I recently took the plunge and bought an annual Visual Studio Professional subscription. I was already aware that organisations could purchase these subscriptions through a volume license agreement, and also knew about some of the benefits available as part of a subscription. As I begin to immerse myself more and more with Dynamics CRM and how the platform integrates with an increasing array of different Microsoft products, I thought having a subscription would be a good way to keep continually up to date with what is happening in the world of Microsoft. I’ve spent a couple of weeks now utilising the various benefits on offer as part of a subscription, and I am now fairly convinced that anyone who considers themselves to be a serious Microsoft professional should have a subscription, either on an individual basis or through the company they work with. Here’s just a few of the things that I have found beneficial about having a subscription, and why each one makes an important difference:
Azure, I hope, needs no introduction for those who are currently working within the cloud space. I have been pushing myself towards fully understanding everything that Azure can offer, as the Dynamics CRM product is increasingly starting to offer various types of add-on/integrations with the platform (in particular, machine learning, which is something I am very interested in at the moment). The nice thing about having an (annual) Visual Studio Professional subscription is that you get £35 ($50) worth of Azure credits each month that you can use however you wish. The amount may not seem to be much, but with this you could very easily pay for a development virtual machine, a 250GB SQL database or multiple Basic 2GB SQL databases. Or alternatively, you can use the credit to help subsidise some of the more expensive of the previous options to help create your own personal Azure workbench, website etc. It’s looking more and more likely that CRM professionals will need to have a solid grasp of the Azure platform, what it can offer and how it relates to CRM in the months ahead; having these free credits gives you an excellent excuse to dive straight in.
Free Dev Software
Perhaps one of the major selling points of a subscription is access to development use only versions of Windows, SQL Server and other Microsoft products. Thanks to the license keys and software on offer, I have been able to successfully setup up my own development server “farm” through the use of Hyper-V - in the process, learning more about the setup and administration of Windows Server 2012 R2, Active Directory and the many other server roles that are required as part of a domain deployment. This is invaluable experience that is almost impossible to replicate via book reading, watching videos online etc. and I would encourage both individuals and organisations to make the appropriate investment in a dedicated development/test environment as an absolute minimum requirement if you are intending to offer some kind of IT provision. One drawback is that the really good software (*coughDynamicsCRMServercough*) is sadly not available as part of the Professional subscription. To get your hands on this, then you would need to look at purchasing an Enterprise subscription, which currently knocks in at a whopping £1,832.09 ($2,999). This is clearly a deliberate choice on behalf of Microsoft, given that you have the likes of enterprise-grade applications like Exchange and SharePoint up for grabs.
One of the surprise benefits I found of having a subscription is access to the Imagine Academy e-learning site. Imagine Academy is geared towards usage by higher education providers as a supplement to any academic courses they may be offering instruction in and gives you access to online versions of most (not all, by the looks of it) of the official courses on offer by Microsoft for Windows, SQL Server, Dynamics and Azure. The courses are a mixture of module-based videos, with some multiple choice knowledge checks and interactive demonstrations (depending on the course you are working through). Whilst I will be quick to admit that these courses are no real substitute for their paid versions within a classroom/lab environment, I have been able to successfully use the courses on offer as a useful revision tool to recently pass the MB2-714 - Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 Customer Service exam, something which I was dreading as a result of the splitting out of these exams as part CRM 2016.
Along with some of the other high profile acquisitions made within the last 12 months by Microsoft, it was announced earlier this year that Xamarin had now joined this list as well. As Microsoft begin to take a much more agnostic approach when it comes to which platforms their key applications can run on, the acquisition of Xamarin cements this further by encouraging C# developers to begin to modify their applications so that they can be run on iOS, OS X and Android, without the hassle or effort you would typically expect. Whilst Xamarin is available without the need to purchase a Visual Studio subscription, what you do get is access to some of the “getting started” resources as part of Xamarin University, in order to help developers get to grips with everything the platform has to offer. What’s also good with Xamarin is that you can download it for OS X and write C# code from there; something which I am still trying to get my head around and not something you would have expected to say 10 years ago! I am really interested by the potential that Xamarin has in helping to increase application portability, using a programming language that I have found to be incredibly versatile to help deploy apps onto my preferred mobile operating system, iOS.
Does anyone else have a list of what they think are the best benefits of a subscription, or general feedback on their Visual Studio subscription? Let me know in the comments below!