Earlier this week, Mary Jo Foley reported that Microsoft is planning to create an option in Azure that lets customers run Windows 10 desktops. Confirming this in their updated Azure for Microsoft Software FAQ, Microsoft writes "We will also enable customers with Windows Enterprise per user to run Windows 10 Current branch for Business on Azure." Timing is listed as "soon."
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Previously Microsoft specifically called out Windows desktop VMs in Azure as not allowed unless you were running them solely for the purpose of testing applications. It’s hard to put into words how ridiculous this limitation is. But it’s in-line with everything Microsoft has been doing over the past few years to screw customers and the VDI industry in general. (Arcane rules about hosting, no SPLA for Windows desktops, etc.) This was the reason I quit the MVP program three-and-a-half years ago.
What’s most interesting is that the same FAQ from Microsoft states that Microsoft will also introduce a program to allow other cloud provides to participate in the benefit to allow Windows Desktop licenses to be used in the cloud. (Crazy that running a desktop with an SA license you’ve purchased in the cloud is something that falls into the “benefits” category.)
Earlier this week, I tweeted this could mean that Microsoft was getting ready to launch an Azure-based DaaS offering. This announcement is not about that (yet), but it does seem to suggest the pieces are in place for them to do so. After all, it would only be a small step to change the license so you can rent SA for Windows Desktop per user, per month, rather than buying a full SA period and then putting “your” license into their cloud.
Hopefully this will continue to remove some of the barriers to running Windows desktops in the cloud. Even with today’s “Bring your own License” model, cloud hosting providers have several restrictions on how customers must be segmented and what type of hardware can be used. In a world that’s moving towards “everything in the cloud” and “what exactly is ‘hardware’ anymore,” a change from Microsoft was inevitable.
Of course just being legally allowed to run a Windows Desktop in the cloud with your own license is still a far cry from “real” DaaS. For example, a real DaaS platform needs to include a connection broker, provisions for starting and stopping VMs, and it should hook into user on-boarding and off-boarding workflows. But again, this is a start. (I would imagine that would be something that other products or companies could automate? Maybe for $1 per user per month, someone else could handle all the glue needed to turn an Azure bucket-full-of-Windows-Desktop-VMs into a real DaaS offering?)
At this point I don’t even know if I want a DaaS offering from Microsoft. I get worked up about this not because I want it to exist in the world, but instead because I don’t want Microsoft’s licensing policies to make it not exist. The market should decide if a “real” Windows Desktop in the cloud offering makes sense, not Microsoft licensing policy. (Note that other DaaS providers offer a Windows Server desktop dressed up to look like a Windows client desktop—a distinction that doesn’t make sense. I mean if you can dress up a server to look just like a desktop, then why does Microsoft make providers jump through this hoop? Why not just allow the actual desktop to be hosted in the cloud?)
Unfortunately Microsoft still has a monopoly on the enterprise desktop, so really what we want as an industry doesn’t matter. They’re going to do whatever they want because they can, and we accept it because we have to. But hopefully this latest announcement is one step in the right direction of Microsoft Desktop licensing moving into a model that makes sense in today’s world.