To learn more about these programs, I recommend the following resources:

In closing, I should mention that a Value Added Reseller (VAR), such as Mirazon, is not authorized to sell licenses under these agreements. You need to buy them through a Large Account Reseller (LAR). Nevertheless, Mirazon can help guide you through the process. We work closely with our partner SoftwareONE, a Microsoft LAR, to provide for our customer’s needs when they grow to over 250 desktops.

If you have questions about your Microsoft licensing, email us or give us a call at 502-240-0404 and we will get you answers!