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Bank on a Microsoft DaaS product in 2016

Microsoft has its ducks in a row to release its own desktop as a service product, which could finally give DaaS the push it needs to become a mainstream technology.

Sometime in the next year, we will see a Microsoft DaaS product.

The signs have been pointing in the direction of a Microsoft desktop as a service (DaaS) offering for two years. It's been a much slower process than many of us thought, but it does look like it is taking shape.

Back in May 2013, Microsoft started talking about Project Mohoro, which became Azure RemoteApp a year later. Microsoft Azure has been around as a cloud platform since 2010, and it was always possible to roll out your own Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) platform there, but RemoteApp marked Microsoft's official entrance into the cloud-hosted Windows applications market. RemoteApp simply productized the same platform we'd used for years. RDSH combined with RemoteApp didn't even require a licensing change -- there was already a Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) for such a setup.

On the back end, though, Microsoft was stretching its orchestration and Multi-tenancy muscles with Azure RemoteApp. Desktop workloads are completely different than server workloads. Azure RemoteApp provided Microsoft an opportunity to learn how to deal with interactive users in the cloud. You can imagine the challenge when you scale up that workload from cloud-hosted Windows apps to DaaS service provider levels.

Licensing indicates changing philosophy

With VDI, the virtual machine Windows runs on is not at the user's desk and is often running multiple instances of Windows at the same time. To prevent companies from taking advantage of that loophole, Microsoft created the Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop license with Windows Vista, later changing the name to the Virtual Desktop Access license with Windows 7. In both cases, you needed to have a primary device for each full version of Windows, and then a VDA license for each additional non-Windows device you would connect from. Confused? So was everyone else.

In November 2014, Microsoft began offering per-user Windows licensing to large businesses, solving the licensing woes of just about every company that uses VDI. More importantly, Microsoft showed it's finally changing the way it looks at desktops and applications. The old Microsoft approach tied the value of Windows to the processor. The company had a one OS, one processor mentality and it was wildly successful for 25 years. The new Microsoft, under CEO Satya Nadella, seems to realize that the world around it is changing.

Microsoft DaaS waits on a SPLA

Azure RemoteApp and per-user licensing were interesting developments, but neither did anything to help customers run Windows client OSes from the cloud. Looming large over the entire discussion is that Microsoft states in its End User License Agreement that it will not allow you to run Windows client OSes (e.g., Windows 7 and 10) on hardware shared with other companies. This stipulation has artificially inflated the cost of DaaS because providers have more hoops to jump through, such as dedicating hardware to specific customers.

As you can imagine, this barrier is rather large, but I believe Microsoft is working its way toward tearing that wall down. The concept of a license that allows for multi-tenancy -- basically the opposite of the Windows client OS limitation above -- has existed for many years with Windows Server and RDSH, because they have SPLAs. Based on that, it's easy for us to say, "Just give us a SPLA for Windows 10 and we'll call it good!" But Microsoft licensing is a tangled web that takes time to unravel.

Microsoft licensing is a tangled web that takes time to unravel.

We saw another step in that direction in October when Microsoft announced in an update to its Azure software FAQ that customers can use their Windows Server licenses for Azure if they also subscribe to Microsoft's Software Assurance support and maintenance service. Microsoft said businesses that pay for the Windows Enterprise business-grade OS per customer will be able to upgrade to the Windows 10 Current Branch for Business -- which sends out rolling updates and features rather than delivering them all in a new OS version -- for Azure. The announcement specifically mentioned Azure, but the same FAQ revealed that Microsoft is also creating a program to allow other providers to run Windows as well. This isn't a SPLA, so don't get too excited, but it is clear evidence that Microsoft is changing the way that it thinks about delivering Windows and Windows applications from multi-tenant environments.

There's not much left for Microsoft to do to pave the way for its own DaaS offering, but I doubt anything will happen quickly. Having conquered the multi-tenancy barrier in the licensing agreement, though, it seems as if a SPLA is next on the roadmap to Microsoft DaaS. You can bet that a SPLA will come at the same time as Microsoft releases its own DaaS platform, because why give competitors an advantage?

DaaS has been slow to take off, but a lot of that has to do with the complexity and cost burdens that service providers have to deal with. When Microsoft does finally clear the way for DaaS, we'll see real competition and compelling offerings. Maybe by then we'll have some of the technical challenges worked out, and 2016 will finally become the long-awaited Year of DaaS.

Next Steps

Microsoft inches closer to Azure DaaS

DaaS licensing is a thorn in IT's side

Per-user Windows licensing cuts VDI costs

Azure RemoteApp's simplicity is good and bad

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