Late last night, I got myself involved in a Twitter conversation with @stufox, who works for Microsoft in New Zealand. I’ve never met Stu – but I do follow him and generally find his tweets interesting; however, it seems that we don’t agree on Microsoft’s approach to licensing Windows for virtual desktop infrastructure.
It started off with an article by Paul Venezia about the perfect storm of bad news for VDI that Stu thought was unfairly critical of Microsoft (and I agree that it is in many ways). The real point that upset Stu is that the article refers to “Microsoft’s draconian licensing for Windows XP VDI” and I didn’t help things when I piled in and said that, “at least from a managed service perspective. Windows client licensing makes VDI prohibitively expensive“.
Twitter’s 140 character messages don’t help much when you get into an argument, so I said I’d respond on this blog today. Let me make one thing clear – I’m not getting into a flame war with Stu, nor am I going to disclose anything from our conversation that isn’t already on our Twitter streams, I just want to explain, publicly, what one of my colleagues has been struggling with and for which, so far at least, Microsoft has been unable to provide a satisfactory solution. Hopefully Stu, someone else at Microsoft, or someone else in the virtualisation world will have an answer – and we can all be happy:
- Microsoft SPLA does not have a provision for Windows client operating systems, leaving two options: Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) for Microsoft volume licensing customers who have Software Assurance (SA); or Full Packaged Product (FPP).
- VECD is applied to a physical device used by a customer. It includes the operating system license for that device and allows them to use a virtualised desktop (e.g. in a VDI scenario). So, if you provide a hosted VDI service, how can you buy VECD for a device over which you have no control (remember, Windows client licenses are tied to hardware)?
- Furthermore how do you transfer that license from customer to customer, e.g. if a customer leases a virtual desktop for a few months.
- FPP is the most expensive way to license Microsoft products – that’s why most enterprises use volume licensing (although many do not have SA).
Stu asked me if I thought Microsoft should give away Windows for free. Of course not, not for free (but then I remembered that, after all, that is what they do with Windows Server if I buy Datacenter Edition). I understand that Microsoft is in business to make money. I also understand that all of those copies of Windows used for VDI need to be licensed but there also needs to be a way to do it at a reasonable price (perhaps the price that OEMs would pay to deploy Windows on physical hardware).
Stu’s final (for now) public comment on the subject was that “Blaming VECD licensing for ruining VDI is like saying ‘I’d buy the Ferrari if the engine wasn’t so expensive’“. Sure, VDI is not a cheap option (so a supercar like a Ferrari is probably the right analogy). It requires a significant infrastructure investment and there are technical challenges to overcome (e.g. for multimedia support). In many cases, VDI may be more elegant and more manageable but it presents a higher risk and greater cost than a well-managed traditional desktop solution (many desktop deployments fail in the well-managed part of that). So, the real issue with VDI is not Windows licensing – but Windows Licensing is, nevertheless, one of the “engine” components that needs to be fixed before this metaphorical Ferrari becomes affordable. Particularly when organisations are used to running a fleet of mid-priced diesel saloons.
VDI is not a “silver bullet”. I believe that VDI is, and will continue to be, a niche technology (albeit a significant niche – in the way that thin client/server-based computing has been for the last decade). What I mean by this is that there will be a significant number of customers that deploy VDI, but there will be many more for whom it is not appropriate, regardless of the cost. For many, the traditional “thick” client, even on thinner hardware, and maybe even running virtualised on the desktop, will continue to be the norm for some time to come. But if Microsoft were to sort out their licensing model, then VDI might become a little more attractive for some of us. Let’s give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt here – maybe they are not sabotaging desktop virtualisation – but how, exactly, is a company supposed to license a hosted VDI solution with Windows?
Licensing does tend to follow technology and we’ve seen instances in the past where Microsoft’s virtualisation licensing policies have changed as a result of new technology that they have introduced. Perhaps when Windows Server 2008 R2 hits the streets and Remote Desktop Services allows provides a Microsoft product to act as a VDI broker, we’ll see some more sensible licensing policies for VDI with Windows…