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Q&A with Cynthia Farren: Microsoft Licensing in Virtualized Environments

When it comes to virtualization and Microsoft software licensing, few things are more jaw-dropping. And fewer people know the ins and outs of Microsoft licensing requirements. One who knows all about how to sift through the complexities of desktop and server licensing in a virtualized environment is Cynthia Farren, president of Cynthia Farren Consulting and upcoming sessions speaker at this year's Live! 360 event.

Q: Licensing for on-premises Microsoft software is insanely complex. How much more difficult is understanding licensing for virtual environments?
Equally as complex. For example, logic might dictate that if I'm decommissioning a standard physical server and replacing it with a standard virtual server that I should be able to simply reuse that license. Typically, you can. However, we have a tendency to move virtual servers between hosts -- either manually or with automated tools -- more frequently than we do with physical servers, and this creates a completely different licensing need.

Q: What are the risks for not understanding licensing and having unlicensed VMs and clients?
Significant. More and more companies are undergoing compliance reviews -- either actual audits or Software Asset Management assessments -- so the risk of being found noncompliant is higher than ever. Additionally, the rules for desktop virtualization are significantly different than the traditional model, and with automated server-management tools there's a high risk of unintentionally being incorrectly licensed on a significant percentage of your servers.

For example, many of our Enterprise Agreement [EA] customers assume that they're covered for Microsoft licenses for thin clients -- thin clients, iPads, Android devices and so on -- accessing Citrix to run Microsoft Office because they have the OS, Office Professional, not Office 365, and the core CAL [Client Access License] on their EA. However, the Software Assurance [SA] benefits governing the OS don't apply to embedded Windows or to non-Microsoft OSes. So while they own the upgrade, they don't own the underlying license they need to apply that upgrade.

Additionally, if these devices are on company premises, they would need to have additional Office licenses for each of these devices because Office is licensed by device, not user. On top of all this, they need to have a Remote Desktop Services CAL for each of the users or devices.

Q: When I create a VM what exactly do I have to pay for -- an OS, an app license, CALs for any who might access it? How do I figure this out?
A server VM needs a server OS and CALs or External Connector licenses for everyone who accesses it. However, this need is typically already licensed by the presence of physical servers, so VMs rarely create a new need. Any additional server applications running on the server -- such as SQL, SharePoint, Project and so on -- all need to be licensed, and any users of those server applications need to have CALs for those applications.

How to figure it out is the hard part. Make your reseller part of your solution. Explain to them how you plan to use the technology and have them provide you with the guidance of what you need to license. Get it in writing. Finally, verify their recommendations either through research, Microsoft assistance or a qualified third-party advisor.

Microsoft has a Dependency Reference Guide available, which can help with the research.

Q: When I decommission a VM for which I paid license fees, can I transfer those licenses? If so, how? What's the best resource for clearly understanding all these issues?
You can typically transfer the license, unless it was bought OEM. However, you can't reassign a license in less than 90 days from first assignment, except in a hardware failure situation. Microsoft is trying to help demystify licensing by providing some Licensing Briefs, which outline common technology usage and how to license. To avoid misinterpretation, be sure to check the effective date and be sure to keep in mind what version of the product the brief was written for compared to the version you'll be running. If in doubt or if you need additional clarification based upon your actual situation, consider working with a qualified Microsoft licensing expert, such as myself. For more independent Microsoft licensing advice, click here.

If heading out to Orlando for this year's Live! 360 event in December, make sure to catch Cynthia's workshop, "Microsoft Licensing for Desktop and Server Virtualization."

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/22/2012 at 1:19 PM


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