Server OS-based VDI official "feature" of Windows Server 2016. Microsoft screws us into the future

Last week in a blog post on MSDN, Microsoft's Terminal Services team linked to a blog post by MVP Freek Berson called New RDS deployment model: Personal Session Desktops!

Last week in a blog post on MSDN, Microsoft’s Terminal Services team linked to a blog post by MVP Freek Berson called New RDS deployment model: Personal Session Desktops! The gist is that in Tech Preview 2 of Server 2016, Microsoft introduced a new server role called “Server Based Personal Desktops” which is essentially VDI using Windows Server 2016 as the OS for the VDI instances rather than using a client OS like Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Unfortunately this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and just another way that Microsoft is continuing to screw their customers.

Let’s dig into this, in today’s latest installment of our long-running “Microsoft is screwing us” series. (Past articles in this series include . . . )

  • 2015 *has* to be the year Microsoft lets partners sell Windows desktops as a service... right? (Jan 2015)
  • Looking at Microsoft Windows Server 2012 editions and licensing. Positive changes or a tightening of the screws? (July 2012)
  • Microsoft announces virtual desktop licensing changes for Windows 8. Guess what? They're still screwing us! (Apr 2012)
  • 4 ways Microsoft is screwing the desktop virtualization industry, and why I'm quitting the MVP program (Mar 2012)
  • No SPLA license for Win 7 means that DaaS providers can't provide desktops to small companies. This is getting ridiculous. (Feb 2012)
  • Microsoft TCO study: VDI is 11% more expensive than traditional PCs. One reason? Increased costs of Microsoft licensing! (Nov 2010)
  • Microsoft makes more changes to VECD. They're still screwing us though. (Sept 2008)

Wait! This is an added feature, so what’s the problem?

As I first outlined in 2012 there are two big problems with Microsoft licensing in VDI environments that still apply today, both stemming from the Microsoft's “Service Provider Licensing Agreement” (SPLA). SPLA is the thing where service providers (hosting providers, DaaS providers, etc.) can charge their customers on a “per user per month” basis for Microsoft licensing.

The first problem is that Microsoft doesn’t include Windows 7 and Windows 8 licenses in the SPLA program. In other words, if a customer goes to a DaaS provider and says “I want to buy access to Windows desktops for $50 per user, per month”, that provider is not allowed to use Windows 7 or Windows 8 for those desktops. Instead the provider has to use Windows Server instances.

In the past this typically meant RDSH (“session per user”) which is fine for a lot of cases, though there are times when VDI (“VM per user”) makes more sense (persistent desktops, users who need admin rights, etc.). So in these cases, the “workaround” has been to still use VDI, except to use Windows Server as the “client” OS in the VDI instance instead of Windows 7 or Windows 8. Providers who do this typically enable the “desktop experience” add on so that Server OS looks and feels like a client OS, but behind the scenes it’s actually a server OS.

Here’s the problem: Microsoft forces customers to use a server OS as if it were a desktop OS. That’s fine in many cases, but it also creates its own problems around app compatibility, different patch and service pack cycles for client and server OSes, some software vendors not supporting client apps on the server OS, etc. (I mean if it were really no big deal, then we wouldn’t have separate server and client OSes!)

So we have Microsoft with arbitrary and asinine policies that customers and providers simply "get around" by building VDI using a server OS. So if it’s so easy to get around these, then why even have these policies in the first place? Why force customers to jump through hoops if what they’re getting is essentially the same as what they want that Microsoft doesn’t allow in the first place? These policies only exist to make life more difficult for customers.

This leads us to the next problem with SPLA today. If a customer wants to pay for their Windows desktops on a monthly basis from a service provider, but they also want to use a client OS, then Microsoft will allow that to happen as long as the customer uses their own Windows client licenses which they bought in full up front rather than renting from the service provider. Ok, so that’s not too bad—but then Microsoft has this rule where if a customer does this, that service provider is not allowed to run those customer desktops on the same hardware as machines running other customers’ desktops.

Seriously, WTF? So all this virtualization and hyper-convergence and Hyper-V and the efficient future—Microsoft is purposefully making customers and providers waste money buying up extra hardware just so they can keep customers separate. (What’s the opposite of green washing? Brown washing? Microsoft is brown washing customers.) This also has the unintended side effect of not allowing small customers to use DaaS since it’s not cost effective for providers to build out separate hardware per customer until a customer has somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 desktops or more.

Why is this a problem?

Microsoft’s disrespectful policies towards customers have been in place for years, but they were always something that we all hoped would sort of go away once Microsoft woke up and decided that maybe they shouldn’t actively screw their customers.

So you can imagine my dismay when I read that rather than abandoning this absurd policy, they’re codifying it! It’s as if they’re saying, “Hey, since so many of you are trying to get around our policy of screwing you, let’s make it easier you you—not by *not* screwing you (we’re going to do that forever)—rather, we’ll make it easier for you to get around the screwing of you, by us, which again, we plan to do for the foreseeable future."

Seriously I’ll bet they’re going to call this a feature of Server 2016. “We care about you, so we're listening to your feedback and making it hurt less bad when we screw you."

The thing I really can’t understand is that if Server 2016 desktop is what everyone is using for SPLA-based VDI, and Microsoft is adding features to make that easy, and they’re enhancing the desktop experience—why don’t they just let customers use a client OS via SPLA? I mean why go through all the trouble to create something that they advertise as being almost as good when they can just let customers have what they actually want?

Dig Deeper on Terminal Services and Remote Desktop Services