Microsoft lowers Windows licensing costs for virtual desktops

Microsoft, Citrix offer free desktop virtualization to VMware customers

Microsoft is lowering the price of licensing the Windows operating system in a virtual desktop deployment, and announcing new bundles with partner Citrix in an announcement Thursday.

Microsoft customers have complained that its virtual desktop licensing scheme, known as Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD), is too confusing.

"We've gotten feedback from our customers and partners that it was confusing and complex," says Dai Vu, director of virtualization marketing for Microsoft. "We're going to simplify and extend the rights for what you're paying for."

FAQ: Desktop virtualization

For customers who already pay for Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) program, Microsoft's VECD pricing scheme forced them to pay an additional $23 per year for each client device used in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) model.

Microsoft announced that it is eliminating that extra charge effective July 1. This means customers who run a large number of desktops under Software Assurance do not need to pay extra Windows licensing costs when moving to a virtualized system. This holds true regardless of whether the customer is virtualizing desktops using technology from Microsoft, Citrix or a competitor such as VMware.

Customers who have not purchased Software Assurance were being charged $110 per device per year for virtualization deployments. That price is being lowered to $100. This is primarily for thin clients and computers used by contractors, rather than full-time employees, Vu says. For company-owned PCs, it will typically be less expensive to purchase Software Assurance than to pay the $100 per-device VECD licensing charge, he said. Microsoft is also changing the name of VECD to Windows Virtual Desktop Access.

The licensing of both desktop and server operating systems is changing with the times. Licensing has historically been tied to hardware, but now desktop virtualization lets IT shops deliver numerous desktops from the same server, Vu notes. Microsoft's new licensing scheme will let users access their desktops from multiple endpoints without extra payments.

While desktop virtualization hasn't reached mass adoption yet, the arrival of Windows 7 is causing many customers to examine their whole desktop infrastructure and consider a virtual model. A flurry of vendors has made desktop announcements this month to capitalize on Windows 7. VMware, for example, released a new version of the ThinApp application virtualization software, saying it will help ease migration from older versions of Windows to Windows 7.

In conjunction with lowering licensing costs, Microsoft is teaming up with Citrix to offer a year's worth of free desktop virtualization to customers who switch from VMware. Specifically, VMware View customers who switch will receive Citrix's XenDesktop VDI and Microsoft VDI technology for up to 500 users at no charge for a full year.

Another new deal will allow existing Microsoft customers who have purchased client access licenses with Software Assurance to save more than 50% off a Microsoft/Citrix implementation, the vendors say. For these customers, a 250-seat virtual desktop deployment would cost $7,000, or $28 per desktop.

Microsoft and Citrix also said they are working to improve the virtual desktop user experience, which still lags behind physical desktops in most cases. Citrix said its HDX high-definition technology will integrate with Microsoft's RemoteFX, a graphics acceleration technology for virtual desktops resulting from Microsoft's 2008 acquisition of Calista Technologies.

Citrix also announced a new version of its desktop software, XenDesktop 4 Feature Pack 1, which increases integration with Microsoft products including App-V, management tools, unified communications and VoIP. The new XenDesktop also shortens login times for virtual desktops and hosted applications by completing the logon process without waiting for an entire profile to load.

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