Some thoughts around licensing for Microsoft’s cloud offerings

As Microsoft’s online services continue to expand in reach and branch in more and more areas, it has become increasingly difficult to keep track of just how many different SKUs, service plans, features and so on exist. Even within Microsoft, it is hard to find a single person that can make sense of this mess, and over the years we’ve relied on different blog posts, documentation articles and GitHub repos for information around this. Still, no single resource lists everything that’s available currently within Microsoft’s cloud offerings, and as new services are released on a regular cadence, whatever resource we have often become outdated.

No, I’m afraid I don’t have a complete list either. Even if I did, I would not be able to keep it up to date, or provide all the relevant details, as that would require someone with “internal” access. What I do have is a very long list of different SKUs/service plans that we have collected over a number of years as part of our reporting solutions. Since it has been some time since I last bothered looking into this, the sheer number of entries caught me by surprise. I don’t have the resources (or the desire) to maintain a complete list, so I’ve reached out to the maintainers of the above listed sites and offered them my findings. And I can spend some time offering generic details and remarks here 🙂

The current list we have has around 650 entries in total, most of them missing details such as the GUID representing the unique SKU/service plan, which makes it hard to filter out duplicate values. There’s also the question on what represent a “duplicate”, as we can have  multiple variations of the same service targeted for different markets. Take for example Exchange Online Plan 1, which can be found in its “vanilla” flavor, variations for students, alumni and faculty staff for EDU SKUs, variations for Government SKUs, and so on:

EXCHANGESTANDARD
EXCHANGESTANDARD_ALUMNI
EXCHANGESTANDARD_FACULTY
EXCHANGESTANDARD_GOV
EXCHANGESTANDARD_STUDENT

And that’s just one example, additional suffixed you might see across different SKUs/service plans include: _STANDALONE,  _EDU, _ADDON (with all of the former), _VIRAL (for “viral” subscriptions), _GCCHIGH and _DOD for the USGOV ones, and few others I’m probably missing. Sometimes, they don’t differ in terms of actual functionality, other times this is not true. Then we have region-specific services such as the PSTN ones:

PSTN1_DE
PSTN1_GB
PSTN2_GB
PSTN2_US
PSTN5_GB

Then, we have services that have changed their licensing models numerous times, contributing to the mess. I’m looking at you, Power platform! Here are the Flow (“Power Automate”)  entries for example:

FLOW_CCI_BOTS
FLOW_CUSTOMER_SERVICE_PRO
FLOW_DYN_APPS
FLOW_DYN_P2
FLOW_DYN_TEAM
FLOW_FORMS_PRO
FLOW_FOR_PROJECT
FLOW_FREE
FLOW_O365_P1
FLOW_O365_P2
FLOW_O365_P3
FLOW_O365_S1
FLOW_P1
FLOW_P2
FLOW_P2_VIRAL
FLOW_P2_VIRAL_REAL
Flow_Per_APP_IWTRIAL
FLOW_PER_USER
FLOW_PER_USER_DEPT
Flow_PowerApps_PerUser
FLOW_SALES_PRO

22! Just! for! Flow! And that’s with the GOV and similar variations removed from the table! Similar findings can be made around the other components of the Power platform.

As an exercise, I tried to trim the list of all the “duplicate” service plans, hoping it will shrink down to a more manageable size. Unfortunately, even with the most liberal use of the term “duplicate” I couldn’t get it to less than 300 entries. Insane, right? And it will only grow.

Now, it’s easy to blame Microsoft and say they release more and more SKUs/services just to get more cash out of their customers. That might be partly true, but there’s another aspect of this – controlling access to features/services. For the majority of features/services within M365, access is granted by licensing the user, and similarly, access is blocked by toggling the corresponding service plan entry off. This is not universally true across all features/services, as Microsoft doesn’t enforce licensing requirements in code for many of its products. But, it illustrates the need for having all those individual service plan entries listed under a given SKU or as standalone plans.

Are you convinced yet that licensing is a science on its own? 🙂

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