On the topic of Dynamics 365 and PowerApps licensing changes coming in October 2019, I earlier wrote about the biggest change in how Microsoft is separating the first party applications and the underlying platform in the new Per App pricing model. There’s another aspect in the coming licensing updates that has also caused a lot of concern among partners and customers: the API call limits. While the existence of limits on how much load one can place on the online service are not an entirely new construct, it’s the first time that the amount of API calls available is directly tied to the type of licenses bought.
In their August 29 blog post, Microsoft stated the following:
“A single, integrated approach for daily capacity limits will be implemented to help maintain a consistent quality of service for customers with PowerApps and Flow plans. These capacity limits should not impact standard or reasonable usage of PowerApps or Flow. Organizations that require additional capacity for heavy usage scenarios will be able to purchase add-on capacity and assign it to specific users or processes.”Updates to Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, PowerApps and Flow Licensing
The finer details of the new model are outlined in the PowerApps and Microsoft Flow licensing FAQs for October 2019 as well as the Requests limits and allocations pages over on docs.microsoft.com. You should keep an eye on these documentation pages, since further information will be made available, based on the incoming questions from customers. There have already been a lot of blog posts around this topic and I’m not expecting the debate to die out anytime soon. Rather than speculating about what the exact policies will be, I will instead try to set this new consumption based licensing into context with what’s happening in the Microsoft Cloud.
Users aren’t the only thing that matters
USL, user subscription license, has been the dominant model for pricing applications from Microsoft in the online services era. Of course they’ve been a key component ever since the personal computing revolution started with PCs running DOS, then Windows and many productivity applications like those found in the Office suite. The networked computing era extended the pricing models to server software that wasn’t always purely a per-user play, as the complexity and robustness of your back-end services determined how expensive that side was. In the initial wave of SaaS business applications, we saw a return to the simplicity of just paying a fixed fee like $50 per user and getting all of that server stuff covered for you. Oh bliss! Isn’t this exactly the way the cloud should be sold?
Those first SaaS services also were in themselves quite simple. A replica of the server software you could have either in your own closet or the data center run by companies like Amazon and MS. You just offloaded the complexity involved in managing hardware redundancy, backups, storage etc. and instead payed for all that in the USL. This is all fine and dandy as long as the value from the applications can be closely linked to the number of licensed users accessing it. Using CRM as a simple tool to improve sales person productivity might map into this type of cost-value structure. But how about when you take a step further on the digital transformation path and start to actually replace those tasks carried out by human employees with something that is almost fully automated? Hmm, perhaps the PC business model isn’t optimal for a future that looks like this.
Let’s look at some of the new services in the Dynamics 365 cloud. The commercial launch of Dynamics 365 for Marketing in Spring 2018 was a bit of a shock for anyone who always though these applications are licensed per user. Instead, Microsoft chose the model that HubSpot any many other vendors in the marketing automation space apply, by setting the pricing per contact. Yes, initially they were way off with this thinking by applying the pricing logic to the entire contents of the CRM database, but based on market feedback the model was adjusted to now count only for marketing contacts actually used by the specific application (i.e. where business value should be generated). Also, you actually don’t need any Dynamics 365 user license for those marketing people who build the customer journeys and analyze the results, since free user licenses are available to unlock the door into the system. Licensing is done on the environment level, after all.
Dynamics 365 Customer Insights is a CDP (Customer Data Platform, for those not keeping up with the latest acronyms) that allows customers to bring in customer related data from various different sources and unify them into a “customer 360” profile that links all those activity entries into a single view of the customer. You can then leverage big data processing features of a CDP to generate target segments like customers most likely to churn, select them to be a target group in Dynamics 365 for Marketing customer journeys and preserve your revenue streams by holding on to these customers identified by the intelligent machine in the cloud. How is this service priced? Per number of profiles: starting at 100k profiles for $1.5k, so 1.5 cents USD per profile. Any user in the tenant can be simply authorized to access the application, since the dedicated UI doesn’t have any dependency to the USL construct found on the Model-driven application side.
Forms Pro is a professional version of the personal/team productivity app found in the Office 365 suite, storing its data into CDS entities for process automation and data analysis. Do you need a USL for the Pro features? Nope. The pricing is based on the number of responses to surveys, at $100 per 2k, making it $0.05 per response. If you want to listen to your customers and improve business outcomes as a result of that, it’s not about how many people you have looking at the data but rather how smart and how automated your feedback management processes are.
AI Builder will go GA in October 2019. Guess how that’s going to be priced? That’s right: not per user. You buy a capacity license at $500/month for 1M “service credits”. When it comes to machine learning models as a service, with no pre-packaged Dynamics 365 app on top of them, there isn’t even any concept like contact or survey response that would tie the pricing to the physical world. You literally extract value directly from the data you put in there, with the help of apps and automation that builds on top of and integrates with your unique business processes.
The consumption pricing model is already here. Future products in the Business Applications portfolio are more likely to gravitate towards that, rather than finding a user to attach a price tag on.
Sandcastles in the sky and how to draw the lines
In the cloud era, Microsoft can see everything. No, they don’t have employees looking at any customer’s private data or anything like that. What I mean is they have telemetry data on everything that happens on the service, because they are hosting all the moving parts involved. This gives them the opportunity to be very data driven in analyzing how products are adopted, what people actually do with them. It is essentially their own implementation of the digital feedback loop that you see James Phillips preaching to Microsoft’s customers and partners in every keynote he does. There’s the “transform products” part that is all about aligning product features to meet customer needs, but you can be sure MSFT also want to “optimize operations” when it comes to the logistics of delivering the cloud services and how to price them appropriately.
Dynamics 365 is claimed to be the biggest service running on Azure today. Now, even though at Microsoft they both fall under the Cloud & AI that Scott Guthrie runs, there’s not a single bucket where all the costs would be thrown. The more Business Applications products are built that consume data storage and compute capacity, the higher the bill from Azure will be. The term COGS (cost of goods sold) is being used frequently when talking about the resources needed to keep cloud services up and running on these platforms like Azure. Power Platform is a platform on top of another, and while it often uses higher levels of abstraction that its raw Azure counterpart, API calls from the citizen developer PowerApps do turn into API calls against Azure services. Whatever product is generating this consumption must also front the bill.
The vast majority of Dynamics 365 business today is still done based on user licenses, regardless of what our AI & big data driven future may look like. These are sold as SaaS apps you can just sign up and start using, rather than a complex solution that needs a technical architect to build the blueprint for. As such, the message Microsoft wants to get out there (but isn’t always so good in phrasing) is that the app user license should cover all normal usage for real human beings interacting with Dynamics 365 CE. Yes, anytime a user opens a contact form on a Model-driven app there are around 10 API calls made, which count against the quota for that particular user account. All CRUD operations theoretically count, but for an end user you shouldn’t need to count them. This is not the intention of MS.
What is the idea behind setting the API call limits then? Well, the situation is this: the platform has evolved from the early days of being a simple CRM database for sales user productivity improvement into something that can connect OoB to a vast number of external (non-CDS) data sources and run complex automation on this data without anyone sitting in front of their PC and opening those contact record forms. When sold as Power Platform, there will be a massive amount of this non-CRM style consumption of computing resources running on the platform (unless MS completely fails with capturing this new business potential). Building all of this abstraction on top of the underlying Azure services and then giving it a way with essentially a per-identity flat monthly fee just wouldn’t be a sensible business model.[Read more…]