SMB guide to managing Microsoft

Microsoft licensing represents a complicated challenge for any organization. There are so many different technologies, license models and environments to manage and optimize. Add to that the very real threat of an audit or review, and you’ve got yourself a bit of a headache!

Microsoft licensing represents a complicated challenge for any organization. There are so many different technologies, license models and environments to manage and optimize. Add to that the very real threat of an audit or review, and you’ve got yourself a bit of a headache!

Small/Medium Businesses (SMBs) face a tough challenge when managing and optimizing a Microsoft estate. SMBs are different to Enterprise organizations as they are eligible for different agreement types, may use different technologies and typically have less SAM resources to manage and optimize their licenses and software use.

We recently hosted a webinar where I explained in more detail how SMBs should manage their Microsoft estate, and how you can prepare your organization for a Microsoft audit, ensuring you know exactly what is required of you, what resources you need and what Microsoft will typically look for.


A common misconception is that the smaller the organization, the less chance there is of receiving an audit letter. This is not the case at all – Microsoft will look into your compliance/estate regardless of the size of the business. In fact, by volume, Microsoft and other vendors review more SMBs than any other type of organization.

You need to be prepared for an audit or review letter. Audits are numbers are increasing – so the ‘fear factor’ rises. It is not a case of if anymore, but a case of when you’ll be asked for an audit or review.

Common mistakes I see SMBs make when it comes to audits is ignoring the audit letter. This is a massive no-no and only gives off the impression that you don’t understand your Microsoft estate or risks. Microsoft will keep contacting you until you do respond, or even pass on your details to the legal department to follow up.

This can be avoided by responding to the audit letter quickly. Even if your response is to say that you need time to gather entitlement or deployment data, at least you have acknowledged the request. If ignoring is the worst reaction, the second worst is panicking. Running around like a headless chicken trying to identify and uninstall unlicensed copies of Visio and Project is not a proactive response.

Remember, Microsoft will look at your inventory at the date of the audit letter, so removing unlicensed copies of software may only get you so far.

A better strategy is to remain calm and follow SAM audit best practices.

Before you send any details to Microsoft, make sure you understand what your SAM data is telling you, and that you fully understand the risks within the report.

Audit readiness is a concept that you see flying around within the SAM and licensing space. Being audit ready does not mean that you are 100% compliant – it is a reflection on how confident your organization is when responding to an audit.

SMBs can be audit ready by understanding the following:

To truly be audit ready you need to trust the data that you inventory or SAM solution is providing you. Sending Microsoft inaccurate data is simply not an option.

Be prepared and audit ready.


One of the biggest challenges for organizations within the SMB space is actually trying to find the Microsoft entitlement documentation. The management and governance of software assets and licenses in SMBs usually lies with a single person. This means that license documentation and knowledge often stays with that person – which is great when that person remains at the organization.

There is also the option of finding your entitlement data through the Microsoft portal. Here you can find all of your entitlement and historical data. However, 75% of organizations report that the data within the Microsoft portal is actually flawed and inaccurate. If the data is inaccurate within the portal – the same entitlement data Microsoft use in an audit scenario – then you need to be able to prove how and where it is inaccurate.

Do not just take the data Microsoft provides you as a given. Check your own records to ensure you accurately understand what your entitlement is. What we see all too often is that key SAM stakeholder leaving and taking the organization’s SAM and licensing knowledge with them. Entitlement data is then lost, creating an uphill struggle for the next person to acquire the responsibility in understanding what Microsoft licenses the organization has, and how they are using them.

Storing your licenses in a central repository – like Snow License Manager – will help combat any cases of entitlement data getting lost. Store all of your contracts and licenses in Snow License Manager so you can see what your Effective License Position is, and when maintenance or support contracts expire.

Keep your invoices! I know that some organizations follow the seven-year rule whereby they keep license or contract documentation for seven years.

I have an issue with this – what happens if you have a single install of Windows NT 4.0 installed on a specific device that has a specialist manufacturing role? The device needs Windows NT 4.0 in order to run in-house software that the organization has developed, and plays a key role in the production of a certain product.

Windows NT 4.0 support expired in 2003, but the license remains valid for the lifetime of the application within the organization. That means you’ll still need a valid Windows NT 4.0 license to run the software, even now in 2016. If you cannot prove that you purchased a license back in 1996, then Microsoft will ask you to pay for a license of the most recent version of the software, Windows 10.

It seems silly to have to pay hundreds for a piece of software that was on the market over 20 years ago – so make sure you keep all invoices and licenses for software that is still in use throughout your organization.


In my experience, people tend to overlook this rule within the SMB space. Unfortunately, if you are not aware of it or have it as part of your EA or Open Value agreement, you must purchase a license for all devices within your estate. It does not matter if the machine doesn’t have Office installed, you will need to license the machine for Office, Windows and Core CAL’s.

In Microsoft’s defence, it is called an Enterprise Agreement for a reason – they want it to cover your whole estate.

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Dispose or retire any unwanted ‘qualified devices’. By taking them off the network and officially retiring the hardware asset, you will not have to license the device under the Companywide rule. I’m sure we’ve all seen it happen before; a user requests a new desktop or laptop, but fails to give their old machine back ‘in-case they need it again’.

The device may then be used for testing purposes and stripped of all licensable software installed on it. However, if it is still being used for the ‘benefit of the Enrolled Affiliates Enterprise’ it falls under the Companywide rule – something Microsoft will argue so you will pay for a license.

You can manage the Companywide rule through proactive SAM process, policies and technologies. Ensuring that there is a process in place that highlights the fact that all users must return any unwanted/unused hardware assets to IT will help reduce the amount of hardware ‘hording’.

Implementing a process whereby the Service Desk retire hardware assets properly will result in the reduction of unnecessary hardware assets being stored within the business – an asset that under the Companywide Rule requires a license.

Finally, you need to optimize your hardware assets. If you have an agreement with Microsoft that contains the Companywide Rule in place, then you need to be sure that your hardware assets are active and being used effectively. Otherwise you’ll end up purchasing licenses for a device that is only used now and again, costing you hundreds in licenses, maintenance and support.

It’s basic license management; only paying for what you need and use.


So, in order to effectively manage your Microsoft estate, you need a SAM solution! As I mentioned in the audit section, a sophisticated SAM solution will help you track usage, identify installs and optimize your Microsoft assets. You need to have complete visibility and transparency on all of your Microsoft products, including datacentre applications, applications installed within virtual environments and also your desktop products.

Without the visibility of what is installed, where and by whom, SMBs will not be able to optimize their Microsoft licenses and will not have risk visibility. I’ve seen it happen on many occasions, and it always ends up with such miss-management that the organization are either horribly under-licensed or massive over-licensed!

What’s wrong with being over-licensed I hear you say? Well, it’s a complete waste of money purchasing licenses that you do not need. The money spent on those additional licenses could have been used elsewhere to greater effect, or added into a pot for the SAM team should they need additional finances to purchase more licenses in the future.

Tight software budgets are even more prevalent within SMB’s as they tend to have a lot less disposable cash. Managing your Microsoft licenses with a SAM solution will help you save an awful lot of money, time and will help you mitigate your risks.

The fact that technologies like Snow License Manager can help with the automatic calculation of upgrade and downgrade rights, the fact it can automatically bundle the correct applications together to make a suite and the Microsoft License Statement import feature will reduce the amount of manual work the SAM team will need to complete.


So, in summary, I hope you have taken away the following top tips from this blog;

You can listen to the webinar on how SMBs can effectively manage their Microsoft estate here.

If you’d like to know more about Snow License Manager 8, then make sure you book a test drive today!