Microsoft Partners Bracing For Windows 8 VDI Licensing Backlash

new license requirement in Windows 8

With Windows 8, Microsoft is adding a new Software Assurance option called a Companion Device License (CDL), which gives customers the right to access corporate desktops through virtual desktop infrastructure on up to four personally owned devices. SA customers who use iPads and Androids to access VDI will need to buy the CDL, but customers using tablets running Windows RT, the version designed for ARM processors, will not.

Microsoft partners who have longed for the company to adopt simpler VDI licensing terms say this latest wrinkle has ominous implications.

"There is going to be a very large uproar from corporate customers," said Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider. "You have companies out there that already have invested millions in iPads and other tablets, and now they’re going to have to pay more to access virtual Windows desktops."

[Related: Microsoft Looks To Stall iPad With New Windows 8 VDI License ]

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When used as a companion of a Windows Software Assurance licensed PC, Windows RT tablets will be covered under extended Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) rights, which means they'll have access to a full VDI image running in the datacenter, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft has not yet said what it plans to charge for the CDL, but even longtime partners acknowledge that customers are going to see it as an unnecessary expense.

"This just seems like a stealthy way to increase companies' SA costs," said one Microsoft partner with nationwide coverage, who requested anonymity to protect his relationship with the vendor.

That said, the CDL actually clarifies Microsoft's historically murky stance on using personal devices -- such as home PCs -- to access corporate virtual desktops. Microsoft's existing SA "Roaming Rights" are nominally designed to cover this use case, but they don't apply to devices that a customer owns or controls, and they can't be used on corporate networks.

According to a Microsoft customer FAQ, Roaming Rights can only be used on a "device that is not controlled, directly or indirectly, by you or your affiliates (e.g., a third party's public kiosk)."

The CDL, and Microsoft's VDA coverage for Windows RT tablets, appear to remove the distinction between personal and corporate-owned devices -- as well as where they are used.

Partners say this will clarify licensing in bring-your-own-device scenarios, but they aren't expecting that customers will rush to comply with the new rules -- mainly because Microsoft will have a tough time enforcing them.

"There is absolutely no way that Microsoft can view, much less enforce, the compliance of this, so I simply see organizations ignoring it for the most part," said Chris Ward, vice president of consulting and integration at Greenpages, a Kittery, Maine-based solution provider. "Sure, they’ll buy a few CDL licenses, but how is a company supposed to know and track every potential personal device that their employees have?"