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New per-user Windows license pricing cuts VDI costs

Early quotes for Windows' new per-user Software Assurance licensing could save significant money for IT shops doing VDI.

Microsoft's new per-user Windows license pricing could be a win for customers that buy volume licenses.

As of Dec. 1, organizations can finally obtain Windows Enterprise volume licenses on a per-user basis, as opposed to a per-device basis. Industry observers believed this change for Software Assurance (SA) and Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) could remove VDI restrictions for organizations and allow users to access virtual desktops on multiple devices while remaining in compliance.

Microsoft has been tight-lipped about the per-user license pricing. The company declined to release list price details this week, only saying volume licensing pricing is available to customers through Microsoft partner resellers.

Windows license pricing is often negotiable depending on the volume or agreements organizations have with Microsoft.

But glimpses of the per-user pricing indicate some possible savings for Microsoft customers, said Paul DeGroot, analyst at Pica Communications in Camano Island, Wash., and author of Microsoft Licensing Concepts.

DeGroot has seen pricing for the per-user SA add-on subscription at $14.81 per year in an Enterprise Agreement (EA) at Discount Level A. That makes the new pricing attractive, at least compared to the now-eliminated Companion Subscription License (CSL) that sold for about four times as much, DeGroot said.

"I am suggesting the product to a certain [number] of my customers who want to use VDI from multiple devices, because the pricing is less punitive, and the use rights are more generous, than those of the CSL," DeGroot said.

The CSL (which had been called the Companion Device License before 2013) only accommodated up to four devices per user. Pricing when the CSL was introduced in 2013 was reportedly in the $4 to $7 per-month range, or $48 to $84 per year, for organizations with an EA and the associated SA package.

The new per-user SA add-on means anyone with the add-on can use an unlimited number of devices, but they must also be the "primary user" of a device with Windows Desktop Operating System SA or VDA coverage and use that device for 50% of their work over a 90-day period, according to Microsoft's licensing rules.

There are further restrictions on per-user SA, including that organizations with fewer than 250 seats can only purchase licensing on a per-device basis.

Washington's licensing plan shows savings

Microsoft declined to confirm the quote cited by DeGroot, but another per-user licensing quote closely matches his cost analysis.

The Washington State Department of Enterprise Services offers Select Level D pricing where state, city, county and local government agencies can access discounted Microsoft software and includes the new options for per-user pricing. The Windows SA per-user add-on for the state is listed at $1.18 per month. At $14.16 per year, that aligns closely with the example cited by DeGroot.

The pricing is less punitive, and the use rights are more generous [for per-user].
Paul DeGrootanalyst, Pica Communications

Washington's subscription plan also outlines the difference between VDA per-device and per-user subscriptions. A single per-device VDA subscription is listed at $5.44 per month while the VDA per-user is $7.40 per month. Despite the higher price for per-user, it's likely that option would still present savings for an organization instead of per-device, since one per-user license covers multiple devices.

The prices, posted on the state's website, were updated Dec. 1, the same day per-user licensing was made available. The prices don't include Washington sales tax. Microsoft also declined to confirm the state of Washington's numbers.

Organizations aren't caught up in pricing issues with the new per-user licensing, since they can get quotes from their partner resellers. But customers must keep up with the complex and ever-evolving nature of Microsoft's licensing, said one industry insider familiar with Microsoft's thinking.

"A bigger issue is the rapid pace of changes, overall complexity of licensing, and the challenge of assessing the impact of licensing rules on their unique environment, both current and future," the insider said. "At some level, it is not that different from the challenge of keeping up with changes to the tax code or regulations like Obamacare -- both complex moving targets."

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