Microsoft Details Partner Program Changes For NCE, Azure And Windows

The company also unveiled an upcoming standalone version of its Microsoft Defender for Business endpoint security service, an annual commitment now available for Windows 365 and an Autopatch tool to keep products up to date.

Microsoft has changed some key dates related to the ongoing adoption of its New Commerce Experience for Microsoft 365 and other popular software packages and unveiled some new offerings for partners related to Defender for Business and Windows.

The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant has pushed back the date when legacy subscriptions for Microsoft 365 and other popular packages have to be bought through the New Commerce Experience and indefinitely delayed the final phase of its plan for moving Azure purchases to NCE.

The company also previewed an upcoming standalone version of its Microsoft Defender for Business endpoint security service and an Autopatch tool to keep various products up to date and announced an annual commitment now available for Windows 365.

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The changes were posted on the Microsoft Partner Center portal on Friday.

New Commerce Experience has come with a series of controversial changes to the partner program this year.

Among the most controversial changes is a 20 percent premium on month-to-month commitments to Microsoft 365 – which includes Word, Excel, Teams, SharePoint and other popular Microsoft applications – and other software packages. Other changes include not allowing customers to change partners once locked into a contract and not allowing partners to change distributors once locked into a contract.

Partners have told CRN that they believe the 20 percent month-to-month premium will push customers to annual commitments, which could leave partners footing the bill if a customer needs fewer seats or goes out of business before the end of the commitment.

The 20 percent premium is on top of overall price increases Microsoft has initiated this year. Price increases were even imposed on products aimed at nonprofits, which has led at least one investment bank to wonder if the company will see a deceleration in seat growth due to dominating the market in productivity apps.

Here’s what you need to know.

Legacy Subscription Renewal Date Pushed Back

Microsoft has delayed one of the upcoming deadlines related to its New Commerce Experience, controversial among partners because of the premium on month-to-month subscriptions Microsoft launched alongside the plan and new rules that make customers stick with the partners they purchased through and make partners stick with the distributor used to fulfill a sale.

Microsoft has pushed back the original July 1 date for when legacy renewal subscriptions must be bought through NCE to July 11.

“Starting July 11, 2022, any commercial seat-based legacy CSP subscription that reaches the end of its term won‘t be automatically renewed on the legacy platform and must be either repurchased in the new commerce experience or allowed to expire,” according to Microsoft.

Only commercial seat-based legacy subscription renewals will get blocked on July 11. The block doesn’t apply to education, government and nonprofit seat-based offers because they have not been added to the New Commerce Experience yet, according to Microsoft.

Partners can migrate existing legacy subscriptions to the New Commerce Experience any time while they are active. Using the migration tool in Partner Center or through an application programming interface (API), partners have the option to start a new term for the migrated subscription or pick a new term duration, a new seat count or a new billing frequency.

Partners can also keep the same term duration, seat count, billing frequency and number of months remaining on the term, according to Microsoft.

Existing legacy subscriptions can’t be repurchased in legacy before the subscription expires because the repurchase will be considered a new order and then blocked, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft does not notify partners or customers of when legacy subscriptions are close to expiration dates or when they reach the date.

Azure NCE Date Indefinitely Delayed

Microsoft announced that more testing validation is needed before the final phase of moving partners and customers to a New Commerce Experience for Azure offers.

The third and final phase, in which Microsoft migrates any remaining customers on a legacy Azure offer to the new Azure offer in the CSP program, has been pushed “to start later in the year,” according to Microsoft. It was originally scheduled to start July 31.

Microsoft recommends partners continue to move old Azure offers in CSP to the New Commerce Experience to ensure partners receive incentives and margin. More information will come “in the coming months,” the company said.

The first of three phases to move partners and customers to the New Commerce Experience for Azure launched in July 2021. During the first phase, Microsoft mandated that partners with new reseller relationships and customers only transact Azure plans in New Commerce Experience. If the customer had already bought the legacy Azure offer, partners could continue to transact and those customers could continue to buy the old Azure offer.

The second phase launched Feb. 1 with Microsoft removing incentives and partner margin from the old Azure offer and the price of the old Azure offering matching Azure’s regular retail price.

Azure Partner Shared Services (APSS) on old Azure offers are still available until a different sales motion or until APSS is removed. Microsoft plans to remove APSS from old Azure offers and not make them available with the new Azure commerce experience.

Microsoft recommends that new Azure plan purchases get bought through the self-service motion in the Azure portal to make APSS transition simpler. Self-service is one of three go-to-markets Microsoft launched, cutting the total down from 20-plus, which included CSP, Open License, Select Plus and directly online.

The three go-to-market models are a breadth motion that includes CSP partners, an enterprise motion and a self-service motion.

Defender For Business Standalone Coming

On May 1, CSP partners can buy a standalone version of Microsoft Defender for Business for $3 per user per month, with the price changing based on subscription term, currency and region. The service is expected to become generally available in early May.

Defender for Business is a recently released endpoint security service from Microsoft for enterprise-grade security for businesses with up to 300 employees.

Defender for Business is already part of the Microsoft 365 Business Premium package.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced Defender for Business in November as an end-to-end service for small- and medium-sized businesses with a simplified approach for setup and management.

For partners, Defender for Business aims to boost security across customers and devices with artificial intelligence-powered automation, according to Microsoft. The tool can standardize security across Windows, iOS, Mac and Android devices and allows partners to “build new, higher-margin, standardized endpoint security services” and “reduce operational costs with a simplified solution that can be managed by IT generalists and helps lower support overhead.”

Defender for Business is also an entry point for new customers to buy Microsoft 365 Business Premium, Azure security tools and other offerings, according to the company.

Windows 365 Annual Term Available

Microsoft now offers annual terms for Windows 365 subscriptions sold by CSP partners with an automatic 10 percent discount.

Billed by Microsoft as “the world’s first cloud PC,” Windows 365 provides customers with desktop, apps, processing power, storage and other features that can scale for customer needs and are deployable without the Azure Virtual Desktop Infrastructure suite.

Windows 365 launched in the former CSP commerce experience in August and the New Commerce Experience in October but with only monthly subscriptions available. Compared to the monthly terms, the annual term is at a 10 percent discount.

Some partners have told CRN that they do not like the 20 percent premium on month-to-month subscriptions of Microsoft 365, initiated alongside New Commerce Experience, because they feel those premiums push customers toward annual commitments. And while annual commitments help with forecasting revenue, they also could result in partners having to pay out the remainder of a commitment if a customer goes out of business or reduces seats before the end of the commitment.

All Windows 365 New Commerce Experience seat-based offers follow the same cancellation policies as the others except that midterm conversions from monthly to annual or annual to monthly aren’t allowed, according to Microsoft. Partners can change a customer’s term duration at the start of a new term.

“Monthly licenses are still recommended for use in cases where procurement flexibility is required or when future performance requirements are unknown,” according to Microsoft.

Under New Commerce Experience, partners have seven calendar days (increased from the initial plan of 72 hours) to change the terms of a subscription before lock in.

Windows 365 Product Updates

Along with annual terms, meanwhile, Microsoft announced this month a host of new integrations for Windows 365 cloud PCs.

The new boot feature allows users to sign into a cloud PC directly and designate it as a primary device.

Switch allows for moving between cloud PCs and local desktops, and Windows 365 Offline for working while disconnected from the internet.

Customer Onboarding Requirements Postponed

Microsoft has rolled back a block on certain reseller relationships it implemented earlier in the month aimed at partners and customers with incomplete information in Admin Center, citing a need “for increased partner and customer awareness of the criteria that must be met to prevent the blocking.”

“This postponement is intended to allow for increased partner and customer awareness of the criteria that must be met to prevent the blocking of customers from accepting reseller relationships with partners, as well as partners being blocked from purchasing for those customers,” according to Microsoft.

The block applied to partners with a direct-billing relationship with Microsoft and customers with an incomplete Admin Center profile if they are in certain countries in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, according to Microsoft.

The countries are: Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Poland, South Africa, India, Brazil, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Microsoft did not provide a new date for the block, only saying “partners will be notified in advance so that they can prepare and communicate with their customers as needed.”

Windows Autopatch And Remote Help

Microsoft will include its new Autopatch managed intelligent update tool in Windows Enterprise E3 starting July 1, according to the company.

The Autopatch tool works for Windows, Microsoft Edge and Office deployments. It was launched in recognition of frequent, ever-changing and sometimes devastating cyberattacks, according to Microsoft.

“Autopatch, by automating the management of updates, can provide timely response to changes and confidence around introducing new changes, and close the protection and productivity gaps,” according to Microsoft. “The value should be felt immediately by IT admins who won‘t have to plan update rollout and sequencing, and over the long term as increased bandwidth allows them more time to focus on driving value.”

Autopatch has a halt feature to prevent updates to certain devices unless targets for stability are met. It has a rollback feature for devices that don’t meet performance targets after the update. And it has a selectivity feature for users to halt, roll back and allow portions of an update package.

Microsoft also made a remote help feature generally available for Windows. The cloud-based, remote assistance service provides a permission-based help desk for users. It shows user profile, photos and domain verification for both parties upfront and provides warnings for devices that are out of compliance with security policies.

Microsoft plans to extend remote help to Android devices in the future. It is available as an add-on to Endpoint Manager.