License Compliance Offerings with Microsoft – Software Asset Management Services Overview

By Curtis Browne, Directions on Microsoft

With increasing frequency, customers using software from Microsoft will be asked to verify license compliance through a Software Asset Management (SAM) Baseline engagement, one of the three SAM Services program offerings from Microsoft. Often perceived as an audit, a SAM Baseline engagement may cause business disruption by consuming people’s time and by introducing unexpected costs from having to purchase licenses for software deployed but not properly licensed. However, customers can use two lesser-known offerings to deploy Microsoft software inventorying tools and to identify ways to manage software assets more effectively.

The three SAM Services offerings can be used individually, sequentially, or in tandem to provide license verification, deployment of software for inventory and usage analysis, and evaluation of the effectiveness of software management processes.

SAM Baseline

The SAM Baseline is the most widely known and used SAM Services offering with the central goal of license verification. A SAM Baseline engagement focuses on license compliance but differs from an audit in that there are generally no service fees or punitive license pricing imposed, and customers can generally choose which Microsoft partner performs the engagement (though results are shared with Microsoft regardless of partner choice). The primary deliverable of a SAM Baseline engagement includes the following:

  • A listing of licenses owned, as compiled during the engagement through tools and interviews
  • A detailed inventory of the software deployed by version and edition
  • The reconciliation of the two using downgrade rights and other licensing rules to maximize license coverage.

Partners conducting the SAM Baseline engagement are certified by Microsoft and can include software resellers, asset management companies, and auditing firms. A customer might request a Microsoft partner based on a desire to achieve as much objectivity as possible, on a strong partnership (although some customers avoid resellers due to a potential conflict of interest as the software would be acquired from the same organization doing the license verification), or on referral based on peer or industry recommendations.

SAM Deployment and Planning

The SAM Deployment and Planning offering is used to help deploy Microsoft tools for asset management and software inventorying purposes, temporarily or as a proof of concept (POC), often prior to or in conjunction with a license verification effort such as a SAM Baseline engagement. Partners are tasked with helping customers select and configure software including System Center, Windows Intune, or the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP), a free download from Microsoft often used for software discovery. Companies with an existing asset management solution can compare results from already installed tools by generating additional reports using a tool such as MAP to verify data accuracy. Customers considering System Center or Windows Intune for overall IT management can use the engagement for a POC to kick-start an approved project.

SAM Assessment

The SAM Assessment service helps an organization evaluate the effectiveness of its SAM processes and identify ways to reduce compliance risks and costs associated with over- and underlicensing. A SAM Assessment engagement gathers feedback from multiple people in the organization, primarily in the form of discussions, and measures SAM maturity through the SAM Optimization Model (SOM), Microsoft’s take on the industry standard ISO/IEC 19770-1:2006. Customers can use findings to create a business case for establishing a SAM practice in the organization, to improve existing SAM processes, and to justify projects such as the deployment of a software management tool.

All three SAM Services offerings are funded by Microsoft with the amount of resources allocated based on customer size. A SAM Baseline engagement is most often prompted by Microsoft, while a SAM Assessment or SAM Deployment and Planning engagement is generally by customer request. However, an organization initiating a SAM Baseline engagement on their own can align the timing with budget cycles, Microsoft contract anniversaries, or new software deployments to gain visibility to potential costs while building the work effort around project schedules to minimize business disruption.