Opinion

Will Microsoft enter the DaaS market fray with Mohoro?

Microsoft has a lot to lose if it doesn't join the Desktop as a Service market.

I've written a lot about Microsoft licensing, focusing on the fact that no matter how you slice it, Microsoft is making our lives miserable. This is especially true for DaaS providers, since Microsoft doesn't allow them to share compute resources (called multi-tenancy) with multiple clients. Each piece of compute hardware (and, if you ask some people, storage) must be designated for a single company. That results in excess processing capacity going to waste that could be used to realize vast economies of scale. Not only is it inefficient, it's also maddening that Microsoft arbitrarily restricts something that is technically possible.

Ultimately, it means that DaaS costs more than it has to if you want to deploy Windows client operating systems. To combat this, DaaS providers are using single-user Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) servers, which aren't governed by the same asinine restrictions because you simply need to buy a per-user RDS client access license for each user. Plus, there is a service provider licensing program for RDSH servers, which means they can share any resource they want among their clients. This practice is catching on at service providers and within organizations, and the very fact that we have to do this is the catalyst of the #fixvda movement.

Musing Microsoft's Project Mohoro

Imagine, then, the reaction of DaaS providers to hear rumors of Microsoft's Project Mohoro. Mohoro is expected to be Microsoft's own DaaS offering, hosted in Azure. Rumors circulated back in May, and while there hasn't been any more information emanating from Redmond, the DaaS market is shaping up so that if Microsoft doesn't have an offering for its own OS, it will be left behind.

Citrix has one. VMware has one. Dell, well, theirs was based on the Desktone platform that VMware now owns, so we'll have to wait and see on that front. The point is that Microsoft, the company with the most to gain from a DaaS tool as well as the most to lose if people move off Windows, needs to be in this landscape.

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FAQ about Desktop as a Service

But what will Mohoro look like? Will it be RDSH-based, using some version of Windows Server? If so, which version of Server? Some use cases still require 16-bit applications. Will you be able to run Windows Server 2003 R2 or Windows Server 2008 R1? Despite those questions, the RDSH method is the easiest, because running Windows 7 or 8 would be complicated due to the licensing restrictions Microsoft itself imposes.

In July, Microsoft amended its licensing agreement for Azure to expand the use of Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in Azure virtual machines beyond admin tasks. RDS is an umbrella term that includes RDSH (terminal services) and Remote Desktop Virtualization Host (VDI), but Microsoft was careful to note that client versions of the OS are still not able to be used due to the multi-tenancy restrictions.

All this adds up to RDSH being the most likely candidate. When it was first rumored, Mohoro was called RemoteApp as a hosted service, which would indicate seamless Windows apps delivered from Azure. Still, all the news related to this came out between May and July. There are new indicators that DaaS's stock is rising, so could there be more to this?

Microsoft licensing's gotta give

As long as Microsoft plays by its own licensing rules, no new complaints should arise aside from partners squawking about stealing customers. If, however, Microsoft decides that since it owns the OS it can make up its own rules, you can expect an IT donnybrook to break out. The idea most talked about would be that Microsoft can escape its own licensing limitations by creating another version of Windows that is virtually identical to a client version of Windows and license it only to itself. That theory likely draws most of its supporters from a pool of people that are known to wear tin foil hats, but it is possible.

What it means, though, is that if Microsoft is going to play in the DaaS market and not just deploy applications, something will have to give. Microsoft will either have to fully back the single-user RDSH method (which simply has to cost them money compared to selling client OS licenses), make changes to Windows client OS licensing, or do something more drastic like creating an OS for its own use only.

Rumors of Project Mohoro persist, so I expect it to happen, but exactly how disruptive it will be remains to be seen. If it's just RDSH from the cloud, it will be simply another deployment option. If it's more than that, it will be very interesting to see how things shake out in the evolving DaaS market.

This was first published in November 2013

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