Analysts Highlight Microsoft Windows Per-User Licensing Nuances for Organizations

Organizations likely will need a little guidance with Microsoft rolling out its new Windows per-user licensing, coming next month.

Microsoft's new per-user licensing for volume licensees will be available for Windows Software Assurance (SA) and Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) plans, starting December 1. At first glance, the new licensing may seem like a huge shift. For instance, it seems to simplify matters for organizations contemplating virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) scenarios or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) support. However, the use rights of the new licensing is about the same as the per-device model and there isn't much of a price break.

That view comes from Rob Horwitz, cofounder and research chair at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research and consulting firm. He outlined some of the nuances about the new per-user licensing in a Webinar on Thursday.

The new per-user licensing is just a simpler way to acquire some use rights, such as VDI rights, Horwitz explained. That's the scenario where a bunch of virtual machines in a datacenter run the Windows Pro or Windows Enterprise operating system, which gets accessed by multiple client devices. The client devices used to access the virtual machines act like dumb terminals, and each virtual machine services one user at a time.

Cost Effects
The current per-device licensing isn't going away. However, one big change with the new per-user licensing is that Microsoft is eliminating the Companion Subscription License (CSL), which enabled BYOD rights on up to four devices. Horwitz said that the CSL "wasn't widely purchased or understood." It also was considered to be expensive at about $50 per user. Microsoft didn't sell many CSLs, and what it did sell it was typically discounted by two thirds, he added.

The new per-user licensing may help some organizations stay compliant. Horwitz said that under the old scenario, organizations sometimes couldn't be compliant due to Microsoft's licensing complexities.

Horwitz said that "the per-unit cost difference between a per-user and per-device license will be about the same as the discounted price of the CSL," although that's a rough guess since pricing information hasn't been released yet. The costs for the per-user licensing could be less than per-device licensing in narrow cases.

"We estimate that if you had 50 percent or more devices than users, the per-user license makes more sense," Horwitz said.

He explained that organizations might be able to save on licensing costs by purchasing fewer units of the more expensive per-user licensing products, such as buying 1,200 licenses of a more expensive SKU (stock keeping unit) instead of 2,000 licenses. One pitfall, though, is that the per-user licensing isn't a perpetual license. Organizations lose use rights once they end the per-user subscription. Consequently, backing out of per-user licensing could be problematic. He said that reversing course later could entail rebuying perpetual licenses.

Horwitz recommended that organizations talk with their Large Area Reseller and try to understand the path that they are recommending with regard to the new per-user licensing.

User Rights and Constraints
With the Windows SA per-user licensing, users have the rights to install Windows Enterprise or Pro editions as a local OS on an x86 device. There are no limits on the number of devices that can be used to run Windows, but there are a few constraints.

First, the device has to have a screen size of 10.1 inches or less or it has to already be licensed to run Windows 7 Pro or higher versions, Horwitz said. If an organization buys a more powerful device, then they will have to have a Windows license for it. And the license on that device can't be a consumer Windows edition. Horwitz cautioned organizations trying to enable BYOD scenarios to be wary of buying devices with consumer Windows versions.

The per-user licensing does not appear to be intended for home PCs or devices that an organization can't control, Horwitz noted. He added, though, that such a scenario might be "difficult to enforce" for organizations.

Another constraint is that per-user licensing is limited to running four local Windows virtual machines on a device for an individual user. Windows VDA per-user licensing is not restricted to x86 devices, so it can be used for devices such as Apple iPads.

Windows To Go rights under per-user licensing allow the boot-up of Windows on any Windows-capable device, but each licensed user is permitted to store an instance of Windows Enterprise on up to two USB drives.

There is also a 90-day restriction on reassigning per-user Windows licenses, Horwitz noted.

Microsoft also has a Windows Enterprise SA per-user add-on license. It's for customers that have existing active VDA or Windows SA per-device licenses and want to switch over to the per-user versions. The add-on licensing can be purchased at any time during the subscription. Horwitz said that, in general, the VDA per-user license will be a little less expensive than buying the VDA per-device license and putting a per-user add-on license on it.

Other Views
Microsoft's licensing can be difficult to understand. Another licensing expert, Paul DeGroot, formerly with Directions on Microsoft and now a senior consultant with Software Licensing Advisors, has written a white paper on the new per-user licensing. His "New User Licensing for Windows Documents" licensing brief suggested that costs could increase with new per-user licensing and that compliance issues may still exist for organizations.

DeGroot, who has his own Pica Communications consulting business, recommended asking a Microsoft representative about the differences between qualified and non-qualified devices under the new per-user licensing. Upgrading Windows on a non-primary device under per-user licensing is an open question in terms of the licensing effects, he noted. He cautioned that machines using Windows To Go must have a Windows device license with SA or a VDA subscription, which can be a potentially hazardous compliance situation with the per-user licensing.

DeGroot's white paper is available at Pica Communications here.

About the Author

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


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