Cloud News

Microsoft Licensing Change Triggers Hyper-Scale Feud

Joseph Tsidulko

Google Cloud President says the new restriction on transferring on-prem Windows and SQL Server licenses to single-tenant cloud services reminds of Microsoft's "greatest hits from the 90s". And Amazon's CTO calls it a bait-and-switch ‘to force MS use.’


A restriction Microsoft recently imposed on transferring on-premises software licenses to hyper-scale clouds has triggered harsh words from its two largest rivals and divided the opinions of partners along the lines of their preferred ecosystems.

Google Cloud President Rob Enslin on Wednesday afternoon tweeted: "Shelf-ware. Complex pricing. And now vendor lock-in" in response to an article on the licensing change. "Microsoft is taking its greatest hits from the '90s to the cloud."

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels on Monday described the move on Twitter as a bait-and-switch, going on to say it's "hard to trust a co. who raises prices, eliminates benefits, + restricts freedom of choice."

Vogels referenced previous policy changes "to force MS use" such as undoing the Bring Your Own License option for SQL server running on Amazon's managed RDS service and Windows upgrades on Amazon instances.

[Related: Microsoft Rescinds Decision To End Internal Use Rights]

Microsoft Azure is sandwiched between frontrunner AWS and third-place Google Cloud Platform in public cloud market share. Microsoft did not respond to a request to comment on its rivals' statements.

Sandy Carter, an Amazon Web Services vice president, elaborated on Vogel's theme in a blog posted on LinkedIn, a Microsoft property, that argued Microsoft's goal was "to try to awkwardly force you into Azure."

Microsoft announced the changes to its Bring Your Own License Policy on Aug. 1, claiming the advent of dedicated, single-tenant servers offered by major cloud providers "has blurred the line between traditional outsourcing and cloud services and has led to the use of on-premises licenses on cloud services."

The policy of transferring licenses from corporate data centers to hosting providers wasn't intended to apply to clouds, but, as cloud giants have introduced dedicated options, that's in effect what has happened.

Those dedicated services, according to Microsoft, have all the hallmarks of multi-tenant ones: elastic scaling, on-demand provisioning, pay-as-you-go billing. For that reason, the change was needed to impose "more consistent licensing terms across multitenant and dedicated hosted cloud services," the Microsoft announcement said.

On-prem licenses purchased from Microsoft after Oct. 1, with some nuanced exceptions, won't be transferable to a select group of cloud providers: Alibaba; Amazon (including VMware Cloud on AWS); Google; and Microsoft itself, which introduced in preview its own single-tenant service, Azure Dedicated Host, the same day as it revealed the policy change.

But Microsoft isn't exactly imposing parity on that field.

To migrate Windows Server and SQL Server from on-premises to Azure, customers can get a discount with the Azure Hybrid Benefit that dramatically reduces those licensing costs.

Carter, in her LinkedIn blog, took aim at the change in licensing benefits as a means of forcing lock-in and limiting choice.

"Microsoft is looking to restrict what computer you can use. And what cloud," Carter said. That move certainly seems "like they’ve been taken from the old guard software vendor playbook."

Carter went on to elaborate on the success Amazon has had in winning Microsoft workloads.

"AWS is the best cloud for running your Windows workloads and our experience running Windows applications has earned our customers’ trust," Carter wrote.

Carter noted that more than a decade ago—before Azure existed—Amazon made it possible to run Windows on its cloud. She then referenced an IDC study that concluded AWS hosts almost twice as many Windows server instances than Microsoft Azure.

Amazon has seen more than 400 percent growth over three years in customers running Windows Server. "We are seeing a trend of customers moving from Azure to AWS," she said.

"This isn’t the first time Microsoft has made 'subtle' changes to its licensing that are slowly chipping away at your options," Carter said, noting last year Microsoft removed the option of transferring SQL Server licenses for use with the Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS).

Ben Mead, cloud and infrastructure lead at Credera, a Dallas-based partner of Microsoft, AWS and Google, said there's a silver lining for all the feuding parties.

The change in licensing policy "absolutely creates additional cost and compliance overhead for migrating and maintaining IaaS workloads to competitive cloud providers in the near term," Mead said, wearing his AWS and GCP partner hat. But that might actually be a gift for "high-performing, forward-thinking IT organizations."

That's because Microsoft has made it easier for technology and finance leaders to justify the cost of transforming legacy applications and services rather than simply shifting those applications to the cloud, Mead said.

"AWS and GCP have an extraordinary opportunity to use this announcement to initiate meaningful transformation narratives with their customers, to drive more rapid and widescale adoption of native cloud capabilities, all while reducing their customer’s dependency on legacy platforms that bring with them innumerable security, compliance, performance, and availability risks," Mead said.

And from his perspective as a Microsoft partner, the new Azure Dedicated Host service has been a long time coming, Mead said.

That single-tenant option will enable more highly regulated entities to take full advantage of the scalability and flexibility of cloud while maintaining high data isolation controls necessary for sensitive workloads and protecting from the "noisy neighbor" challenge in commercial cloud services.

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