No SPLA license for Win 7 means DaaS providers can't provide desktops to small companies.

We briefly touched on the subject of "very small business" VDI during Brian & Gabe Live this past Tuesday with guest Cláudio Rodrigues. The topic came about based on an email that Cláudio sent my way that outlined a recent VDI deployment he did for a friend.

We briefly touched on the subject of "very small business" VDI during Brian & Gabe Live this past Tuesday with guest Cláudio Rodrigues. The topic came about based on an email that Cláudio sent my way that outlined a recent VDI deployment he did for a friend. This deployment was for three virtual machines, done on a single server with mirrored drives, with the VM's executing on an iSCSI NAS. The hypervisor is ESXi, and the VDI platform is XenDesktop Express, so the entire thing was done for less than $6,000, which may be Canadian dollars, but what's the difference anymore?

The first question we asked Cláudio was why didn't he use RDSH as opposed to VDI, and his answer made a lot of sense. With VDI, the users didn't have to worry about a server OS that is shared between them all, where one mistake could screw up the system for everyone. They're not IT people, they just want to access Windows from their iPads and remotely, and it made more sense to give them access to an OS that they were familiar with.

The next question we asked was why he didn't just point them to DaaS providers like tuCloud or Desktone or something. He responded with a few points, like that this way the customer owns the solution (which was important to them) and that the expense incurred wasn't that much greater than if they would've rolled any of their own IT otherwise (since XenDesktop and ESXi didn't add to the licensing costs). One reason that really stuck with me, though, was that the DaaS providers wouldn't touch them with less than 50 desktops. At first I thought, "Wow, too bad for them, they're missing out on business," but then I realized that this isn't their fault, really.

It's Microsoft's.

See, the DaaS providers are just as hamstrung by Microsoft licensing as we are, probably more. The reason for this is the lack of a Service Provider Licensing Agreement (SPLA) program for Windows 7. No SPLA license means that DaaS providers are governed by the same rules that regular people and organizations are. It means, in a nutshell, that each instance of Windows 7 must be dedicated to a specific company, and that the hardware the OS runs on must also be dedicated to a specific company. For most of us, this is no problem, but for DaaS solutions that require streamlining and optimization to make their business models work, this is a nightmare!

So what do DaaS providers do to work with, or around, the limitations? A few things, actually. The first thing they do is simply not use Windows 7 or VDI. Windows Server 2008 R2 is available under a SPLA license, which means that DaaS providers can use RDSH to provide their customers access to desktops with no restrictions about which company can use which hardware or OS instance. Now, the DaaS providers impose their own limitations for their own efficiencies, but Microsoft licensing stays out of the way.

But what about when RDSH won't cut it? When organizations need full-on VDI desktops, DaaS providers are left with no other recourse than to buy hardware that is dedicated to that organization and either purchase separate batches of Windows 7 licenses or require the customer to acquire the licenses with proper SA entitlements themselves. It's this ridiculousness, I believe, that causes DaaS providers using VDI to assign a minimum threshold for the amount of desktops they'll deliver.

The reason for this is all about numbers. If a provider's cost model is set at, say, 50 VMs per host, then they base their monthly price on that number. Say a system that supports those 50 users costs $10,000 (that's without Windows Licenses, I guess. Also, I'm making that number up for the sake of easy math), it's easy to divide that out and learn that, at $30/user/month, they'll make their money back in 6 months. Everything after that is gravy, for the most part. But what about the situation Cláudio outlined? Those crazy ass licensing restrictions are still in place, so to support three VMs, a DaaS provider would still have to buy dedicated hardware. So even if they spent $5,000 on a server to support just three desktops (again, making these numbers up), the per user cost is over $1,600! Three users at $30/month, it would take almost five years before the DaaS provider made any money.

So now there's a compelling reason for very small businesses to roll their own VDI solution: nobody else will do it for them. 

Think of how many very small businesses are out there. Thousands upon thousands, I'm sure. And the smaller the company is, the less IT experience the have. They'd love to be able to outsource this stuff, and I think that the DaaS providers would love to be able to provide them the service, but because Microsoft won't open a SPLA program, the business and the DaaS providers are left to fend for themselves. 

This is why we're trying so hard to learn how OnLive is working, because OnLive appears to be getting away with something that dozens of DaaS companies wish they could do. And it's even more frustrating that Microsoft won't explain or do anything to help.

DaaS providers are waiting (well, not OnLive, but something fishy is going on there) for this, and the day they get the green light to share hardware and OS images across their infrastructure, they'll begin offering faster, cheaper, and better DaaS solutions. It's just up to Microsoft to make that happen. In the meantime, it'll just be the same, confusing bullshit that we've been dealing with for years.

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" the users didn't have to worry about a server OS that is shared between them all, where one mistake could screw up the system for everyone."

Um, 1-1 RDS what's the issue?

"But what about when RDSH won't cut it?"

When won't it really cut it for 99.9% of SMB? App compat fixed a long time ago especially in 1-1 mode when all sharing issues go away. Is there a list somebody can point that shows apps that don't work on RDS still in 1-1 mode or even shared mode. If so send that list to @simoncrosby he would like to talk to you, I'm sure of it. You can virtualize each instance of 1-1 RDS use SPLA and off you go. Granted you will need to manage it with provisioning etc, but that's not rocket science if you really want to build a solution.

I doubt many who think they need a desktop OS actually need it.... and I doubt we will ever see Win client SPLA for the masses.


1:1 RDS does work for hosting providers indeed. For the small guy, like the one I delivered this quick project, Std 2008 R2 is 3-4 times more expensive than Windows 7. Sure you get RDS CAL perpertual and no need to pay VDA. So it probably takes several years (6+) for 1:1 RDS be more economical in this particular case. Again, small guy, not hosting provider.

For these, 100% agreed. 1:1 RDS can deliver pretty much the same as Win7. The only exception today is XA6.5 has no Aero support (even though 2008 R2 RDS over RDP does it) while XD5.5 does it (what this particular small customer likes). :-)



So cheaper for the small guy use case you are talking about to stay local which is exactly what MS prefers... Add to that "a better managed desktop" and the argument for remoting gets weaker for these guys.


This company, I think, would've been just fine with local, separate desktops, except that they wanted to access them remotely.

LogMeIn is ok in a pinch, but hardly good for day in and day out use. RDS requires the skillset to manage/maintain a server OS and worry about things like app compat, shared use of the same image, and all the stuff we've been dealing with for all these years that we take for granted.

1:1 VDI, on the other hand, doesn't require much more knowledge than what they had to begin with. Sure, they might need to call Cláudio to stand up another machine or something like that, but otherwise it's a familiar OS with an excellent, free, remoting protocol. They manage it the same way as they do any local desktop, but they also get to access it remotely.


@Gabe, @all Why not just use local/physical desktops and maybe something like Ericom's AccessNow HTML5 client to connect to remotely? Cheapest solution maybe too?


@Daniel, I'm sure you're right, but AccessNow is still a more limited experience (I'm not saying I don't like it, just that there are limitations in HTML5-land). It's not my client, so I'm not sure about their expectations.

The point of this article, though, is to point out that no SPLA means that it's not cost effective for DaaS providers to work with smaller companies. If those  companies really want VDI desktops, for whatever reason, they're forced to roll their own, which is crazy.


That is true - was off point... was thinking out of the box though ;)


With the right orchestration, automation and multi-tenant architecture, it is definitely possible and cost effective to deliver a desktop offering with full Windows 7 desktops for as low as 20 desktops.  (In fact, we have some customers as low as 10 desktops but with higher spec machines.)  It is a coordination game you have to play with automating tiers of server sizes to accommodate the SMB on the low end and the enterprise on the high end.

That said, the VDA/SA dedicated hardware requirement is slowing the market and painful at best, and ... well ... I better not offer what the worst is.  Suffice to say that it doesn't seem to be helping anyone - including MS.

It is important to note however, that you can still offer the 1:1 server based desktops under the same platform.  In fact, we have to do this ourselves sometimes when the customer requirement does not allow for Win client licensing - eg. ISVs and environments where the end point can not be controlled.  It is painful when the lack of a SPLA forces people into an OS that just doesn't make sense.


The discussion about this Win7 DaaS type of business MUST be elevated and must be yelled across the IT business. This has been a business killer for so many years now. Also I must say that MS has (from a northers part of Europe perspective) been successfully avoided this discussion or they are masters of turning the discussions about this into something else...everything to keep the truth under a lid :) We have been doing the DaaS for some time now and there is every time a discussion about this with the customer...and a debate...because MS has been confusing them with discussions about "if you buy Intune you get VDA license etcetc..." So every time we need to have this conversation with the customer because the "MS friendly network" (everybody??) has avoided the nasty truth about the Windows 7 license as cloud service.

I have also been trying to get some info on the upcoming versions (Win8)...if there will be some changes BUT I have not found anything yet...any of you guys?

It seems that the best way to do this as a cloud provider or DaaS provider is to "reverse" a bit to the earlier hosting days....Just buy 1 or 2 U servers and maximize them and install VDI-in-a-box. Then you have no problem with the Win 7 SPLA issue cause you have it running on the customers own hardware and is not on the shared infrastructure (because thats the problem....Windows 7 can not be run on a shared infrastructure/storage)


I, like many others before me, have been looking into the whole question of how to be compliant with MS licensing to deploy true (i.e. Windows 7) VDI in a hosts/cloud environment.  

So far it seems pretty cut and dry that client owned SA subscription licenses (with local desktops/laptops for access) or client owned VDA licenses (with any other access device) are the only way to go.  

What isn't clear, is where exactly the hardware restriction (i.e. dedicated hardware for each client) comes from.  

Sure I've read Joe Matz's blog -

Which lead me onto the SPUR agreement, VDA information pages and ultimately PUR agreement -

I haven't been able to find a clause or term in any of the license agreements that substantiate Matz's blog and the April FAQ's statements concerning isolating client hardware.  If anyone knows where the substantiating evidence is within the Ts&Cs, please let me know.  

The blog and an FAQ aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on – if this restriction doesn’t exist in the licensing terms, then it seems to me that the blog and the FAQ can be ignored.