Will Microsoft Windows 8 Software Assurance Fix VDI Licensing?

At MMS today Microsoft pulled back the curtain on Windows 8 Enterprise, offering the first hints on what it would be doing to improve the lot of enterprise IT as desktop virtualization goes mainstream and the consumerization of IT continues to rock the boat. Unfortunately the answer is, not a lot.

On the whole, Windows 8 Enterprise has some interesting features. DirectAccess will go a long way towards replacing VPNs by allowing remote users to seamlessly access resources behind the firewall, as well as extending the reach of enterprise IT to remote devices which until now have been difficult to maintain in compliance with patch management and software update policies. BranchCache, which will be available for use in conjunction with the newly named Windows Server 2012, does what the name suggests in providing a branch office cache for frequently downloaded files, hot fixes and software updates being ideal candidates here, to save having to pull them repeatedly across WAN links. Then there’s Windows To Go which provides a fully manageable Windows 8 desktop on a bootable USB flash drive, that Microsoft seems to think will be a boon to IT organizations looking to support the BYOD movement (it won’t help one bit, more on that later).  All good stuff, but hardly likely to cause a stampede away from Windows 7 for those who have only just got deployed it, and by no means enough to of an incentive to cause anyone still planning their migration to return to the drawing board.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t take the bold decision that I was hoping for and create a real incentive to Windows 8 adoption by cutting through the red tape and confusion of VDI licensing and including a Windows VDA license with every copy of Windows 8 sold. Instead of decisiveness and clarity, Microsoft has led with indecision and confusion. Windows 8 Software Assurance now comes with Windows To Go Use Rights, WindowsRT Virtual Desktop Access Rights, and Companion Device License, three new licensing structures to be tripped up on.

Windows To Go Use Rights according to Microsoft this will allow help companies to support BYOD scenarios, more accurately BYO-PC. Except that nobody is going to use it (again, more on that in a moment). The Windows To Go Use Right permits the use of a Windows 8 Enterprise device license (with Software Assurance, of course) to be used on an employees own PC (in the office, or at home). It is not yet clear if Microsoft’s largess extends to using this in conjunction with a Apple Mac or not, although I think Microsoft will have to acknowledge that to forbid booting a Mac using Windows To Go would be both pointless and unenforceable. What is clear though is that in many cases, this use right will be applied to devices already licensed for Windows 8 all Windows 8 Pro, giving Microsoft two bytes of the cherry.

Windows RT Virtual Desktop Access Rights henceforth to be known as Return of the Living VDA. For those who have not kept up with the latest news Windows RT was until a few days ago known as Windows on ARM or WOA. So Windows RT Virtual Desktop Access Rights is Windows VDA for ARM-based tablets.  This is is definitely worthwhile, and was something that I was hoping to see, but I can’t help but notice that this is Windows VDA for ARM-based tablets only; Microsoft did not announce a corresponding Windows VDA for Intel or AMD-based tablets. The meaning behind this is clear, this is Microsoft’s move to slow iPad adoption in the enterprise without sacrificing licensing revenue from Intel or AMD-based tablets.

The final part of the picture is the Companion Device License, this is an optional add-on license that’s grants users of  Software Assurance licensed PCs rights to access a corporate desktop either through VDI or Windows To Go on up to four personally owned devices. Microsoft has not yet announced a cost for the Companion Device License, but I would not be surprised if it doesn’t look remarkably similar to the $100 per annum VDA license subscription of today.

Most notably Microsoft has not included enterprise owned devices within the Companion Device License scheme.

When looked at together, Microsoft appears to have achieved the impossible, making licensing even less comprehensible than it was before. Key questions remain unanswered. The hot button topic of the lack of a SPLA for Windows 8 VDI environments remains in limbo. As does the fate of enterprise owned iOS or Android devices needing to access to a Windows 8 desktop – surely there must be a better way to get VDI on an iPad than to ensure that the iPad is employee owned?  If the Companion Device License is only for employee owned devices, how do I use PC in the hotel lobby. Does Microsoft have the technology to enforce these licensing policies? Will Microsoft employ a dedicated full-time auditor for each license sold?

There is some unhealthy schizophrenia in Microsoft regarding tablets,VDI and BYOD;  Microsoft believes that Windows To Go Use Rights will be of benefit in BYOD scenarios. But even the most cursory examination suggest that a BYOD solution that is based on a dual boot configuration is unlikely to gain widespread acceptance. Instead anyone looking to use BYOD will use a client hypervisor solution to run a personal and enterprise OS environments in parallel. At the same time it clearly likes promoting the benefits of its VDI technology

Enhancements in Microsoft RemoteFX and Windows Server 2012, provide users with a rich desktop experience with the ability to play 3D graphics, use USB peripherals and use touch-enabled devices across any type of network (LAN or WAN) for VDI scenarios. - Erwin Visser Senior Director, Microsoft Windows Commercial Business Group

Just not enough fix its licensing shortcomings.

Finally, Microsoft is implementing a licensing policy that favors WindowsRT over iOS and Android which makes sense, but it also favors ARM-based tablets over Intel and AMD powered tablets. The difficulties of balancing portability, processing power and battery life will limit tablets to secondary status in many enterprise settings, yet Microsoft appears to be licensing them as if they were primary devices. It is difficult to offer a meaningful explanation of this strategy, I can only hope that Microsoft follows previous practice of waiting for the shouts of outrage and fixing the most obvious flaws between now and the day Windows 8 launches.

Simon Bramfitt (118 Posts)

Simon is an independent industry analyst covering enterprise desktop, mobile and application virtualization, delivery and management technologies. He is an experienced solutions architect with unmatched insight into the challenges of designing large (200,000 seat plus) high availability presentation and desktop virtualization systems. Simon was invited to join the Citrix Technology Professionals (CTP) group in May 2010 and joined the Virtualization Practice in September 2010

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2 Responses to Will Microsoft Windows 8 Software Assurance Fix VDI Licensing?

  1. Andrew Wood
    April 22, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    I think there are two core issues that need to be addressed with Win8 vdi licensing.

    a) For VDI/Win8 instances to be given parity of licensing terms with RDS for service providers.

    b) to see portability between environments as a business enabler that enterprises make a strategic move on.

    Let’s park a for now. VDA licensing is geared at solutions where you have a (licensed) PC *or* A N Other device – quite likely a thin client (not running windows). This is the case for many instances for sure – but it there are growing environment where there is a desire to switch between devices depending on the user’s situation. I’m going to struggle to manage all of that nonsense.

    Companion license doesn’t work because for most enterprises, I don’t have a 1-1 ratio of devices to users – haven’t for years. Maybe the thought is this is geared at users with laptops – if they have a tablet quite often they can do away with the laptop and go and use a cheaper device. This is a *benefit* of VDI.

    Windows RT Virtual Desktop Access Rights won’t work because it limits business choices of devices. Businesses hate that.

    Windows To Go Use Rights will have some use in getting employees moved from Win7 to Win8. Then (as you say) no one will bother.

    Unless there are some significant cost differences the new licenses will struggle to be adopted. VDA is annoying but at least its readily applicable: it is rubbish in a consistent and reproducible. way

    A)would be the most straightforward – and could have its own edition – Windows 8 Hosted for instance and perhaps that edition doesn’t contain some of the features of pro to differentiate it.

  2. EricE
    September 24, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    Lack of a user instead of device oriented licensing solution is just going to motivate people to abandon MS solutions sooner. It’s always fun explaining to executives how Microsoft’s licensing complicates and pretty much levels a good portion of the value potential in BYOD. I dunno whether to chalk it up to hubris or ignorance, but with competitors like Google and Apple presenting the first viable alternatives to Windows for significant portions of enterprise users, the timing couldn’t be worse.

    Mind you, I’m not saying that people will abandon Microsoft overnight, but one only has to look at how quickly an entrenched player like RIM declined, when initially a new and potentially disruptive entrant didn’t appear to pose that big of a threat. By the time the thread was clear, it was too late – the market shifted. Now Microsoft is no RIM – I think they have far more depth than RIM, but they still aren’t invincible. The problem for MS is by the time it’s obvious they need to change, just like with RIM, it will be too late. MS needs the bold decision Simon referred to NOW, not after they’ve lost the momentum (ala the Zune or even Windows Mobile post iPhone/Windows CE).

    We’ve seen wholesale industry shifts before – mainframe to mini, mini to micro, micro to PC – and with cloud, mobile devices and other delivery technologies as was pointed out in a different blog post the shift is from managing traditional desktop devices to managing applications and data on a per user basis, with various delivery methods (VDI just being one of them and certainly not a magic bullet either). Microsoft’s current VDA licensing approach flies in the face of this inevitable trend, and their traditional desktop momentum will only carry them so far. Here’s to hoping they don’t continue to squander that momentum before they pass their own tipping point…

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