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Microsoft VDA licensing in effect, client hypervisor rules stay murky

Microsoft activated its latest virtual desktop licensing plan on July 1. It may help Software Assurance customers, but plenty of scenarios remain unclear.

Microsoft's new desktop virtualization licensing policy officially took effect this week, easing the pain for its Software Assurance customers. Meanwhile, it's unclear how Type 1 client hypervisors will be licensed.

Under the new plan, which replaces Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) licensing, Windows Client Software Assurance customers won't have to buy a separate license to access Windows in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment because Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) rights will be included.

Non-Software Assurance (SA) customers will have to buy a VDA license, a device-based subscription that is available at $100 per year per device and that lets users access their virtual Windows desktops and Microsoft Office applications on secondary and noncorporate network devices, such as home PCs.

The old VECD plan was $110 per device per year, so the VDA price cut per device is minor, but VECD didn't include a roaming allowance.

Windows virtualization still isn't cheap
At a session on Microsoft licensing for client hypervisors during the BriForum 2010 conference in Chicago last month, non-SA attendees expressed agitation that even with the new VDA policy, virtualizing a Windows desktop remains expensive.

One IT manager said he cannot justify paying for SA at his organization. He added that he can't put together a return on investment proposal for desktop virtualization that makes fiscal sense.

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"I have to buy an extra $100 license that I didn't need when I just had an OEM license," he said. "That's a show-stopper. It's a squeeze from Microsoft, especially when I can go out and buy a laptop with an OEM license for two to three hundred dollars."

Paul DeGroot, chief analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., said he isn't a big fan of SA, but it often makes the most financial sense for customers virtualizing desktops. An enterprise SA agreement, however, is only logical for companies buying licenses in bulk and planning to virtualize all or most of their desktops, DeGroot said.

By the book, customers can only get SA if they have bought their software within the past 90 days. Otherwise, customers have to buy an upgrade license and buy Software Assurance -- an expensive proposition.

In addition, IT shops using thin clients or "bring your own PC" (BYOPC) policies have to buy a VDA license regardless of whether they have SA or not, according to Microsoft's VDA licensing policy.

Catching up with client hypervisors
One area of desktop virtualization that Microsoft has yet to address from a licensing standpoint is the Type 1 client hypervisors -- where a virtualization layer runs on the hardware and operates one or more OS instances in virtual machines.

Citrix's XenClient is out as a release candidate, and other Type 1 client hypervisors, such as the one made by NeoCleus, are already shipping. In response, Microsoft must address licensing for this type of computing, said Nathan Coutinho, a storage and virtualization at CDW's Systems Solution Practice in Chicago. Coutinho spoke at a client hypervisor licensing session last month at BriForum.

"SA customers are probably safer, but hopefully the VDA license will take care of client hypervisors as well," Coutinho said. "This [confusion] is nothing new though; the same thing happened when [VMware] ESX came out. Customers were using it without knowing if they were in compliance."

Coutinho also raised the question of how Microsoft will license employee-owned devices with client hypervisors.

"BYOPC is where the licensing confusion becomes really bad, because SA doesn't apply to consumer devices," Coutinho said. "But if OEMs plan to add client hypervisors to all of their devices, Microsoft will have to endorse it, because that's the way OEM machines will deliver their software."

Microsoft declined to be interviewed about its client hypervisor licensing plans. The company policy states that since SA customers are allowed to run up to four instances of Windows in a virtual machine, those customers can use client hypervisors to run up to four Windows environments on a corporate desktop that's licensed with SA.

Microsoft would not give specifics licensing rules for non-SA client hypervisor users. "Pricing is determined by a host of factors, including local market conditions and retailer pricing decisions, as well as what an organization is willing to invest in software and the specific program through which they choose to make that investment," said the company.

Citrix Systems could not clarify how XenClient will be licensed either; a customer representative encouraged customers to talk directly with their Microsoft representatives.


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

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