Microsoft’s new Client Access License snubs desktop virtualization

A change to the Microsoft Client Access License (CAL) bundle is a rare event – the last time it happened was about 10 years ago; so any change to the CAL bundle has to be seen as a significant indicator of Microsoft’s core values. Or so you would think.  Assuming that is right, last week’s announcement at the Microsoft Management Summit of  changes to the Core and Enterprise CAL bundles need careful analysis. Changes to the CAL are a strategic driver towards new product adoption and represents a clear indication of Microsoft’s long-term goals and aspirations. With that in mind we can infer from this latest change how Microsoft views desktop virtualization.

What then are the changes  that were announced last week? Currently the Core CAL (list price $80)  provides client-access rights for Windows Server, SharePoint, Exchange and System Center Configuration Manager  (SCCM).  After the change the Core CAL will be extended to include Forefront Endpoint Protection, and Lync,  which will be dropped from the Enterprise CAL.   At the same time, the Core CAL price will increase to $89 per user and the Enterprise CAL price will drop from $94 to $86 per user.  The combine CAL and Enterprise CAL (the ECAL Suite) will remain at $175 per user. The message here is clear, Microsoft is encouraging the adoption of Lync to replace Office Communications Server as a an all-in-one business instant-messaging, audio/video conferencing and VOIP system, and pushing Forefront Endpoint Protection as the successor to Forefront Client Security.

There is clearly no love for desktop virtualization here. A year after Microsoft announced changes to its licensing rules for virtual desktops, it has still failed to make any progress towards establishing a desktop virtualization licensing policy that takes any meaningful steps towards encouraging its adoption. Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is effectively dead in the water due to Microsoft’s unwillingness to allow DaaS  service providers the same flexibility of license assignment that it offers PC equipment rental service providers (Microsoft explicitly forbids rental of desktop licenses in a virtual environments while explicitly supporting PC rental  through a dedicated licensing program).  At the same time, enterprise organizations wishing to adopt desktop virtualization continue to face the unappreciated Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) ‘tax’, which superseded the actively disliked, some would say hated, Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) license.

Microsoft is all too  aware that it’s licensing rules are not conducive to adoption of DaaS and desktop virtualization in general, and has in the past chosen not to address this failing beyond making the smallest cosmetic changes to its licensing programs. An update to the Core CAL, or perhaps more realistically the Enterprise CAL, to directly support  desktop virtualization would have been a clear signal  that Microsoft was finally ready to grant desktop virtualization equal status with its other core technologies. alas, once again, Microsoft has fumbled, and continues to  limit desktop virtualization adoption to the small percentage of organizations who are ready to acknowledge the strategic opportunity that it presents regardless of the increased licensing outlay.