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Microsoft has increased channel partner incentives and broadened the eligible deals for its four-month-old Security Software Advisor program.

The Redmond, Wash., software company said it will pay advisory fees of up to 30 percent of the retail price to eligible security channel partners, up from 20 percent plus bonuses, and expand the program to cover most commercial, government and educational licenses.

That’s a hefty premium over other vendor incentives out there, according to one of Microsoft’s SSA partners, Michael Goldstein, vice president at LAN Associates, a Central Islip, N.Y., VAR that has operations in several states.

Goldstein, whose company also works with other security vendors, said vendors typically offer incentives of 5 to 20 percent. Many have much more stringent terms, such as requirements on the time period from registration to close that if not met result in a loss of the incentive.

In addition, Goldstein said, some vendors have minimum deal size requirements before VARs can get incentives.

Microsoft has also expanded what constitutes eligible deals under the SSA program. When first launched, SSA covered mostly Microsoft Open and Open Value licenses, which are licenses typically used in the SMB (small and midsize business) space, according to Steve Brown, director of product management for the Security and Access Products Group at Microsoft.

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“Now we are expanding it to apply to the largest enterprise customers as well,” Brown said. “We had a lot of great feedback from the midmarket, and the overall degree of enterprise interest and demand was very significant.”

The new program has also helped VARs take advantage of deals with larger accounts.

“As we got into larger organizations, it had gotten harder to reap the benefits,” said Goldstein, whose company typically deals in accounts of 150 to 450 seats. “That’s because larger customers already had deals in place with LARs [Large Account Resellers] or Microsoft itself. Now we are able to get the referral fees for our hard work, even in these accounts.”

Microsoft officials said the company made the changes to the SSA program in response to feedback from the SSA program’s partner base, which now has 1,700 members. Some of those partners were previously partners of Sybari Software, one of the companies that Microsoft acquired in its effort to assemble a suite of security technologies.

To qualify as an SSA partner, VARs must either be actively enrolled in Microsoft’s Security Solutions competency, be a previous Sybari partner or be registered as a partner in another security software vendor’s partner program.

Microsoft’s SSA launch in July was specifically tied to the company’s release of Microsoft Forefront security solutions over the last year and designed to protect IT environments against threats and provide secure access to applications and data.

The SSA program is another component in Microsoft’s Security Solutions Competency, a program for partners that specialize in the sale and deployment of security solutions and services. Microsoft recently revised that program to recognize that many channel partners take a vendor-neutral approach when offering security solution options to customers.

Read more here about Microsoft’s revisions to its Security Solutions Competency program.

Microsoft’s SSA program enhancements follow a number of recent Microsoft Forefront product announcements, including Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Forefront Security for SharePoint earlier in December to protect Exchange Server 2007 and 2007 versions of SharePoint against malware, spam, inappropriate content and unwanted files. In November, the Microsoft Forefront Client Security public beta was launched to protect laptops and server operating systems from viruses, worms, spyware, rootkits and Trojan horses.