Microsoft's cheaper virtualization licensing to take effect July 1

Microsoft's revamped Windows VDI prices are an improvement, but there's still plenty of gotchas.

On July 1, Microsoft' new-and-improved "cheaper" licensing for Windows on virtual desktops will take effect. It is a step to make Windows VDI more affordable, but it's only a step. A catch concerning Office applications remains.

Microsoft CALs and External Connector Licenses…Part I

In an effort to better understand the news that Microsoft announced in March regarding cheaper virtualization licenses, I talked last week with Dai Vu, Director of Virtualization Solutions Marketing for Microsoft.

The crux of the issue is "per device" versus "per user" licenses, a Citrix salesperson at the Synergy conference told me earlier this month. (Citrix offers both but Microsoft doesn't, he said.) A per user license allows the same user to access software on a variety of devices -- your work computer, your home computer, your smart mobile device, an airport kiosk. A per device license requires each device have its own license.

On July 1, Microsoft will kill its special VDI license requirement, dubbed the Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) license, but only for Software Assurance customers. It has also reduced the price of that license for non-SA customers (but only a little, more on that in a minute).

The thing you have to understand is that Microsoft's original VECD license was rather draconian.

1. You had to buy a Windows license.

2. And then you had to buy Software Assurance

3. And then you had to pay something Microsoft called VECD to cover the Windows you paid for in No. 1.

Microsoft's VDI stack
VECD came in two flavors, says Vu. If the "access device" was for what Microsoft termed a "rich client" (a PC or smartphone) SA customers were charged $23/ per access device per year to use Windows. No other software was covered by that fee, just Windows. If you were using a thin client or you were a shop that didn't buy SA, Microsoft charged $110/per access device per year, just for Windows (and it's no mistake that you could buy a whole 'nother copy of Windows for that).

The VECD fee allowed you to access your Windows virtual desktop from a host in a datacenter behind the firewall, and from one PC in another location outside the firewall, like home.It also let admins move the image among servers. In all VECD allowed concurrent access for up to four VMs. Per device fees would then have to be paid for all the Microsoft software served up on the VDI such as MS Office.

The good news is that, with the VECD licenses gone (but only for SA customers), Microsoft has (only for SA customers) given the necessary wiggle room for MS Office, too. "MS Office will mirror the extended roaming use rights for MS Office SA customers." said Vu.  "SA customers can now access hosted desktops and MS Office across a broad range of access devices outside the firewall (without the need for additional licensing)."

Vu also said that SA pricing has not increased.

If you aren't a SA customer, Microsoft has changed the name of the license from VECD to Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) and lowered the fee 10% to $100/device/year. Mary Jo Foley from ZDNet asked if the new VDA license will "put a drag" on VDI and the answer is no. The drag was already on and it just hasn't gone away.

Without SA, "MS Office is licensed per-device. This applies for hosted virtual desktops as well.  Therefore, each device that accesses MS Office in a VDI scenario needs to be properly licensed for MS Office," says Vu. But he noted that "secondary use rights" for MS Office are available and have been "for years." This lets you install and run MS Office on a second device, such as a work and home machine, or desktop/laptop combo, without paying for another license.

Vu is trying his hardest to show that Microsoft is coming round to a more reasonable pricing policy. He sent me this timeline that shows changes in virtualization licensing fees over the years:

  • October 2005: Windows Server Enterprise Edition enables customers to run up to (4) virtual instances on a server at no additional cost; Windows Server Datacenter Edition enables customers to run an unlimited number of virtual instances on a server at no additional cost.
  • April 2007: Introduced VECD licensing for VDI scenarios: movement of OS between servers, access corporate desktop images from non-corporate Windows PCs, VECD allows concurrent access for up to 4 VMs, etc.
  • January 2008: Virtualization rights extended to Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium.
  • August 2008: Application license mobility: enables customers to move MS applications between servers as often as necessary without paying additional licensing fees.

But he's well aware that many users still have reason to complain that Microsoft is still standing in the way of VDI, at least for Windows users not interested in the added expense of SA. He told me, "Our licensing changes over the years have been very evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary." He promised that Microsoft will "continue to evolve our virtualization licensing based on customer and partner feedback."

So it's up to you now. Want better VDI pricing? Speak up.

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