Do you need VECD, or can you use the Windows retail license for VDI?

If you buy a retail version of Windows, you don't need Microsoft's Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop license -- but VECD provides advantages for virtualized environments.

Recently, I wrote an article detailing (what I hoped was) a once-and-for-all explanation of VECD, the license you need on top of your Windows desktop license in order to do desktop virtualization.

Since then, I've received a few emails from people saying that you only need Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) for corporate licenses. If you buy a retail version of Windows, you don't need it.

And they're right.

You're now probably more confused than ever, so this week I'm going to dig into what exactly that means.

In the world of Microsoft licensing, there's a type of license called the "FPP," or Full Packaged Product. Commonly referred to as the "retail" license, this is the type of license you get if you walk into a store and buy a copy of Windows: You get a box, a DVD, a little hologram certificate of authenticity and a license key you have to activate. (I guess I should point out that there are technically a few other ways you can get this product, like by buying a legit key from Microsoft if your Windows Genuine Advantage fails, but the point is that the FPP is the consumer license.)

The FPP Windows license grants some rights that overlap for VECD, which is why some people claim that if you buy the FPP version of Windows, you don't need VECD. Specifically, the FPP lets you run multiple copies of Windows on the same computer at the same time -- like if you're running some virtual machines (VMs) -- and it allows you to remotely connect to your desktop via a protocol like ICA or RDP (or GoToMyPC, LogMeIn, etc.).

So why would anyone buy VECD? Why not just drive a van down to Best Buy and pick up 1,000 copies of the FPP version of Windows?

There's one big catch: Since the FPP version of Windows is aimed at consumers, that license is tied to a single device. In other words, whichever physical machine you first install it on is the machine it's tied to.

More on Microsoft licensing

Change is afoot for virtual desktop licensing in 2010

What is VECD?

This means that in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) use case, you can only run the Windows VM on one host. This not only means you can't "live migrate" your desktop VMs from one host to another, but it also means you can't even use a desktop VM on a host other than the first one it was booted on.

So if you want to do desktop virtualization in a many-to-one way, in which many users share the same master disk image, that's just not possible with the FPP licensed version of Windows. And even if your virtual desktop environment is one-to-one -- where each user "owns" his own VM image -- then you won't be able to store your images in a shared environment. In a shared environment, whichever machine is the least loaded when the user's incoming request comes in from the connection broker is the one that boots the images.

The choice is yours. VECD certainly gives you advantages over the Windows FPP license, but with an added yearly cost.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   
Brian Madden, Independent Industry Analyst and Blogger
Brian Madden is known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical, fiercely independent desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog, BrianMadden.com, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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