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Microsoft's VDI deals make Windows Server cheapest desktop OS

Licences say hosts must tie virty desktops to dedicated SANs and servers

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Microsoft's licensing policies for virtual desktops (VDI) include two anomalies that make it cheaper to provide Windows Server to end users.

Those hoping to adopt desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) have problems because hosting companies cannot rent out Windows licences and must serve desktops from dedicated hardware.

Hosting companies The Reg has spoken to find this nonsensical, because the economics of hosting and managed services mean such service providers nearly always use multi-tenanted storage and hardware. The wonders of virtualisation make it easy to provision virtual machines to make this possible, while storage vendors pride themselves on the ability to provide large boxen that service providers can slice and dice as they see fit.

But that cuts no ice with Microsoft, which explained its DaaS licensing to The Reg as follows:

“The hosting hardware must be dedicated to, and for the benefit of the customer, and any hardware running an instance of Microsoft software (OS or application) must be dedicated to a single customer. For example, a SAN device that is not running any Microsoft software may be shared by more than one customer; whereas, a server or SAN device that runs Microsoft software may only be used by one customer.”

We asked Microsoft to explain just what that means in a highly-virtualised data centre and were told “Hosters need to ensure they isolate the hardware and other resources for each company. Any hardware running an instance of Microsoft software (OS or application) must be dedicated to a single customer.”

VMware, which recently launched its Hybrid Cloud Service and made DaaS one of its offerings, has told The Reg it is aware of Microsoft's policy and will comply with Microsoft's licensing regimes. Other hosts we've spoken to feel the policy makes it hard for them to offer DaaS, unless clients are willing to wear the cost of dedicated infrastructure.

One host said providing re-skinned Windows Server instances for DaaS clients is one way around this mess, because the dedicated hardware restriction does not apply to Windows Server.

The second odd policy, explained in the video below by Gartner analyst Gunnar Berger, hits VDI implementations inside the firewall. Berger explains users wishing to run virtual desktops must acquire a Windows licence for each end point device they use, even if that device is a PC that shipped with an OEM Windows licence.

But if users run Windows Server remotely they don't need an extra licence, and can consume Windows on the desktop for a smaller sum than is required to do so with Windows 7 or 8.

Watch Video

Berger thinks that if users knew they could run VDI at the same price required to run a conventional desktop, more users would do so.

“I believe the game changer in this industry happens when it is common knowledge that a virtual desktop is cheaper than a physical desktop,” he writes. “That’s what happened with servers, that hasn’t happened with desktops… at least not yet. To get there we need lots of vendors to work together to make this stuff more cost effective but one thing we really need is for Microsoft to get on board.”

Hosts and would-be DaaS users likely agree. ®

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