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Cloud Solution Provider - What is a CSP? Microsoft Partner

SoftwareOne blog editorial team
Blog Editorial Team
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Cloud services make many things easier, but first things first – you need to start with buying the right package for your business. It’s not always easy, as there are so many different options and ways of purchasing them. How can you know which one is best for your organisation? The Cloud Solution Provider program might be the answer. Let's go over the various options of purchasing cloud services and answer some questions you may have about the CSP program. There is one thing you can say about IT. Licensing is not simple. There are a lot of SKUs, ways to buy the same thing, and licensing programs. And then, there is the CSP. What does CSP stand for?CSP means Cloud Solution Provider. If you haven’t come across it yet, you might when you decide to purchase some Microsoft cloud services for your company. Read on to learn about its terms, conditions, and value, to help you make an informed decision for when the time comes to buy your online services.

What exactly is the CSP program?

In short – the CSP program allows you as a customer to purchase Microsoft Online (Cloud) services from a Microsoft Partner (like SoftwareOne), and not through the Microsoft website.Why would you want to choose it? Let’s start with stating what these cloud services can be:

  • Licenses for SaaS products, e.g. Office 365, Dynamics 365, Enterprise Mobility Suite, or Power BI. They are usually purchased based on the number of users (i.e. seat-based services)
  • Azure infrastructure and platform services, where you pay for usage (i.e. usage-based services). These can be e.g. Azure virtual machines, Azure Websites, or Azure SQL.

So far, so good. Either you need to count your users or estimate your Azure usage (for example, using a cost calculator). But when it comes to buying those services, you will find that there are different models and programs for it. So much for keeping things simple! 

How to decide which pricing model is right for you?

It’s not easy to navigate the whole offering. These programs are covered on the Microsoft web pages, but let’s try to quickly summarise them here for your benefit and understanding. Here are the typical ways to buy Microsoft cloud products. Pay as you goThis is probably the most familiar option. You can go to the Azure web page, enter your credit card number, and get charged when services are being used or licenses purchased, based on the billing period. Easy-peasy. But not always, as we’ve found. Sometimes, the key problem here is to find a credit card to be used and a person authorised to use it. Enterprise Agreement (EA)This option is usually applied to larger organisations. It is a dedicated agreement between your company and Microsoft that sets out the licensing terms. Big guns for big companies. Cloud Service Provider (CSP), aka your local partner delivering cloud service. Based on a monthly subscription, you get access to personalised support and a range of benefits. How do we know? We've been a Tier-1 provider since 2016. Side note: there are different tiers of CSPs; read more about different models here. Here is a short summary of the features of each model.

What are the pros and cons of the Cloud Solution Provider program?

The first thing you need to understand is the division of responsibility between your local partner and Microsoft if you purchase services through a CSP.

What does a CSP subscription mean for you?

These will be your CSP’s obligations and duties and some of the benefits coming from this split.

  • Monthly bill: Your CSP issues your bill on a monthly basis. You will receive a local invoice based on your service usage issued by a local company, according to the applicable laws and regulations. Microsoft is not involved in this process and credit cards are not required (it may depend on how the CSP addresses payments).
  • Ongoing support: Your local CSP partner also provides you with support for your services. It is them who will receive all your support calls. This means you don't need to worry or figure out whom to call - you have a single point of contact for any problem or question.
  • No upfront payments: There are no upfront payments. You are being billed based on your service usage, after each billing period. This might be more attractive than annual seat commitment licenses or EA/Open Azure packages.
  • Special offers: Your provider may have access to additional benefits, such as special discounts, which they may be able to pass on to you. And as they're familiar with your environment, they may be able to further optimise your costs.

When does it make sense to turn to CSP?

Good question – from our standpoint it is when:

  1. You have a good working, trusting relationship with the partner. This means you've either worked with them before or are buying Microsoft Online services together with the partner’s offering (products, IP, or services).
  2. You're looking to optimise your costs. There are some attractive pricing offers available only via CSP partners. It might actually save you a lot of money to purchase services through a CSP in a timely manner – ask your supplier for advice before making any purchasing decisions.
  3. You need to move fast. This may happen if you need to provide online and additional services to your team or company, but you don’t want to go through the entire purchasing decision cycle. You may negotiate online and partner services as part of CSP billing and go for it on a monthly basis. No long negotiations or commitments.
  4. Your IT department is small, overloaded, or in the process of learning the necessary cloud skills. They might still need time to be able to fully adopt, manage and support the Microsoft cloud platform. In the CSP model, your provider can do this for you and help you with the provision and management of services.

But CSP is not a solution for everyone. Now, let’s see some different scenarios.

When shouldn’t you turn to a CSP?

There are a few cases when other ways of licensing might be more suitable:

  1. You are a large organisation with an IT department that has all the necessary skills and can manage MS online services. In this case, large usually means at least 10,000 employees (not in IT only, of course). Most often, an Enterprise Agreement will suit you better.
  2. You are a small company (e.g. a startup or a small business). It might be simpler to just use your credit card to start buying services you need directly from the Microsoft website.
  3. You're primarily an on-prem business. CSP is better suited for public cloud environments, so if you're looking for perpetual on-premises licenses, then a reseller might be a better call for you.

It is best to learn from examples, so let’s look at a real-life one: When do we use the CSP model at SoftwareOne?

Business scenarios

Here are some example business scenarios and which purchasing models might work best. Office 365/EMS licensesMost enterprise-level organisations have Enterprise Agreements in place, and it makes more sense for them to use those to buy Office 365 or EMS. Small companies in turn may benefit from dedicated, large volume resellers working only in this segment. With that being said, if you use the highest tier of M365 licenses with additional security features, you can benefit from a CSP agreement. This is especially true if the partner offers managed security services as part or add-on to their service. As a result, you can get better protection and still benefit from optimised costs. Dynamics 365In our Dynamics 365 projects which usually also involve usage of Azure services (web portals, integrations, data analytics), we are using the CSP scheme heavily. The reason for that is that we are also providing support and control over deployment and this is what business users of the platform are expecting. One contract, one place to go to with all the issues and problems. And one entity accountable for it. It is much easier and is much more welcome from the client's perspective in such (usually) mission-critical applications. Azure platform servicesOur development projects are based on the Azure cloud, and the CSP model has been proven effective in those instances. With most of our small and medium clients who often do not have existing agreements nor Azure subscriptions, we use the CSP model to run production environment workloads and support them end-to-end. This simplifies the process for the client. They know we have the people with the right skills, Microsoft MVPs among them, and that we will take care of the whole solution. With large-scale clients who usually have production environments on Azure, we use the program to establish and fund development & test environments for their solutions. In both cases, it is usually important to the client that through a CSP they can establish a well-maintained, supported environment with fixed fee billing as part of the overall service agreement.


We hope you have a better understanding of the Cloud Solution Provider program now. To sum it up in a short statement – it is the Microsoft cloud provided by your trusted, local partner. Same scale, same services, with friendly faces you know to provide and support them. To make it 100% clear, we have prepared a short Q&A on the subject to address all possible doubts.

Q: If I have existing services on Azure, can I still benefit from working with CSP partners?
A: Good news! If you have existing services you can still transfer them to a CSP of your choice. Of course, if it makes sense for you.

Q: What else should I look for in a CSP?
A: Find out what else they’re able to offer in addition to cloud licenses – like support, security recommendations, cost optimisation recommendations, and so on. Additionally, check their competencies. The more different technology areas they cover, the more likely they will be able to help you in the future if you need it.

Q: If I buy services from a partner like SoftwareOne (of course, why not?), am I tied to this partner?
A: No, it is still your money and your service. You are free to transfer to any other CSP of your choice. There are even ways to transfer to other purchasing programs, and we can help you get it done if you change your mind.

Q: If I have existing cloud services purchased in other schemes, can I still use the CSP?
A: Sure you can, the cloud is all about flexibility. You can mix these services in different models.

Q: Why choose SoftwareOne as my CSP partner?
A: When buying cloud services through us, you get access to a range of benefits, including free license migration, free cost optimisation, monthly recommendations for cost reduction, and much more. And we can have you up and running within hours. But the best way to answer this question – try us for yourself!

Q: Why not go with a larger provider, like one of the Big 5 in consulting?
A: Large suppliers are able to give volume discounts, but they won’t provide the same level of personalised service or support you get with a smaller partner. But if price is your primary concern, the larger CSPs might be better for you.


SoftwareOne blog editorial team

Blog Editorial Team

We analyse the latest IT trends and industry-relevant innovations to keep you up-to-date with the latest technology.