Flexing your options with Cisco Flex Plans

Man flexing arms

Flex Plans are one of the most encouraging licensing models Cisco has released. We’re going to tell you why this plan is everything your collaboration system could ever need and uncover the truth to the pricing model that everyone’s talking about!

Call control, voicemail, E-911 via Emergency Responder, messaging on Jabber or Webex Teams, and meeting/video conferencing powered by Cisco Webex. All of the underlying infrastructure you need to accomplish everything in the Cisco collaboration stack, is included.

So, what’s the catch? Many people will point to the fact that it is a “subscription”. However, truth be told, licensing was always a subscription! Let’s go back to 2003 when I first met Cisco phones & licensing and step through the evolution. Or skip the history lesson.

A quick history on Cisco licensing

    • The initial and basic “right-to-use” software license that accompanied every phone (or soft phone) that was sold and registered to a Cisco CallManager (now Cisco Unified Communications Manager)
    • Had to purchase SMARTnet for access to support and upgrades
  • DLU
    • Credits given for existing licenses via Data Migration Assistant tool
    • A licensing model that accounted for each device registered to CUCM but also accounted for soft phones through a model known as “adjunct” licensing. 
    • Other apps still had to be purchased separately, such as Unity/Unity Connection.
    • Had to buy UCSS/ESW for upgrades and support, respectively.
  • UCL Tiered Licensing & Non-Tiered
    • Credits given via the License Count Utility for existing licenses.
    • User Connect Licensing was rolled out to begin the bundling process. It was a blend of DLU and bundled software packages like CUWL, discussed next.
    • Tiering provided discount breaks if you purchased higher quantities of licenses. For example, if you purchased (or had purchased in the past) 1000 licenses or more, you’d be in a different tier than someone purchasing only 100 licenses, and would pay less.
    • UCL Enhanced and Enhanced Plus included access to Jabber (IM & Presence server) but you still had to add-on a license for other applications, like Unity Connection.
    • Again, UCSS & ESW for upgrades and support
  • CUWL Entry, Standard, Pro (and later Meetings)
    • Upgrade licenses from UCL to CUWL gave you a credit for existing licenses.
    • Cisco Unified Workplace Licenses were the first all-in-one options to package most of the apps and voicemail. We would ask the two-pronged question – “Do you need video and do you have lots of devices assigned to a single user?”
    • CUWL Entry included the phone and a soft phone, no voicemail. Entry was later discontinued completely.
    • CUWL Standard added voicemail and presence (Jabber)
    • CUWL Pro added mobile clients, contact center licensing per X of licenses, web conferencing via Webex/MeetingPlace
    • CUWL Meetings eventually replaced Pro, and MeetingPlace was removed.
    • Notable apps missing: Cisco Emergency Responder and video infrastructure management platform: Cisco TMS
    • UCSS & ESW, then it became SWSS when Cisco converted to a single SKU from two separate SKUs
  • FLEX
    • You get credit for existing licenses AND SWSS (UCSS/ESW)
    • Finally, a useful bundle that includes practically everything you need for a collaboration solution.
    • Bonus users! 20% growth on your user count means as your employee count changes, you can grow up to 20% more than your purchased licensing on specific plans. Going from 100 users to 115 for seasonal activities? No problem, and no need to buy additional user licenses.
    • 50% allocation of common area phones / analog devices. In the same 100-user example, you’d get 50 common area (lobby/reception, etc.) licenses included in your purchase versus having to purchase them as required, previously.
    • Includes every application (except contact center; that must be purchased under a contact center flex plan)
    • Available in three formats: Named Users, Active Users, or Enterprise Agreements.
    • Notable apps included: Expressways rich media licenses, Cisco Emergency Responder, Cisco TMS, and drastically reduced audio rates for conferencing on Webex.
    • Bundled-in SWSS

So what’d I mean by everything was a subscription?

While you “could” purchase a phone system, choose to skip the service contract and never perform an upgrade… there are new features, bugs and more importantly, security concerns on any vendor’s platform that should discourage you from doing so.

In each of the models, the cost of SMARTnet (aka UCSS, ESW, or SWSS) was associated with the user counts/infrastructure in place, and it was something you renewed each year. Sounds an awful lot like a subscription! Admittedly, you could’ve chosen to not renew SMARTnet and continued to use the software at its then-current version in perpetuity, but that’d put you in that scary situation we discussed.

When your business relies on communications (as I believe all do), you do not want your communication infrastructure to run on a strategy of “I hope nothing happens”. Yes, the licensing model has changed, again. But the good news is, as with every migration that Cisco has gone through, there is always a credit for previous-generation licenses. And if you’re purchasing for the first time, this is quite seriously the best time to purchase given all the bundled applications.

If we take this change in context of all the changes over the years, I hope we can look at this licensing change for what it is: a positive alignment to the consumption model and just a slight nudge of “the cheese”.

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