Visual Studio Licensing in a Nutshell

Enterprise licensing programs can be a challenge at the best of times. For companies like Microsoft it’s a balance between trying to meet the needs of a spectrum of audiences with making enough money to fund future development. If your team is in the middle of figuring out how to get the best deal for Visual Studio licensing hopefully the notes below will help put some of the choices in perspective.

Ensuring development teams have the right tools for the job is part of what I do when coaching teams to reach the next level of awesomeness. As I work with managers it becomes clear that there is little awareness of Visual Studio licensing options. As a result I see a lot of teams investing in retail licenses which are not only the most expensive but they miss an important part of the offering - continued access to an MSDN subscription. MSDN delivers more than just the latest software these days - you get all kinds of awesome things like:

  • Team Foundation Service access
  • Office 365 developer account
  • Windows and Windows Phone store developer accounts
  • Microsoft e-Learning resources
  • Free development and test environment licensing (assuming all users are MSDN subscribers)
  • … and more.

Software is always changing and having access to the latest software through the combination of Visual Studio and MSDN gives you the tools you need to get the job done.

When looking into license programs Microsoft has three licensing options available to the average small to mid-sized business - Open License, Open Value and Open Value Subscription. If your organization is large enough you may also have an Enterprise Agreement which is a slightly different approach not covered in this post. For the rest of us the license programs boil down to this:

RetailOpen LicenseOpen ValueOpen Value Subscription
License TypePerpetualPerpetualPerpetualSubscription
Term1 Year2 Year3 Year3 Year
PaymentUpfrontUpfrontUpfront or AnnualAnnual

Each program is designed for different needs - the right one will depend on your specific situation. The one caveat to be aware of with the Open Value Subscription program is that your organization must also license Windows and Office using the same method. Using Visual Studio Premium with MSDN as the example we can explore the TCO of each program on a three year basis:


SKUDescriptionYear 1Year 2Year 3
9GD-00001Retail 1 Year Term, Upfront Payment8,176
9GD-00002Retail 1 Year Term, Renewal3,4333,433
Retail TCO8,17611,60915,042

Open License

SKUDescriptionYear 1Year 2Year 3
9GD-00001Open License 2 Year Term, Upfront Payment9,545
9GD-00002Open License 1 Year Term, Renewal13,049
Open License TCO9,5459,54513,049

Open Value - Annual

SKUDescriptionYear 1Year 2Year 3
9GD-00001Open Value Annual 3 Year Term, Year One3,781
9GD-00002Open Value Annual 3 Year Term, Year Two4,791
9GD-00002Open Value Annual 3 Year Term, Year Three7,823
Open Value Annual TCO3,7818,57216,395

Open Value - Upfront

SKUDescriptionYear 1Year 2Year 3
9GD-00001Open Value 3 Year Term, Upfront Payment11,343
Open Value Upfront TCO11,34311,34311,343

Open Value - Subscription

SKUDescriptionYear 1Year 2Year 3
9ED-00079Open Value Subscription 3 Year Term, Annual Payment3,0783,0783,078
Open Value Subscription TCO3,0786,1569,234

For the graphical types here is the TCO visualized:

As you can see the Open Value Subscription offering is quite appealing as long as you have Windows and Office under the same arrangement. No matter which program you select be sure to keep an eye on invoices at renewal time. Even the largest license resellers here in Canada seem to have a difficult time quoting the proper renewal SKU.

The prices above are in Canadian dollars and will differ depending on your region. Unlike retail software, resellers are not permitted to sell licenses out of the region they are intended for. This helps Microsoft to offer products and services in countries where the cost of living is drastically different.