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.

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