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Per-user licensing for SA comes with gotchas

The per-user licensing model for SA applies only to Windows 8.1 Enterprise, which you can upgrade to from only certain versions of Windows. The perk is also available only to companies with 250+ seats, and the price of a license is still unknown.

Microsoft's move to offer per-user licensing for desktop virtualization is huge news, but there are some caveats you should know about.

Starting Dec. 1, 2014, organizations that acquire Windows 8.1 Enterprise software through Microsoft's Volume Licensing program will be offered a per-user licensing option, in addition to the traditional per-device model.

Organizations looking to virtualize their desktop environments and support bring your own device programs will likely benefit the most from this new option, depending on how much the new per-user licenses cost.

Under this new approach, a company licenses the individual users, rather than the devices themselves. This allows users to access or use Windows across all their devices, whether the OS is installed locally, or delivered through Windows To Go or VDI.

The gotchas

Windows 8.1 Enterprise is available only through Microsoft's Volume Licensing program. To take advantage of the per-user option, an organization must also sign up for Software Assurance (SA) or Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) plans.

SA includes rights and technologies that are not available in other licensing programs. It also provides tools for deploying and managing Volume Licensing software. Companies can use the VDA plan to license devices that need access to virtual desktops but aren't covered under SA, such as thin clients.

SA includes VDA licensing, but organizations can also purchase VDA as a separate plan. For companies already signed on to the per-device SA program, Microsoft offers the Software Assurance per User Add-On, which makes it possible to switch to per-user licensing.

What might surprise some organizations is that Windows 8.1 Enterprise is available only as an upgrade from specific versions and editions of Windows. If a customer upgrades under the per-user license, the upgrade path is limited to devices already licensed for the Professional or Enterprise editions of Windows 7, 8 or 8.1. But the per-user license also lets organizations install Windows 8.1 Enterprise on any Windows tablet with a diagonal screen size of 10.1 inches or smaller.

Another caveat is that the per-user option is available only to specific Volume Licensing programs, which target midsize and large companies, and require 250 licenses or more. Those licensing programs are:

  • Select
  • Select Plus
  • Enterprise Agreement
  • Subscription Agreement
  • Product & Services Agreement

The last thing to keep in mind is that the pricing for per-user SA licenses has yet to be released. One of the biggest problems with the per-device model is that workers don't use PCs just to access their virtual desktops. Some employees want to use their tablets and even their smartphones in a pinch, but the costs of licensing all those devices gets out of hand quickly, especially if a company supports many virtual desktop users.

The per-user licensing model will certainly simplify license management, but whether or not it will save companies money remains to be seen.

Next Steps

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What do you think about Microsoft switching to per-user licensing?
Good move, but in classic Microsoft fashion, made to be over burdensome and require far too many base users to be much help to smaller teams who could really use this option. Offer this to those of us who have a regular need to run multiple virtual environments at irregular times, and do so in a way that doesn't make us feel like we are signing a mortgage. Seriously "if you build it, they will come", but only if what you offer is both affordable and reasonable to implement. Still, I give them credit for trying, and if you have a larger business, this looks like a step in the right direction.