Yesterday was a huge day for desktop virtualization. Microsoft shared it's vision for the virtual desktop, corrected its past mistakes, and showed off its bright new future.
Right from the start Microsoft showed that it had been listening to its customers’ feedback. As of July 1st Microsoft is rolling Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) into the Windows Software Assurance (Windows SA) program. This means that anyone with Software Assurance can deploy desktops locally or in the data center at no additional cost. At the same time Microsoft is extending the remote access rights so that remote isn’t tethered to a single PC in the primary users’ home. This awareness of the fact that users want flexibility around when and where they work is the key element that has been missing from Microsoft’s virtualization strategy since day one.
If this wasn’t enough, Microsoft is introducing a new desktop virtualization license called Windows Virtual Desktop Access (Windows VDA) costing $100 per year per device and aimed at organizations who are using endpoints that do not have a Windows SA license – Contractors PCs, devices that are do not run Windows (e.g., thin-clients, smart phones and Apple Macs) and yes, PCs with OEM licenses. Hang-on, isn’t that just the same as the old non-SA VECD license? More or less, yes; it’s certainly cheaper, although at $100 per year not by much. What’s more important is that Windows VDA is now a first-class citizen in the Microsoft licensing hierarchy with all the benefits of Software Assurance (e.g., 24x7 support, upgrade/downgrade rights), and as a desktop virtualization license it gets the same extended roaming rights offered to the a full member of the SA club.
While dropping the VECD tax will draw the headlines, it’s that second change from offering remote access from a single home PC to offering extended roaming rights from any non-corporate endpoint that is the more far reaching change. Aside from the flexibility this change offers the thing that I think is most important is that this is Microsoft’s first step to user based licensing of the desktop operating system. One OS license, one user, and as many (remote) desktops are you want.
Admittedly there are still a few kinks to iron out with the VDA licensing model. Most notably there is a problem with the way that Microsoft handles the difference between “corporate” and “non- corporate” devices. Microsoft defines a corporate device as one that was bought by the organization. Any non-SA eligible endpoint owned by the organization that needs to access a virtual desktop must have its own Windows VDA license. Which, kind of makes sense until you start to move away from desktop devices and down to smart phones; at which point it gets ugly fast. This isn’t anything to do with functionality; you can do a lot with the right smart phone today. It’s more a matter of the intersection of policy and accounting.
Looked at from a personal perspective, my iPhone is MY iPhone (it’s non-corporate), but my colleague's Blackberry was bought by Gartner (it’s corporate). They both do the same job more or less; I get better apps, he can type faster. But when we look at using them for remote access it gets very messy. I will be able to take advantage of my laptop's Windows SA license to access my desktop virtualization from my non-corporate device, but my colleague can’t use 'his' Blackberry to access that same environment, without an additional VDA license. Of course we could avoid this by giving him $100 and telling him to go and buy his own phone but that’s not the point is it? Still, with a couple of months to go before the July 1st launch it’s possible that we will see further changes to address this flaw.
Microsoft is also looking at extending this roaming usage rights policy to MS Office. This is huge and in more ways than one. Microsoft has been very slow to act to do anything to acknowledge that its applications will be deployed on desktop virtualization platforms. By acknowledging this, Microsoft would be taking a big step to address concerns about the current lack of support by application vendors for desktop virtualization. If Microsoft licenses Office so that its licensing terms match those used in a desktop virtualization environment, we can reasonably assume that formal support will also be offered, and where Microsoft leads others will follow.