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Virtual desktop licensing management: The next headache for IT

Become familiar with virtual desktop licensing rules and learn some third-party tools to help ensure that your organization meets licensing guidelines.

Desktop virtualization can be extremely beneficial to a company's operating system environment. The use of optimized desktop hardware and centralized computing allows previously incompatible applications to share the same physical machine. While working through the virtualization planning process, IT decision makers should be aware of one critical piece of the puzzle -- virtual desktop licensing.

Most desktop applications rely on several layers of software to function. Therefore, each layer must be properly licensed or the organization could face audits, potential fines and a tarnished reputation. Unfortunately, each layer of software, including applications, application frameworks, data management and the operating system itself, may be available under a different set of terms and conditions as well as varying licensing rules.

Operating system licensing
Suppliers like Apple and Microsoft often have different application licensing terms and conditions and requirements. If an organization is deploying software from several suppliers, odds are that licensing rules will vary for each supplier.

Apple, for example, will not allow the Mac OS to run within a virtual machine. They will, however, allow other operating systems to be hosted in a Mac OS environment. Those who prefer Mac applications find themselves having to purchase Mac hardware and a product like Parallels or [VMware Inc.] Fusion to support Windows or Linux environments. The Mac OS application is only a small part of the workload that the physical hardware will support.

Microsoft is working toward supporting desktop virtualization by teaming with some of -- but not all of -- the virtual machine and OS virtualization/partitioning software suppliers. Unfortunately, their rules differ depending on whether an individual, small organization or enterprise plans to deploy virtualization technology. The rules also fluctuate for organizations planning to run Windows XP or Windows Vista in their virtualized environments.

Linux suppliers often embrace virtualized environments. Linux software is mostly supplied under an open source software license; therefore, organizations may deploy as many virtual machines as they wish on a single physical system.

Keeping up with licensing rules
A number of suppliers offer tools to help organizations determine what software is in use on their networks. The tools create an inventory of the software to ensure that licensing rules are being followed. This can be accomplished by employing large teams of experts to follow every move of major software suppliers. Companies like ManageSoft Corp., Symantec Corp., and others offer such tools.

If your organization doesn't have the necessary legal expertise or is unsure of the rules for each software product, I suggest that you seek assistance. Don't find out you're wrong the hard way -- when an auditor comes to the door demanding to see your purchase orders and license numbers for all software running on your systems.

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