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Windows Enterprise Licensees Get Options on Amazon's Cloud

Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft have established a pilot program that allows some Windows Server users to apply their licenses to Amazon's EC2 Internet cloud.

The "Microsoft Windows Server Mobility Pilot" program, introduced on Wednesday, allows enterprises to migrate existing Windows Server licenses to EC2. The deal only applies to Windows Server licensees with Enterprise Agreements (EA) in place, which means they must also have purchased Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) option.

Enrollment in the program ends September 23, 2010.

The pilot has other restrictions as well, according to Amazon's announcement. Participating companies have to be based in the United States.  They have to have an EA that is good for at least a year after entering the program. The deal is only offered to enterprise customers. Academic and government institutions are excluded.

"It sounds like Microsoft is opening a window to allowing a licensee to run their software on someone else's hardware, but you pay for that privilege: you have to have SA on it, which adds another 25 percent a year to the price," noted Paul DeGroot, research vice president for channels and licensing at Directions on Microsoft, in an e-mail.  "Microsoft is being very selective on who can squeeze through this door, making it an option only for large customers who are already paying their annual upgrade and maintenance fee."

Amazon customers can already gain access to Windows Server via the AWS cloud. Amazon has supported Windows Server 2003 for a while, and recently added support for Windows Server 2008, according to Kay Kinton, public relations manager for Amazon, in an e-mail. However, many large customers of AWS were asking if they could use Windows Server on Amazon EC2 and apply their existing Microsoft EA licensing to that instance.

"With this new Microsoft pilot program, those customers can bring their EA Windows Server licenses into the cloud, activate them, and then launch Amazon EC2 instances running Microsoft Windows Server at the Linux/Unix On-Demand or Reserved Instance prices," Kinton said. "You don't need an EA license to run Windows; you can use the licenses we provide and pay for them by the hour. Effectively this program lets you use licenses you have already purchased."

Once enrolled in the pilot, users will be able to run instances with all of the EC2 features -- Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), Amazon CloudWatch, Elastic-Load Balancing and Elastic IPs -- for 12 months.

Pilot participants must observe some fine-print details. An applicant's licensing must remain in the program for 90 days, after which they can be migrated back to on-premise locations. Applicants are responsible for maintaining their applicable Microsoft licenses. Licenses for Windows Server can only be transferred to the U.S. East (N. Virginia) and U.S. West (N. California). The program will support Windows Server Standard, Enterprise and Data Center editions.

Standard edition users will be limited to running one instance of Windows per license, while Enterprise and Datacenter users can run four instances of Windows per license. All editions can run on-demand instances, one-year reserved instances, or three-year reserved instances.  Pricing is based on the region in which the instance is running and how the licenses are held.

"By bringing their license to Amazon EC2, [users] will reduce the cost of running a Windows-based instance to the Linux/UNIX price," Kinton said. "If they have already purchased a license, it lets them leverage that asset and save money."

Further details on the Microsoft pilot program for AWS are described at Amazon's page here, which lists pricing and conditions.

About the Author

Herb Torrens is an award-winning freelance writer based in Southern California. He managed the MCSP program for a leading computer telephony integrator for more than five years and has worked with numerous solution providers including HP/Compaq, Nortel, and Microsoft in all forms of media.

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