Users have reported similar instances in which they were unable to get past the site's initial security check. The problem is that the site's log-in procedure may reject users' access based on the e-mail address they entered. With Microsoft's revamp of the sites, a user's e-mail address now has to exactly match the one originally assigned with the contract.
Users have also complained about an inability to access specific features or create new accounts on the sites. Software downloads are sometimes blocked, even though users may have purchased the licensing before Microsoft began the upgrade.
A catalog of user woes can be read at this Microsoft blog. One commenter in that blog described being unable to access the VLSC's "Manage Software Assurance Benefits" feature, adding that "it's all a bit of customer service & public relations nightmare I think."
Microsoft has acknowledged the access problems, saying that they affect just some customers and partners. A step-by-step troubleshooting FAQ is described in a blog post by Eric Ligman, global partner experience lead for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group. If the FAQ isn't clear enough, Microsoft offers a 67-page illustrated "VLSC User Guide" as an 8MB download here.
Microsoft started updating its volume licensing sites sometime in December, taking them down for a period of days. Services were restored on Dec. 18 for the VLSC, Volume Licensing Contract Manager and explore.ms Web sites, along with the eMSL and MOET ordering tools, according to a blog post by Ligman. He acknowledged that Microsoft is still having problems with the sites' registration system.
The sites were upgraded for a number of reasons, according to Stacie Sloane, a director at Microsoft. They were redesigned so that customers and partners now use the same portal, and that has had some spillover effects. Customers now have to validate access to the sites via an e-mail sent by Microsoft, which Sloane describes as a standard security practice. In addition, because customers are legally responsible for the agreements, they now must confirm that a partner is acting on their behalf by granting permission rights to that partner.
The redesign of the sites has led to problems for some users, Microsoft has acknowledged.
"We are taking all necessary steps to resolve the situation and we are working with each customer or partner to restore permissions if they can't be resolved online," Sloane wrote in an e-mail.
Some users have reported waiting 45 minutes and longer to talk with Microsoft's phone support to get their issues resolved.
"As with any new experience, we anticipate that many partners or customers may have questions, which can cause a longer than average hold time in some regions so we have increased customer service staffing to help partners or customers when they call or e-mail us for support," Sloane explained.
Some customers could face problems with contract renewals because of the delays associated with accessing Microsoft's volume licensing Web sites, but Sloane didn't think many would be affected in that way.
"To your question, Microsoft doesn't expect this to impact many customers," Sloane replied by e-mail. "If a customer is impacted, they [Microsoft] will do everything necessary to ensure their customers are taken care of."
Customers and partners typically don't access Microsoft's volume licensing sites often, according to Scott Braden, senior vice president for distributed desktop services at Net(net) Inc., a consulting company. However, when they do, it's typically "a time-urgent situation."
"Why they [Microsoft] chose to go live near the end of the quarter (December) -- that's their second largest transaction period (after June) -- I simply do not understand," Braden stated by e-mail. Those having access problems might try going through their large account resellers, he suggested.
Microsoft's problems may have stemmed from having to deal with some difficult legacy code, according to Paul DeGroot, research vice president and channel licensing strategies analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
"The main thing I know is that Microsoft's back end systems are very old and brittle," DeGroot stated in an e-mail. "It inhibits their licensing in certain ways. And the Open system is the oldest."
Braden noted the irony of users paying for Software Assurance and having to wait to gain access, especially since Software Assurance requires upfront payment for "non-guaranteed, undefined future products."
"The fact that they [Microsoft] can't post up a Web site that is essentially just a reporting front end to a relatively simple (but large) database should inspire customers to carefully reconsider their validity as an enterprise business software supplier," Braden said.
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