Microsoft Kills Off Unpopular Virtualization Policy

Starting July 1, Windows Client Software Assurance customers will no longer have to buy a separate license to access their Windows operating system in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environment, and virtual desktop access rights will be part of Software Assurance.

In the past, Microsoft required SA customers to pay an additional $23 per device annually for Windows Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD), a device-based subscription license that was required for customers that run Windows desktops virtually from a data center.

Dai Vu, director of Virtualization Solutions Marketing at Microsoft, says the step was taken to address the confusion and complexity of virtual environment licensing. "Customers feel that because they've already paid for SA, having to pay again [for VECD] doesn't make sense," Vu said in an interview.

Customers will no doubt be thrilled that Microsoft is removing VECD from its price list and including virtual desktop access rights in SA, which gives customers the right to upgrade to new software versions released during the term of the contract with Microsoft and to spread payments over a three-year period.

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However, VARs' enthusiasm has been tempered by the fact that Microsoft's SA requirement is still in place.

"I don't see it being that huge of a change," said Chris Ward, senior solutions architect at Greenpages, a solution provider in Kittery, Maine. "The reality is that the main issue with VECD was the fact that you had to purchase SA to begin with. Customers who do not have SA currently are in the same boat they are today."

About half of Microsoft's enterprise customers do not have SA on the desktop, so the change does them no good, notes Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions On Micosoft, Kirkland, Wash. However, he says getting rid of VECD is a positive move on Microsoft's part that will make things clearer for customers.

"It's good that they eliminated VECD because they were in one sense penalizing customers for using VDI," said DeGroot. "SA lets me run up to four virtual machines on my desktop. But if I wanted to run them over the network, I had to pay extra. So while I owned a virtualization right, if I exercised that right in a particular way, I paid extra."

Microsoft is also broadening roaming rights for Windows SA customers, allowing them to access virtualized Windows desktop and Microsoft Office applications when they're outside the corporate firewall. For $100 per device annually, customers can buy the new Virtual Desktop Access license (VDA) and use devices such as home PC and kiosks that aren't covered by SA.

While today's moves will help customers, solution providers say Microsoft's insistence on pushing SA is one of the biggest obstacles to adoption of its virtualization technologies. SA has long been a roadblock to Microsoft virtualization deals, and it's also required for Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), which includes desktop and application virtualization and a host of other tools.

Ward has seen customers walk away from virtualization deals over the SA requirement and he expects this to remain an issue.

"If I'm a customer who buys PCs from HP with the OEM license, then I must upgrade that OEM license to a full license and add SA to it. That is the bulk of the cost involved to these customers," said Ward. "Saving the additional $23 per device/per year [from VECD] will help a little, but the ROI is still way off in most cases."