Microsoft Execs Defend VDI Price Hike For iPad, Android Tablets

Microsoft executives are defending the software giant’s new Windows 8 license requirement, which will raise prices for businesses whose employees use their personal iPads and Android tablets to access virtual corporate desktops.

"We want to be paid and monetized for our value-add," Jon Roskill, Microsoft's vice president of worldwide partner sales and marketing, told CRN in an interview earlier this week at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

Roskill said the new licensing terms which have drawn the ire of solution providers actually open the door for customers to run Windows applications on tablets like the iPad. ’This is a direct way to help actually solve that business problem,’ he said.

In 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. The CDL only applies to non-Windows tablets; organizations whose employees use personal Windows 8 tablets with VDI won't have to pay extra.

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The CDL is Microsoft's response to what it sees as a licensing revenue loophole: In its view, companies have not bought Windows licenses for the personal iPads and Androids their employees are using to access Windows through VDI today, but they are getting the productivity benefits of using Windows on these devices.

Ross Brown, vice president of solution partners and independent software vendors in Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group, said Microsoft's goal is to make VDI licensing as "clean and clear as possible" in Windows 8.

"When you look at the number of iPad devices in the enterprise that are basically accessing and running Windows 7, using and getting the value of the software, there wasn’t a monetization of that for us that was associated with those things," said Brown, who sits on Microsoft’s Commercial Licensing Council and provided input on the VDI licensing changes.

Microsoft has not yet said what it plans to charge for the CDL, but it is likely that customers who use iPads and Androids will see it as an unnecessary expense -- as well as an extra layer of complexity in an already mind-bogglingly complex licensing structure.

Partners say it will be difficult for Microsoft to verify whether customers are complying with the CDL, given the sheer volume of employee-owned iPads and Androids being used in VDI settings. Roskill said Microsoft will leave it up to customers to police their own CDL licensing compliance through the honor system.

"Our whole software licensing methodology is based on trust and will continue to be," Roskill said.

Some virtualization experts believe the CDL could put a dent in VDI business. At the very least, they said, it shows that Microsoft is out of touch with the bring-your-own device trend.

"Microsoft's CDL definitely will hurt VDI deployments, because the major reason for VDI is bring your own device," said Brad Maltz, chief technical officer at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider. "If you are going to limit what type of end devices people can bring due to licensing, that will slow VDI."

’Many organizations will pay it because they want to move forward with VDI," added Maltz. "But I expect that some will stay on Windows 7 for a while to see if they can get by with the licensing they have."

NEXT: Will Microsoft's VDI Changes Drive Windows 8 Tablet Sales?

Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization at Presidio Networked Solutions, Greenbelt, Md., said he thinks "organizations will be upset at Microsoft for stacking the deck financially" to favor Microsoft over iPads and Androids.

Although Microsoft has not yet revealed the cost of the CDL, Kaplan said that "given the benefits of no additional licensing required for companion devices running Windows, that will inevitably be a factor in choosing whether to utilize iPad, Android or Windows tablets."

Mike Hong, technology and business manager for Sound Microsystems, a Redmond, Wash.-based solution provider, says Microsoft is "shooting themselves in the foot" by restricting iPads and Androids using licensing tactics. "Trying to [implement restrictive terms] all by yourself never works for a manufacturer. It is the customer that decides what is better -- not the manufacturer. People are not going to buy this," Hong said.

However, as is often the case with Microsoft, some of the VDI changes it is introducing with Windows 8 are ones that will no doubt be positively received.

For example, Microsoft's current "Roaming Rights" for Software Assurance have been criticized for being overly restrictive because they don't apply to devices that a customer owns or controls, and can't be used on corporate networks, only public ones.

But with the CDL, and the Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) rights that Windows tablets will carry, these restrictions will disappear, which will pave the way for organizations to indulge their employees' bring-your-own-device whims. And this, at least, could represent a loosening of Microsoft's historically thorny desktop virtualization terms.

"Microsoft licensing for VDI still stinks, but the changes to roaming and VDI access for tablets, at least, are a significant step to sanity," said Paul DeGroot, principal analyst at Pica Communications, a Microsoft licensing consultancy in Camano Island, Wash.