A couple of months ago, my talented colleague Falko Gräfe from Login Consultants Germany (and App-V MVP) did a presentation about MS VDI licensing. I was truly perplexed. Being a regular to BrianMadden.com, I already knew VDI licensing from a Microsoft point of view was broken. The VDI industry ‘fixed’ typical VDI adoption bottlenecks like storage, manageability and high-end graphics over the past few years—slowly but steadily improving the VDI business case. However, as Brian pointed out in this article (and even quitting the MVP program out of protest), I simply did not realize how backward Microsoft VDI licensing is. Falko’s presentation made me realize that every single organization that is serious about VDI is either (1) totally not compliant with Microsoft licensing or (2) spending beyond reasonable amounts of money to comply with the latest licensing changes.
After a few conversations about how amazingly complex the situation is, I suggested to Falko that he writes a white paper complete with costs. He did, and todayFalko’s masterpiece is available!
"Decoding the Microsoft VDI Licensing Arcanum" is a fantastic title in my humble opinion. At first, I also did not understand that ‘Arcanum’ is Latin for ‘secret’. But that is exactly how this papers content resonates with me. Your brain will hurt reading it, but it is a fascinating and eye-opening exploration of MS VDI licensing. And it does not stop there, Falko also covers the beautifully elegant, simple and cheap ‘SBC’ licensing. Going even one step further, MS VDI licensing is compared with what we like to call a ‘single user terminal server’ licensing strategy. This strategy is not very common, but is getting traction with some DaaS providers. The white paper goes into detail, but in short it is much less expensive to deploy single instances of Windows Server to individual users than it is to properly license VDI. We think this is a serious option for everyone considering VDI, not just DaaS providers. I really hope vendors will purposefully support this VDI scenario in their product, because it can surely boost general VDI adoption.
This is the management summary:
"Microsoft changed their VDI licensing regime many times in the last five years. They implicitly prohibited using standard Windows licensing for hosted desktops with the introduction of VECD licensing in 2008. Initially it was an add-on subscription (with costs) for Windows Software Assurance customers only. Microsoft then declared the VDA Use Right middle 2010, made it available as a free benefit for Win+SA customers and offered it as a leasable subscription licenses for Non-Win+SA devices. In April 2012 Microsoft established the new Companion Device Subscription License (CSL). Finally, the VDI Standard/Premium Suite licensing are discontinued.
This CSL addresses the use of a virtual Windows desktop also from secondary devices, namely for using personal devices in the internal network. This scenario is becoming rather typical nowadays, as more and more users use their own devices to access the corporate virtual desktop. The impact of CSL on complexity and costs is huge and should not be underestimated. The reality today is that it is practically impossible for organizations being serious about VDI (and consumerization of IT) to be compliant with Microsoft VDI licensing.
At this moment Microsoft VDI licensing remains in stark contrast to the simplicity and much lower cost of Hosted Shared Desktop licensing (also known as Terminal Server or Server Based Computing).
With CSL, Microsoft now distinguishes between several criteria that need to be COMBINED to determine the right type of license or license addition. Current criteria are:
- Accessed Operating System: Is the accessing device connecting to a Desktop or Server operating system?
- Device usage: Is the accessing device the primary or a secondary device?
- Ownership condition: Is the accessing device owned by the company or by the user (Bring-your-own)?
- Logical location: Is the accessing device located inside or outside the corporate network?
- Architecture: Is the accessing device based on an Intel x86 CPU architecture (32 and 64 bit), or is it based on other architectures like ARM?
- Installed Operating System: Is the accessing device running a ‘normal’ version of Windows, is it running Windows RT or another operating system?
As a result of these developments, only providing the right to access hosted VDI desktops can cause costs of about 1.200 $ per user during a six-year period. For example, when thin-clients are used and access from personal devices like an iPad is allowed.
In contrast, licensing access to Hosted Shared Desktops essentially only requires one simple decision (choose between ‘per device’ or ‘per user’ licensing) and costs less than 300 $ per user during the same six-year period.
Remarkably, customers, DaaS providers, the VDI industry in general and its resellers should be aware that - as an alternative - a scenario of dedicating an entire Remote Desktop virtual server to just one single user is cheaper than most VDI scenarios and gives users the same benefits, namely having their ‘own’ Desktop VM where they can do what they want. This ‘single user terminal server’ scenario is – with about $475 per user (6 years) not only 60% cheaper, but less complicated and legally more safe than standard MS VDI licensing."
If you truly want to understand how Microsoft VDI licensing works, and how the numbers add up when interesting scenarios are compared, download and start reading ‘Decoding Microsoft VDI Licensing Arcanum’ (free, registration required).