In the early days of Office 365, you would be accustomed to a certain kind of experience when purchasing licenses as a small/medium size business (SMB) customer. As these types of organisations are typically too small to warrant the cost for Enterprise Agreements or Volume Licensing, your only recourse to buying Office 365 services was via the portal itself. At this time, any involvement with a Microsoft Partner would be minimal or even non-existent. Partners would only enter the picture if a business opted to grant them Partner of Record status, thereby allowing them to manage aspects of your subscription behind the scenes. This process, while wholly sufficient, did have some notable gaps and, if you were an organisation focused on tightly managing all aspects of your customer journey, could be prone to change or interruption via interference from Microsoft
The Cloud Solutions Provider programme (or CSP for short) is Microsoft’s “next-generation” opportunity for partners to get directly involved as part of a customers journey onto Office 365, Dynamics 365 and/or Azure and aims to resolve some of the issues highlighted above. Instead of turning directly to Microsoft when you need a new license subscription or have an issue with a particular Office 365 opportunity, customers would instead deal directly with a CSP provider, who will be able to offer them all of this, and more. Everyone wins - the customer, CSP provider and Microsoft itself - and here’s just a few reasons why:
Moving to CSP can save you money
Perhaps the most important reason of all to consider CSP :) The price you will pay for pretty much every single Office 365 Subscription offering available via Microsoft directly will be lower if purchased from a CSP partner. In most cases, this will typically result in a 10-15% reduction across the board guaranteed; a figure which, depending on the size of your organisation, could be a significant portion of your per annum IT spend. In addition, there is no need to wait for your subscription anniversary to switch - any early cancellation charges will be credited in full by Microsoft, should you cancel at any point in your subscription and migrate to the equivalent CSP subscription.
CSP users can benefit from special promotions, previews and other deals unavailable via Microsoft Direct
One example of this at the moment is the preview for Microsoft 365 Business - the next evolutionary step for Office 365 - which is accessible to those who are working with CSP providers currently. Other promotions may also appear from time to time, so you should be speaking to your CSP provider regularly to ensure that they are informing you of any potential discounts or offers available.
CSP enables your current Microsoft Partner to support you better
If you are working with a Microsoft Partner to help support your Office 365 services or Dynamics 365 deployments, there’s a good chance that they may have spoken to you about CSP or migrated you across already. The reasons for this will not be purely based on an altruistic desire to reduce your monthly running costs; by having their customers operating under CSP licensing, Partners are granted additional information regarding your subscriptions and their usage. They also become the de facto organisation that needs to be contacted in case any issues occur relating to the subscription. A customer who, for example, contacts Microsoft directly regarding an Exchange Online issue on their CSP subscription will instead be referred back to the CSP Partner in the first instance; they will then be responsible for escalating the case to Microsoft if required. In most circumstances, this can surely be seen as a plus and in helping Partners to work more closely with their customers.
The above example also goes some way towards explaining why CSP license prices are cheaper compared to going directly to Microsoft. By placing Partner organisations at the front-line of dealing with common 1st/2nd Line support issues, Microsoft can reduce the number of support professionals it allocates internally and place the burden instead on Microsoft Partners to do the “heavy lifting”, particularly when it comes to dealing with easy to resolve issues (i.e. any support request that can be resolved via the Administration Centre).
It’s for Azure as well…with some caveats
Chances are if you are using Office 365 within your organisation, then you will also be consuming some additional Azure services on top of this - either Virtual Machine(s), storage, websites or even some database capacity. The good news is that you can also look at moving your Azure subscriptions across to CSP, with the same benefits available: reduced monthly costs and the ability for your partner of choice to support you better.
At the time of writing this post, the key “red flag” I would draw you towards when considering Azure CSP is what you lose compared to a Pay As You Go or other direct subscription. For example, ongoing and previous usage history will not be visible on the Azure portal and, chances are, you will only get full visibility of your Azure usage costs at the time when you are billed by your CSP partner. If you typically prefer to micro-manage your ongoing Azure usage costs, then a 10-15% saving may not be a fair trade-off for losing this visibility.
Finally, don’t be surprised if this becomes the de facto way of buying Office 365/Azure in the future if you are an SMB
I mentioned above one reason why CSP license costs are cheaper, and through this, you can begin to see the writing on the wall for SMB’s. This is not necessarily a bad thing. My own personal preference would be in dealing with a Microsoft Partner as opposed to Microsoft direct, as Partners will generally be a lot more flexible and reactive to work with. Having assumed that Microsoft can generate significant internal cost savings and also give eager Partner organisations the opportunity to fill the void, why would they not then turn round and say “We’re sorry, but if you are an organisation that employs 300 people or less, then please speak to a Microsoft Partner for further assistance.”? Certainly, the vibe and talk around CSP at the moment would seem to indicate that this is the long-term trajectory for the programme. Watch this space, but it will be interesting to see in the future whether the Microsoft Direct route is downplayed or removed completely if your potential license order per annum is in only in the hundreds of £'s.