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Microsoft's new VDI license cuts costs only for SA customers

Microsoft's Virtual Desktop Access License is only for IT shops with Software Assurance. Windows desktop virtualization is still costly for many thin-client users.

Windows users on PCs used to have the same virtual desktop licensing burden as users of thin clients, but that is no longer the case.

Microsoft's new Virtual Desktop Access License (VDAL) plan simplifies Windows licensing for desktop virtualization, but only for Software Assurance (SA) customers using PCs. However, users without SA customers and those with thin clients are stuck with the renamed version of the much-hated Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) policy, which still makes it expensive to license Windows for virtual desktops.

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For the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), the exclusion of non-SA and thin-client customers is a double whammy; the organization has 2,600 Wyse thin-client devices and can't afford SA.

"Microsoft Software Assurance has never made sense to a state agency such as MDHS due to the high cost," said Mike Bullard, a networks and security manager at MDHS. "It is unfortunate that Microsoft continues to have ultra-high costs associated with SA and continues to have a very high degree of confusion with IT departments on how [its] licensing works."

SA is a problem for organizations on tight budgets because it is expensive and because it requires them to prepay a percentage of their license price for upgrade rights to a future software release.

Bullard worked with Microsoft on SA pricing options last year, and he said that even Microsoft reps were confused about the guidelines. "They had to bring in multiple Microsoft departments to answer relatively simple questions regarding Microsoft licensing in a thin-client environment."

MDHS uses Citrix software for 800 of its thin clients, and the department may deploy desktop virtualization when funding allows. When that time comes, Bullard said the organization will buy only Microsoft licenses that are absolutely required, such as Server Client Access Licenses. In other words, they won't be betting on SA.

When asked about the decision to exclude non-SA and thin-client users, Microsoft told last week that thin clients don't require a client operating system, so those customers need to buy a Windows license. With the VDAL, customers would get more than they would with a traditional OS license because they also have virtual machine (VM) access and mobility freedom, according to Microsoft.

Not surprisingly, thin-client vendor Wyse Technology downplayed the effect of Microsoft's decision to make thin-client users pay for both OS license and VDAL, saying the difference between what customers would pay for a PC and what they would pay on a thin client to access a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment adds up to just $45 per year.

A Wyse rep noted that thin-client users can offset the additional cost with the energy savings compared with using a PC, as well as with management and security cost reductions. Thin clients last about twice as long as PCs, so companies using them can save money on hardware.

As for excluding non-SA customers, that is clearly Microsoft's strategy for getting customers to pay for subscription licensing instead of perpetual licensing.

Unfortunately, the cost of moving to SA can be expensive for customers because it may require "rebuying" licenses.

Many customers will need SA for both Windows client operating systems and Microsoft Office, since the roaming rights needed for most VDI scenarios require SA on Office when it is run in server-hosted VMs, said Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Horwitz.

Customers that don't want to buy SA could buy full retail copies of the Windows client OS and allocate them to the VDI hosting server.

"Though Microsoft doesn't advertise it, there is nothing in the product's EULA [end-user license agreement] that prohibits this," Horwitz said. "However, there are a bunch of restrictions with this licensing approach, such as an inability to move the licenses between hosting servers [reassignment] if you, for example, take down a VDI hosting server for maintenance and move VM loads to a different server."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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