News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

IT shops find ways around costly Windows licensing rules for VDI, DaaS

Windows licensing for virtual desktops is a tax that increases VDI costs, particularly for BYOD. Calls for Microsoft to #FixVDA haven't been met.

Technical innovations in recent years have brought the cost of virtual desktops closer to that of a PC, but Microsoft's...

virtual desktop access license remains a barrier to that goal.

Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license is required for companies that deliver server-hosted Windows virtual desktops. VDA is included with Software Assurance (SA) licensing, but only for Windows devices. Otherwise, it costs $100 per device, per year.

The more costly Microsoft makes [desktop] virtualization, the more profitable the alternatives can be.

Paul DeGroot,
Windows licensing expert, Pica Communications

In a bring-your-own-device world where mobile employees access their desktops from tablets and smartphones, that per-device fee can add up quickly.

Under this policy, it costs far less to run 1,000 Windows Server operating systems than 1,000 Windows Client OSes. That's because the Windows Server license is a one-shot fee, but the VDA license is annual, plus the cost of the Windows Server license, said Gunnar Berger, an analyst with Gartner Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Conn.

"Whenever I am on the phone with a client, this comes up," Berger said. "I have to say, 'Have you looked at Windows Server and doing a one-to-one [virtual desktop-to-user ratio]?' They look at me like I am crazy, but the cost model makes more sense."

Berger recently launched the #FixVDA campaign via his VMworld 2013 presentations and on Twitter in hopes Microsoft will make virtual desktop licensing more affordable, which could help spur adoption, he said.

Microsoft is aware of the issues customers have with Windows virtual desktop licensing, but it hasn't budged.

"We are always listening to customer and partner feedback, but have no licensing updates to share at this time," Microsoft said via email last week.

IT shops get creative to avoid VDA

It's clear why Microsoft requires customers to pay a premium for virtualizing Windows desktops to be delivered to non-Microsoft devices. But this strategy has created an industry devoted to finding ways around it, said Paul DeGroot, author of Microsoft Licensing Concepts and a Windows licensing expert and principal consultant for Pica Communications based in Camano Island, Wash.

"The more costly Microsoft makes virtualization, the more profitable the alternatives can be, as long as they cost less and achieve similar utility," DeGroot said.

IT shops have found ways around it via Windows Server, a practice many Desktop as a Service (DaaS) shops must resort to, for a few reasons.

Under Microsoft's rules, Windows Client desktops may only be hosted by cloud providers when the customer provides the partner licenses through its own Volume License agreement with Microsoft. In addition, the hosting hardware must be dedicated to each individual customer, since multi-tenancy of Windows clients is not permitted.

Instead, the majority of cloud-hosted virtual desktop providers use Windows Server. This removes the double-licensing requirement and the cost per hosted virtual desktop comes down significantly, said Ali Din, senior vice president and spokesperson at Los Angeles-based dinCloud Inc., a virtual desktop hosting provider.

"The physical device that is accessing the hosted virtual desktop is usually a machine with Windows running on it. That device needs to be licensed locally," Din said. "Windows Server, which is skinned to look and act like Windows 7, can then come in at a very low incremental cost."

There are advantages to this approach. Hosted virtual desktops based on Windows Server also have a lot more horsepower and resources, he said. Windows 7 has a 3 GB RAM limitation, but with Windows Server, customers can allocate 4 GB or 8 GB as they please, and they can also assign multiple CPUs to power that hosted virtual desktop, Din said.

"While most people aren't happy about it, in the end, it actually saves customers money not to have to license additional Windows Clients, and it also gives them the option to have a more powerful desktop," Din said.

More on Windows licensing VDI

What the CDL can do for you

Why Microsoft licensing is a major VDI pitfall

How Windows licensing hinders VDI adoption

But using Windows Server OS as a client OS is not ideal.

"You can make a Windows Server OS look like a desktop, but largely, there are desktop app compatibility issues," Berger said. "With this approach you have a shared kernel, and there are issues with that."

Printing can be a problem for users on desktops that share the kernel, for instance.

The game-changer in the virtual desktop industry won't happen until it is common knowledge that a virtual desktop is cheaper than a physical desktop, Berger said in a blog post about VDI costs this month.

"That's what happened with servers. That hasn't happened with desktops -- at least not yet," he said.

Where Windows VDA works

While VDA licensing is viewed as a tax by companies that use non-Windows devices, it's a model that makes sense for some companies.

Per-device licensing works well for Lincoln, Neb.-based Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. because employees on different shifts use the same devices. Rather than license each user in the three-shift-per-day manufacturing plant, the company has reduced its license requirement by sharing access devices over multiple shifts, said Paul Kramer, an information systems manager for Kawasaki.

"In my research with a Microsoft licensing partner, the requirements of SA and its cost pushed the price to a much higher price point than the VDA," he said.

Kramer delivers over 300 virtual desktops to employees using Citrix Systems Inc. XenDesktop and Unidesk management software.

Unidesk and the VDA together cost much less than the VDI broker license, and the whole package of all required licenses still cost far less than the price of new hardware and Windows licenses required for physical PCs, Kramer said.

He also sees the annual subscription licensing model as the way of the future with cloud computing -- and something companies must get used to.

"I approach it more as a subscription option for us to always be able to use the latest OS on our VDI environment, since we pretty much use only zero clients for access," he said. "I would like [Microsoft] to offer straight-up subscription pricing for everything as an option, instead of all the upgrades/[Software Assurance]/force buy new [versions] confusion they have now."

Additionally, enterprises with volume license agreements typically have the power to lower the price of VDA and buy multiple years at a time, he said.

"I doubt too many companies are actually paying $100 per year," Kramer said. "If you are big enough to do VDI and are trying to decide between SA and VDA, you likely will be getting a discounted rate on the VDA."



Find more PRO+ content and other member only offers, here.

Essential Guide

What you need to know about cloud desktops and DaaS providers

Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

What do you think of VDA licensing?
it’s simply unworkable for most places.
its way to one sided to benefit certain business types that MS find profitable. For SME, its not a good pricing option . They need a tiered model
Too expensive, we use RDS/Citrix XenApp instead
Hinders the adoption of virtual desktops via higher cost.
Hi, I have launched and am managing a virtual desktop environment. I am thrilled with the adoption rate of my users, and am proud of reduction of waste stream, power savings, and reducton of overhead that the IT team is introducing. Microsoft does not understand the concept of device independence, and stands in the way. It is no longer an industry leader in office technologies.
The way it is now Microsoft is a huge barrier to any VDI project.
MS is entitled to make money on their product, but VDA licensing needs to be brought in line with the purchase price for the OS itself. The annual subscription needs to be equivalent to a 3 or 5 year purchase of a Windows OS license. I can buy boxed product Win7 Pro for $80/copy. So why does 3 years of VDA for one user cost $300? Microsoft Fix VDA!
Why should we pay for the right to connect to a server?

We bought the license, let us use the product. Don't quarter and dollar us to death.
Service providers need the option to host multiple tenants on same physical hardware. Customers don't mind the yearly fixed cost of the VDA, but as a service provider, it is crazy to think that in order to host a 5-10 user company, we have the capital expense of at least 2 servers for HA when we already have excess capacity on available hardware. we could be bringing in many virtual desktops for customers if we can find a way around the vda license as it exists.
The cost has to be a benefit, and it currently costs more due to storage, servers, power, cooling, and end-user devices. Even though there are benefits, you have to increase the server infrastructure, which is not free. Adding a penalty for not using a Windows device pushes that even further. Also, the "you have to pay us for something we didn't invent, perfect, or sell you" is a bit much.
The VDA license does not for many environments, such as Higher Educations. One of the great things about VDI is that it does not matter what you access your machine from. VDA eliminates that advantage.
The per connection device model needs to go, it doesn't make any sense whatsoever with a VDI environment and it's exorbitant. MS needs to either make it a per user model (a true subscription model) with a matching option for Office licensing (it is against the Office 365 license to use it within a VDI environment) or if they insist on a per device, make it per *host* VM.
part of ea
Why is VDI good for MS's revenue? If they can force a license on the hardware as well as the VM then there is no incentive to change the licensing. They should definitely fix the licensing loophole with customers being able to use Server OS for VDI, that's just cash they are leaving on the table.
You should be able to buy a license, without having to pay it every year...
re: Subscriptions - Microsoft does offer Subscription only Enterprise Agreements. Ask your MSFT Account rep or reseller about it. It's pretty straightforward licensing and as long as your subscription agreement is active, you are entitled to the latest version. It is a true subscription though, if you terminate you either have to purchase the license to continue to use or uninstall the software.
Microsoft is thinking that by leveling a VDA tax, they could stop the decline of Windows. However the opposite effect is true. People are leaving Windows because of its archaic requirement. Microsoft really needs to grow up.
This strategy may not work, BYOD can't implemented on such policies,. Now a days Microsoft targeting as a device company, which may sound good for marketing but ultimately taxing their customer for using otherwise. Microsoft has a history of changing policy as it suits them. For example they have change policies when new launch of xbox because it suits them. Let me tell you one of my experience. Microsoft and Nokia has launched a phone Lumina 800, then scraped from market. In this case they should refund me money or give me their new available phone in Market, if we go by Microsoft policy. Ultimately consumer will be on loss.
cost from MS is prohibitive to shops looking to go VDI
It's impossible to sell an vdi solution under this conditions.
VDA Licensing is to costly and stops or hinders VDI projects.
delaying for to long will have a competitor with better product.
Virtual desktop is always limited by power and looks like seat in a bus VS drivers seat in the sport car. If everyone in a bus takes a big luggage, bus will be slow. But bus travel to another city it is cheaper than drive by own car. With VDA we see situation, where bus ticket costs more than sport car, and is not the best choice.
MS is profiteering from platforms that it can't or won't make competitive (Tablets, phones, Open Source OSes, iOS) so it feels like they are penalising users for choosing the most appropriate platform for their needs not Microsoft's.
This really should be a mature technology but ridiculous licensing costs are holding this back.
M$ still violates this policy themselves by allowing users to use a hosted desktop from them for $7/mo. So it seems to me that M$ just needs to be replaced by virtual apps. Once all apps are web based what need is there for an OS like windows. Chrome books for everyone!!!
At least for now, either option carries any viability in my deployment .
As stated in he article, it is too expensive and hardware has to be dedicated to each customer which makes this un-workable as a solution for MSPs.
the complexity and cost are impeding adoption.
It is simply crazy and it is a monopolist approach.
Microsoft is going to offer it's own cloud desktops and does not want users to go with other options, including partners' ...
So keeping price out of is a good way to go until MS is ready

Good old MS :)
Microsoft's licensing is a nightmare and way over complex.

I tried to explain that the CALs with the server were different from Remote Desktop CALs that would cost more money and the client just switched to Linux as the OS & RD were all free....
It's typical monopoly behaviour
"Double" licensing is a problem, and you have to have a degree in "Microsoft speak" to understand your options, or worse yet, talk to a Microsoft rep who wants you to spend the maximum on Windows OSes.
If Microsoft is going to allow us to work around the problem by using Server OS with an RDP license...just allow me to use desktop OS, and make me pay the RDP fee anyhow (or at least charge an equivalent fee for the Windows 7 OS...this is not a technical problem, but just a policy problem
Needs to be offered as a free utility
As a DaaS provider, this restriction opens up the market. The hosted personal model which allows one server to one person has excellent performance. Printing concerns are not as great as this article presents.
Unfair monopoly. Microsoft putting to NO in innovation
I believe that you can bypass VDA requirement legally by purchasing a full retail license of the OS. You are then licensed for a single deployment permanently and can deploy on physical or virtual hardware.
Given that Microsoft's own licensing audit department don't understand their own licensing, virtual deployment entitlements (i.e. you can deploy multiple desktop operating systems on a single real desktop without needing any additional licenses) and that upgrade entitlements aren't always the same as downgrade allowances etc. etc. it is easy to be confused.
Remember that to be legal you only need to find a single path through the licensing maze.
Don't be bullied by Microsoft, if you have the correct licenses for the way you have deployed and use the software you are legal. If Microsoft think that you should have (could have) licensed it differently that doesn't make it the right way.
The VDA licensing, on top of CAL licensing, on top of the VDI license is a burgeoning weight. Microsoft needs to adjust this, or risk losing its client base to an alternate environment (necessity is the mother of new OS's).
Drove us to use Linux.
it is just stupid ....i am just running a copy of windows desktop so why VDA?
It cost is the main proble to go VDI ttechnology.
cheaper - half the price
these reoccuring cost are too much to stay afloat.
The cost of the VDA negates any cost saving. The only potential advantage then is the central management etc. which is hard to quantify in our environment.
VDA license is one part. VDA users must use remote desktop which require RDP user/device license + Server CAL Access License.

All together is very expensive. I don't know how to face my client with this type of cost.
For hosting service providers, it's simply a no-go. We can't do a lot of specialty software in healthcare on a shared kernel, so single instance server desktops often aren't a viable solution. With BYO and mobile devices, it starts to make even less sense and we're seeking alternatives such as native mobile development and SaaS app architecture to minimize the requirement for a Windows desktop at all since VDA is such a costly piece of the solution and is increasingly less relevant to application delivery.
Microsoft will change VDA when it helps Microsoft.
No Value Add from Microsoft therefore it is a tax rather than a license which is illegal
I have a feeling Microsoft will be making changes to the licensing structure as soon as their product is ready for market.

If they don't they will continue to make a rod for their own back, Windows OS has been the one thing I felt has driven people away from PC's and into the arms of tablet manufacturers.