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Microsoft Expands Remote Desktop Use Rights on Windows Azure

Microsoft is now allowing service providers to use Remote Desktop Services (RDS) on Windows Azure as part of their service offerings.

This expansion of Microsoft's product use rights for Windows Azure licensing, which took effect on July 1, got announced in a blog post on Monday. The ability to use RDS with Windows Azure currently only applies to service providers that have RDS Subscriber Access Licenses (SALs) from Microsoft. The RDS SALs are offered as part of Microsoft's Services Provider Licensing Agreement (SPLA) licensing, which is just offered to service providers.

However, obtaining SPLA licensing essentially establishes an organization as a service provider, according to Rob Horwitz, research chair and cofounder of Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based independent consultancy.

"By setting up such a scenario, you become a service provider (in Microsoft's eyes) and must license via SPLA...which uses an RDS SAL to cover such a situation," he explained via e-mail.

Before Microsoft expanded the RDS use rights on Windows Azure this month, it was only possible to have two simultaneous connections to a Windows Server virtual machines (VMs), typically for "server administration or maintenance" purposes, according to Microsoft's announcement.

With the new use rights, a service provider can now use RDS (formerly known as "Terminal Services") to offer remote connections to apps running in a VM on Windows Azure. Service providers can also offer hosted shared "desktops" using Windows Server running in a VM by way of third-party virtualization solutions, such as Citrix XenDesktop, that use RDS for the remote connection. Citrix announced its participation in this program earlier this month with its XenDesktop 7 virtualization solution.

Organizations, in contrast to service providers, are still limited by Microsoft's licensing from tapping RDS on Windows Azure. For instance, Microsoft's announcement indicated that Enterprise Agreements obtained through Microsoft's volume licensing programs don't have access to RDS Client Access Licenses (CALs) with mobility permissions for Windows Azure.

"RDS Client Access Licenses (CALs) purchased from Microsoft VL programs such as EA, do not get license mobility to shared cloud platforms, hence they cannot be used on Azure," Microsoft's announcement explained.

Microsoft only recently expanded the capability for organizations to run VMs on Windows Azure as part of its new Windows Azure Infrastructure Services offering. However, organizations are still restricted by Microsoft's licensing from running pure virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) scenarios on Windows Azure using Windows client OSes, such as Windows 8 or Windows 7. That's because the licensing for Microsoft's desktop OSes does not permit an organization to host the client OS in a multitenant cloud architecture supporting multiple users.

Organizations can host Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2008 R2 in a VM on Windows Azure. However, the RDS use rights apparently are still restricted for organizations, in contrast to service providers. It seems that only service providers can secure this RDS licensing for Windows Azure, per Microsoft's FAQ. Moreover, organization wanting true VDI scenarios are still stuck using the server OS, rather than the client OS, in a VM. Consequently, the user experience may not be the same.

According to reporting by long-time Microsoft observer Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is working on a future desktop-as-a-service project code-named "Mohoro" that may enable a truer desktop experience with VDI scenarios. She has said that Mohoro could surface sometime in the second half of 2014, and she speculated that it potentially could undercut the efforts of Microsoft's service provider partners offering VDI services using Windows Server.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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