Desktop Virtualization: Confusion Over Software Licensing

Changing Landscape

Microsoft's Policy Moves

Microsoft has tried to improve its licensing policies gradually over the past several years, says Dai Vu, the company's director of virtualization product management. "Licensing and virtualization are inherently complex, and we've actually done a number of things to simplify it," he says. In March 2010, Microsoft announced changes to its virtual desktop licensing policies that went into effect July 1. Here are the two most significant updates:

• Eased virtual desktop licensing requirements. Previously, customers had to purchase an additional license, called a Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) license, to run any Windows desktop operating system as a server-hosted desktop. The VECD cost $23 per device per year for computers covered by Windows Client Software Assurance. For those not covered by SA, the cost was $110 per device per year.

Now Microsoft has ditched the VECD and includes virtual desktop access rights as a benefit of SA. For computers not covered by SA, Microsoft has created a new license, called the Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license, which costs $100 per device per year.

In addition, if you're running the virtual desktop on a thin client rather than on a PC, that also requires a VDA license at $100 per device per year (and this applies to SA customers as well, since thin clients cannot be covered under SA).

• Liberalized roaming rights. Previously, Microsoft licenses didn't allow customers to access a specific virtual desktop from anything but their own Windows-licensed corporate PCs. The only way for a user to legally access her virtual desktop from a home PC was to buy a VECD license.

Now, under Client SA and the new VDA license, customers can access their virtual desktops and Microsoft Office applications hosted on Virtual Desktop Infrastructure technology from other, noncorporate computers.

--Tam Harbert

Bill Galinsky, senior vice president of global IT infrastructure at software vendor CA ­Technologies, started an internal desktop virtualization pilot project in January 2010. So far he has virtualized 500 desktops, and he expects to reach 2,000 of the company's 13,000 employees within a year.

When Galinsky started the pilot, he bought Microsoft's Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop licenses for the virtual desktops. But as of July 1, the VECD disappeared, and those rights are now included in the SA program, which for all practical purposes bases licensing on the number of users rather than pieces of hardware, he says. "In our case, our enterprise agreement works out to a ratio of around 1-to-1.27. So every employee can run 1.27 copies of the operating system and Microsoft Office."

Vince Kellen, CIO at the University of Kentucky, is also facing the pricing conundrum as he considers how to virtualize about 1,000 desktops on campus. "It's a challenge to get the software licensing that you want," he says. But in his case, Microsoft and other big software vendors aren't the problem. Kellen says he's covered under enterprisewide contracts geared toward academic institutions, "but as soon as we get into other software outside of our normal contracts, it can get more difficult."

With some of the university's smaller vendors, especially those selling niche academic and clinical applications and specialized math or statistical software packages, it's "a little harder to work through the contracting," Kellen says.

Over time, he hopes that software vendors can find a less expensive pricing model that is desktop-virtualization-friendly -- one that licenses concurrent users instead of specific named users, for instance. "This will be hard for smaller vendors, I think, as larger vendors have a broader portfolio of software products and perhaps business models, which will give them flexibility," Kellen adds.

The whole concept of software licensing is morph­ing as virtualization grows and consumer electronics invade corporate IT. "As corporate employees start using many different devices -- smartphones, laptops, iPads -- corporations are asking, 'How many licenses am I going to have to buy?'" says Buchholz.

Harbert is a Washington, D.C.-based writer specializing in technology, business and public policy. She can be contacted through her Web site, TamHarbert.com.

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