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ISSUE 18.4.F • 2021-02-01
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The AskWoody Newsletter
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In this issue

MICROSOFT 365: Why your reseller for Microsoft 365 matters

BEST OF THE LOUNGE: Weekend Update

Additional articles in the PLUS issue

ONEDRIVE: Microsoft OneDrive: The basics

LANGALIST: Have you enabled Win10’s ransomware protection?

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Set up a guest network that’s actually secure

PATCH WATCH: Changing Patch Watch and giving you more information

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MICROSOFT 365

Why your reseller for Microsoft 365 matters

Amy Babinchak

By Amy Babinchak

Many suppliers sell Microsoft 365 plans. Not all are created equal.

Many people and businesses think that Microsoft is the sole source of Microsoft 365 plans. That is not true; you have a choice of suppliers. Microsoft has partners or resellers who also sell the service. What you need to know is that not all of them offer you the same thing, because Microsoft has different types of relationships with partners. To confuse matters even more, purchasing from Microsoft directly has limitations. Understanding your options before purchasing is essential.

It is often thought that buying direct results in the best price. This is not the case with Microsoft, which sells its products at the retail price. But some resellers will offer you a higher price than retail or a lower price than retail.

At your local furniture store, the margin is so high that products go on sale for 40 percent off and the store still makes a profit. The heady days of big margins in computer hardware and software are long gone. In software sales the margin is somewhere between 0 to 18 percent and is often not predictable for the reseller. The safe bet, then, is to sell the product at retail — and almost everyone does. For many Microsoft partners, selling 365 plans is a convenience for their clients; low margins on those sales are recouped in the fees for other services rendered.

Variations on the published price

Why is it that the published price is not always the price offered by resellers?

Rackspace, for example, marks up. It does so to cover its cost of providing basic helpdesk services. Microsoft requires resellers to provide such services as a qualification for selling the product, but they don’t have to provide them for free. Those low margins do not leave room to hire qualified professionals for technical support. For example, a $20-a-month plan will net the reseller between $0 and $3.60, while the $12 plan will net between $0 and $2.16. Out of that, the reseller must cover administrative costs such as billing and collections. It’s hard to make a living selling 365.

GoDaddy goes the other way, marking 365 down. However, those plans, through a special arrangement or strategic relationship, offer less. They are missing features and often come with subscription restrictions such as long terms instead of the standard month-to-month billing. Some missing features are security-related — a point of concern Susan Bradley explains in her blog post. She states that SecureScore was missing and she was unable to create rules to prevent a common threat, Automatic Forwarding.

The biggest restriction from GoDaddy is not the missing feature set but rather the difficulty of migrating to another provider. With a standard version of 365, migration from one reseller to another happens quickly and easily. The new reseller purchases the licenses you require and assigns them to your users, and the old reseller cancels theirs. This works when the resellers of the 365 plans are using Microsoft’s cloud.

GoDaddy hosts 365 itself, in its own data centers. Thus migration can be difficult, involving careful backups and exacting migration. Other providers also host 365 on their servers, but GoDaddy is the best known.

How can you tell if you’re getting the “real” 365 with all the features advertised by Microsoft? The hallmark of stripped-down 365 is the advertisement of a “simplified portal” and “just the features that small businesses need.” These are words to avoid, because they mean that the product has been dumbed down.

Cloud Solutions Providers

Most Microsoft partners fall into the Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP) category, a traditional IT services provider. They will offer the product along with other services. My own company, as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), falls into this category. We are a CSP; we provide support for the Microsoft products that we sell, as required by the program, but we sell only to clients that have contracted with us for other IT services. This is a typical scenario. Microsoft software is sold to you at the Microsoft retail price, and support comes through the services contract with your provider.

What if you buy direct from Microsoft? When you buy from either a CSP partner or Microsoft, you are guaranteed to be in the Microsoft data center and most likely be getting it at the advertised price. The difference is in support. Microsoft does offer support when you purchase direct. But if you require advanced support (as opposed to level-one helpdesk support) via online chat or community, then you will be asked to contact a Microsoft partner or purchase a premier support contract. Such contracts are priced and designed for large enterprise customers, not small businesses.

From whom should you buy 365 services? If you’re a home user, then probably Microsoft direct. If you’re a small business, then probably a Microsoft CSP partner that offers other benefits to grow your business — configuration, security, digital transformation, training, and other services. The trick, of course, is finding such a partner for a small business. Most of the partners are local, but you could get one from anywhere these days if you’re comfortable with them being at a distance from you. Word of mouth is your best bet for finding a good one.

Sad to say, that can be difficult. Microsoft offers a partner locator, but it’s not very good – it’s more of a directory than a path to quality. It is also skewed to larger partners who are unlikely to provide good support to small businesses. Listings in the locator are not rated, so detecting bad actors is very difficult. As is true with so many things, asking your business associates, peers, and customers is the optimal way to locate a good partner.

The best advice I can offer is to find a very good partner, pay the published market price, and thus enjoy the security and power of the cloud while avoiding the pitfalls.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is also always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Amy Babinchak is the owner of three IT-related businesses: Harbor Computer Services, Third Tier, and Sell My MSP. She has been working in the IT field with small and medium businesses for more than 20 years. She’s also a Microsoft MVP and has received numerous leadership awards.


Best of the Lounge

Time for 1909 to fade away?

Susan Bradley posted her regular but rather detailed Tasks for the weekend note about moving from Windows 10 1909 to either 2004 or 20H2.


WINDOWS 10 UPDATE

Susan is recommending Windows 10 version 2004 ro 20H2 — and the forum takes off


APPLE iOS

Given the Apple iOS security patches needed, HMS asks what’s the preferred way to update iOS?


OUTLOOK

Pocono78 is getting prompted for account passwords in Outlook. Several fixes and workarounds are suggested.


OUTLOOK 365

WSblaine asks about the new (moved) search box in Outlook and if it can display the name of the folder in the title bar.


HARDWARE

Casey asks if he should get a new video and sound card. Can you offer advice?


Stories in this week’s PAID AskWoody Plus Newsletter
Become an ASKWOODY PLUS member today!
Lance Whitney

MICROSOFT 365

Microsoft OneDrive: The basics

By Lance Whitney

OneDrive can be tricky to set up and configure initially, especially if you’re not familiar with its various settings and options. Let’s look at the basics of OneDrive to see how you can get started and use it most effectively.


Brian Livingston

PUBLIC DEFENDER

Set up a guest network that’s actually secure

By Brian Livingston

In the computer industry, too many things that should be simple and easy are instead complicated and hard for the average person to understand. Take Wi-Fi routers — please!


Fred Langa

LANGALIST

Have you enabled Win10’s ransomware protection?

By Fred Langa

It’s easy to enable the ransomware protection in Windows 10, but you should know about its quirks and drawbacks before doing so. Here’s how to decide whether this optional protection is for you and, if so, how to get it going!


Susan Bradley

PATCH WATCH

Changing Patch Watch and giving you more information

By Susan Bradley

The results of the recent reader survey and a lot of soul-searching have led me to much-needed changes to Patch Watch. Plus: Actionable information you can use right away and special advice for those with servers


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