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Microsoft evolves its desktop licensing strategy

Does Microsoft want enterprises to roll out new VDI Licenses or Remote Desktop Services?

Microsoft's introduction of two new licenses for enabling virtual desktops in the enterprise is seemingly a step forward, though it might not be far enough for some.

At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner conference earlier this month, the software company said it would make available in the fourth quarter two virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) suite licenses -- standard and premium -- which incorporate rights to use its virtualization technologies for a fraction of the price of competitors' VDI suites.

The standard edition includes the Hyper-V Server, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, Systems Center Configuration Manager, System Center Operations Manager, Remote Desktop Services (RDS) client access licenses (CAL) and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for $21 per year per device.

The premium suite, also new from Microsoft, includes those products as well as additional use rights for Remote Desktop Services (CAL) and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack. The premium suite also consists of additional use rights for RDS and App-V for RDS, which enables mixed environments with VM-based remote desktops and RDS but also session-based -- thin client desktops. It is priced at $53 per device per year.

In contrast, leading virtualization provider VMware charges $53 per user per year for its similar VMware View. Its higher-end VMware View Premier is $100 per user per year.

Customers must pay Microsoft's Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) license for any hosted virtual desktop, even those on a non-Microsoft platform. A VECD, for instance, is $23 per device per year with Software Assurance and $110 per device per year without Software Assurance.

Smart VDI bundling

ISVs and systems integrators say it's smart for Microsoft to offer a VDI bundle to counter similar offerings from VMware and Citrix, but claim that the company's products -- and true ambitions in the VDI space -- fall short.

Leostream provides a connection broker and management software that supports multiple VDI and virtualization platforms. Executives say the discounted licenses show willingness on Microsoft's part to play ball in this emerging space -- which could, over the long term, threaten Microsoft's bread and butter desktop revenues. But the company's products are not yet comparable with those of its competition.

"Hyper-V has not fully caught up and Microsoft does not have the extensive management that VMware has and that Citrix is working really hard to get," said Michael Palin, CEO at Leostream, in Waltham, Mass.

Another executive at a partner who is familiar with Microsoft's VDI strategy said the product bundles are a discount from competitive solutions but not Microsoft's own competitive Remote Desktop Services.

"They want to push customers toward terminal servers. They don't want to push them toward virtualized desktops," said an executive, who declined to be named. "If I want to run a virtual desktop off the server, I need to pay more than to run a desktop OS on terminal services. Microsoft says you get a lot of additional functionality for that incremental amount [for VDI], but the cost is not fair."

Late last year, Microsoft introduced the Windows Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services. RDS, formerly known as Terminal Services, is the next generation platform for extending centralized desktop and application deployments to any device. RDS will be available with Windows Server 2008 R2 and is due out in late October 2009.

Dig Deeper on Terminal Services and Remote Desktop Services

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