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Solve the mystery of VDI licenses

A VDI deployment is tricky enough without worrying about having the right VDI licensing. Stay one step ahead of the problems by knowing which license to use.

Finding the right VDI licenses to fit a deployment's needs does not have to be as complicated as Prince Charming finding the right foot to fit the glass slipper on.

Licensing in a virtual desktop deployment gets tricky because the traditional structure of desktop licensing no longer works. In the past, a user had one device he worked on. IT would get a license to cover that device, and everyone lived happily ever after. In a VDI deployment, the virtual desktops are not limited to a specific device or user. If an organization wants multiple users to work with the same devices, IT must buy licenses per device. If an organization wants to have one employee that can work on multiple devices, IT must buy licenses per user.

Explore the ways VMware and Citrix handle licenses in their VDI products and uncover the tricks of licensing virtual desktops with Windows 10.

VDI licensing for VMware Horizon 7

VMware offers two types of VDI licenses for Horizon 7: per user and per concurrent user (CCU). Horizon 7 offers several different editions, including Horizon for Linux, Horizon Standard, Horizon Advanced and Horizon Enterprise. Each edition comes with different features, capabilities and licensing options.

The per-user licensing model is as straightforward as the name sounds. Each VDI license applies directly to a user, giving her access to a virtual desktop on any compatible device. The per-user licensing works well for organizations with dedicated employees who use virtual desktops for their jobs.

CCU licensing is similar to a per-device license. The license covers a single device that multiple employees use to access a virtual desktop. CCU licensing is best suited for organizations with numerous employees who share a single device, such as a hospital.

The licensing choice is ultimately up to the organization, except when it comes to Horizon View Standard. In this edition of Horizon View, the only VDI licenses available are CCU licenses. On the plus side, the license applies to all the features within Horizon View Standard, such as the Blast Extreme protocol.

Horizon Advanced and Horizon Enterprise offer both options to organizations, as well as many more features that are covered under the license. Horizon Standard starts at $3,025 per CCU license, Horizon Advanced begins at $3,025 per 10-user perpetual license package and Horizon Enterprise starts at $4,235 per 10-user perpetual license package.

VDI licensing for Citrix XenDesktop

Citrix has two general types of VDI licensing: product licensing and volume licensing. Volume licensing provides discounts and ease of use for larger organizations or public sector organizations, such as schools and governments. The commercial sector divides into two different types of licenses: an enterprise license agreement for 250 users and Easy licenses for five or more users on an as-needed basis.

Product licensing, which is for each specific Citrix product and the end-user licensing agreement, breaks down into user/device licensing and CCU licensing, similar to VMware VDI licenses. The user/device licensing covers one user for all devices she uses Citrix products on. This works well for most companies because employees can access their personal virtual desktops from any device. The CCU licensing covers each physical device, no matter what user is accessing a virtual desktop on it. The CCU license is a good idea for companies that wish to use thin clients.

Citrix is unique in that it does not allow IT to manually assign licenses to each user/device.

Citrix is unique in that it does not allow IT to manually assign licenses to each user/device. Citrix uses a licensing server to assure licensing agreements match the type of license assigned to each user and endpoint device. If VDI licenses go unused for 90 days, the licensing server eventually reclaims a terminated user/device license for a new employee. This can get tricky for organizations with a fluctuating number of employees.

Where Windows 10 VDI licensing fits in

Organizations that wish to run Windows virtual desktops must also make sure they have the correct desktop OS licensing. Licensing for Windows 10 Enterprise falls under Microsoft's Volume Licensing program, where organizations first have to make the decision between Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) and Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA). Microsoft only offers SA to certain types of Volume Licensing programs, making VDA a great alternative that offers similar SA benefits but is specifically focused on Windows 10 virtual desktop user access.

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Windows 10 licensing also comes down to a per-device or per-user approach. Per user offers employees greater mobility and flexibility to create their own workplaces. Per device is the traditional Windows licensing approach but requires IT to license every single device users will work with. A perk to per-device licensing is that the virtual desktop can run Windows 10 Pro or earlier versions with VDI and is not tied to Windows 10 Enterprise. Per-device licenses also give users Roaming Use Rights, meaning employees may access licensed desktops on nonlicensed devices -- with restrictions. Both per-user and per-device licensing grant users access to up to four instances of Windows 10 virtual desktops.

Both SA and VDA run per-user and per-device licensing, but there is a big difference between the two for per-user licenses. SA requires IT to license a user's primary device for Windows 10 and be the main user of the device. VDA does not have any such requirements, making it extremely appealing for multiple users.

Next Steps

Get up close and personal with Windows 10 virtual desktops

Test your acquired knowledge of Office 365 VDI licensing

Compare and contrast XenApp vs. XenDesktop vs. Horizon

This was last published in October 2017

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