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Why Microsoft's VDI licensing changes won't help DaaS or SMBs

Per-user SA licensing doesn't make doing VDI or DaaS any easier for SMBs: There's still no SPLA for Windows client OSes, and the licensing changes benefit only large shops.

New per-user licensing from Microsoft simplifies license purchasing and management for large companies. But SMBs...

are taking a hit, and it's unclear what the change means for DaaS.

Though it may seem that the answer to IT's prayers has finally come in the form of the new per-user licensing model, it doesn't solve some of the biggest issues: Microsoft continues to limit the ways desktop as a service (DaaS) providers can deliver Windows desktops to customers, leaving small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to suffer the consequences.

A Software Assurance (SA) license includes Virtual Desktop Access (VDA), which is what companies need to properly license employees who access virtual desktops. Under the long-standing per-device model, workers need one VDA license for each device they use to access their virtual desktops. At $100 a pop, it can get expensive for an organization to license virtual desktop users who have multiple devices, but with per-user licensing, companies need to buy only one license per user.

Per-user SA licenses are available only to companies licensing at least 250 seats. If the licenses are priced favorably, larger companies will no doubt welcome the change, especially in shops that want to do VDI or enable bring your own device, or BYOD.

Unfortunately, SMBs can't take advantage of the per-user model. And per-user licensing might not apply to DaaS either. That means SMBs are stonewalled no matter where they turn to make virtual desktops affordable.

SMBs left behind

The problem is complicated. In the first place, most SMBs don't have 250 seats to license, so they still have to pay per device, rather than per user. To do VDI at an affordable price, many smaller shops turn to DaaS.

Microsoft does not extend the Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) to the Windows desktop operating systems, however. In other words, DaaS providers cannot license desktops with Windows client OSes, such as Windows 7 or 8. Customers must purchases their own SA or VDA licenses and bring them to the DaaS provider.

Microsoft also forces DaaS providers to provision desktops on dedicated hardware. That means each Windows instance must be dedicated to a specific organization, and only that organization can use the hardware running that instance. This approach is the antithesis of what cloud computing is all about.

DaaS providers, along with other cloud service providers, rely on a shared services model and multi-tenant architecture to maximize resource usage and efficiency, which lets the cloud providers hand lower costs on to customers. This cheap and efficient model is appealing to SMBs that don't necessarily have the time, money or expertise to implement technology such as virtual desktops in-house. Cloud-hosted desktops are quick and easy to stand up, and they don’t take a lot of up-front investment or in-house skill, like VDI does.

If you can't host client OSes, how does anyone do DaaS?

Supplying your own licenses to a DaaS provider and then paying a monthly subscription fee on top of that is too costly to make DaaS worth it for some. As a result, many DaaS providers offer Windows Server-based desktops that are skinned to look like Windows 7. Because there's an SPLA for Windows Server, you don’t need to bring licenses to your DaaS provider, and you just pay the monthly subscription costs. There are application compatibility problems with Server-based desktops, however, which is why industry experts are still clamoring for an SPLA for client OSes.

But as long as Microsoft continues its stand against multi-tenancy and SPLA provisioning, hosting Windows client OSes in the cloud will remain unaffordable for smaller organizations.

Additionally, it's unclear whether per-user licensing can be used in conjunction with DaaS. Even if customers were to jump through all the hoops and purchase their own licenses to implement in a DaaS environment, it's not clear whether that's allowed.

Based on the information Microsoft has released as of this writing, it appears that remote access through VDI includes DaaS implementations, but there aren't any specifics yet, and Microsoft has left DaaS out of the per-user conversation. Surprises might still be in store.

Next Steps

Will per-user Software Assurance licensing benefit your shop?

How is DaaS different from VDI?

SA vs. VDA vs. CDL: Breaking down Microsoft licensing

Per-user Windows license comes without cost detail

This was last published in November 2014

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Do you think Microsoft's VDI licensing rules help or hurt SMBs?
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As presented these rules hurt SMBs.  That being said, how many SMBs are in / give a damn about software license compliance?
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