Windows Insider

Understanding Microsoft's New Windows Virtual Desktop Licensing with Software Assurance

As of July 1, Microsoft will bundle VDI/VDA licensing for the Windows client OS into Software Assurance. Here's how the changes may affect you.

Buy Software Assurance but prepare for a recurring cost. That was the unspoken assertion by Microsoft in this month's Virtualized Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) -- also known as VECD Becomes Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) -- licensing changeover. As of July 1, Microsoft will bundle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) licensing for the Windows client OS into Software Assurance (SA). Environments that don't have or don't want SA will be required to purchase a separate Windows VDA license for every VDI-hosted desktop.

It's the quiet sea change in licensing language that's particularly worth noting. In short, Microsoft wants more annuity income. It's when you want to use an OS instance through a VDI environment that VDA -- either as part of an SA agreement or not -- comes into play.

Many companies and most enterprises have found use cases where VDI makes operational and economic sense. And as technologies grow and improve over time, we're likely to find VDI successfully creeping into even more use cases over the long term.

It's here where a careful analysis can reveal Microsoft's impending cash cow. If your business tries to save costs by opting out of SA, you're still on the hook for licensing VDI-hosted desktops at $100 per year per device. This fee goes away when you buy up to SA.

I'll Pay If You'll Play
VDA is a per-device license, giving VDI-hosted desktops a set of additional benefits that weren't present in the previous licensing terms. Users who have a primary computer at the office but occasionally work from home will be able to use their VDI instances from their home computers. Shift-worker environments need only purchase enough licenses for each device, no matter how many users may use that device over the course of the day.

While Microsoft extols these two benefits, there's an argument that neither benefit is all that compelling for the vast majority of businesses. Companies who allow people to work from home often give them a laptop as their primary computer (which, by default, tends to become their connection device). This fact reduces the efficacy of the "occasional home use" benefit. Secondly, while shift-worker environments absolutely do exist, they're nowhere near as prevalent as situations involving typical office workers working typical office hours.

VDA's per-device basis will bite you in other ways as well. For example, extra licenses must be purchased for 100 percent home users who aren't given a company-owned device. Extra licenses must also be purchased for users of thin clients.

Per Device or Per User?
Microsoft has never been a company that looks kindly on per-user licensing. OSes being what they are, this historical aversion makes sense. Until only recently, you could install an OS in one place and get the reasonable assurance that OS stayed on that machine. But today's workforce and technologies are evolving to the point where the OS no longer makes operational sense to be tied to a specific device.

Think about these real situations: "Occasional home access" means I can connect to my VDI-hosted desktop through devices that I own, such as my personal computer or mobile phone. But what if my company owns my phone or lets me borrow a piece of its equipment? If I access my VDI-hosted desktop through a company-owned phone, or a company-owned loaner laptop, or even a kiosk in the company lunchroom, that device needs licensing as well.

VDI by definition is intended to deliver a desktop to anywhere, but if I can't control where that may be, staying legal could be impossible.

The language of VDA is a step above the previous VECD, but Microsoft's insinuations of "we're going to make this smell like per-user, without actually making it per-user" in its licensing language is infuriating. Per-device plus a "sometimes at home" option is per-user licensing. The entire concept that an OS that used to be locked to a device for purely technical reasons can now be additionally extended to everywhere just intrinsically reeks of per-user.

About the Author

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Oct 19, 2010 Paul

Pauls response has my head in a whirl. Microsofts efforts to wrap up virtualization in legalese is killing product acceptance and evolution. Grow up and stop being greedy.

Wed, Jun 30, 2010 Paul DeGroot Kirkland, WA

wrong on many counts. 1. VDI previously required SA ($30-$55 a year) + VECD ($23 a year. Now it requires just SA. There always was a recurring cost. Now it's a lower recurring cost. 2. Given that SA gets you up to four extra copies of a $300 OS for no more than $55 a year, this isn't exactly a "bite" from Microsoft. 3. The price for the license permitting machines without SA to access VDI has been cut $10 from the previous VECD license that granted similar rights. 4. MS has significantly expanded per-user licensing over the years. E.G. Exchange used to be only per device, now it is per device or per user. (Imagine paying extra to access Exchange from your smartphone, your portable, etc.). Organizations are free to use either user or device licensing with many servers, choosing the one that offers the lowest cost. 5. I don't get the argument for user licensing of the OS. Since every device needs an OS, doesn't it make sense to license it that way? Per-user licensing could require that MS anticipate each user accessing multiple devices, which could cost much more, particularly for people who only use one device. 6. MS's position that this is de facto per-user licensing is a fair one. If you are the primary user of one device with SA (in other words, you've already paid once to access VDI), you can access the OS/VDI from other devices that are not licensed with SA. 7. Users with home computers licensed for the same OS running in VDI (e.g., Win7 Pro at home and running in the VDI) don't require any VDA license; they have remote connection rights (in the EULA) that permit this. (MS doesn't promote this, but it's there)

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