Microsoft targets iPad, Android users with tablet virtualization license fee

VDI licensing gets a lot more confusing as Microsoft attempts to stall the tablet market until Windows RT is ready

Modern tablets have seen tremendous growth in both the consumer and enterprise markets, and many analysts estimate that the tablet will one day outperform the PC market as a whole. It therefore makes sense that Microsoft is now ready to stake its claim in the tablet market with the coming release of the Windows 8 operating system and Windows RT tablets (based on chips designed by ARM) expected to arrive sometime this year.

With Microsoft jumping into the modern tablet market, a new licensing change comes along. In a move described by some as Microsoft's attempt to slow down Apple iPad adoption by enterprise consumers, the company is creating yet another add-on licensing fee for Windows, which this time is being imposed on tablet devices running virtualization programs to access Windows applications across corporate servers.

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Today, desktop virtualization is one technolog continuing to expand and grow in market share. One of the catalysts for this growth in the desktop virtualization market has been the introduction of the Apple iPad, and companies like Citrix, Red Hat, Virtual Bridges, and VMware have made great use of these modern tablets to help increase an organization's desire for VDI technologies. Most Windows shops leveraging desktop virtualization are doing so by purchasing something called Software Assurance (SA) from Microsoft. SA provides businesses the right to operate multiple virtual machines on their desktops and to access remote virtual machines.

Microsoft's latest addition to the Windows 8 licensing world is known as a Companion Device License (CDL). The CDL is for Microsoft customers who want to provide full flexibility for how employees access their corporate desktops across various devices. For users of Windows Software Assurance-licensed PCs, this optional add-on will provide rights to access a corporate desktop (either locally in a VM or remotely via VDI) on up to four personally owned devices. But this new add-on fee is raising eyebrows. What's already considered by many as a complicated licensing process, just got more complicated.

According to virtualization experts, the CDL may solve a licensing problem for Microsoft that a lot of people didn't even know existed. Under the current VDI licensing terms, organizations that use devices not covered by Software Assurance (such as iPads, Android-based tablets, thin client devices, and employee-owned PCs) must also buy the Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license subscription, which costs an additional $100 per device annually.

Here's where the complicated grows ever more complicated.

For users whose PCs have Software Assurance on Windows, Microsoft offers what it calls "roaming rights." Roaming rights are supposed to provide users with access to a virtual desktop infrastructure from another device, but it evidently comes with weird restrictions that you may not have understood. Though designed for what was thought to be the VDI use case for the mobile worker working remotely, SA roaming rights do not cover devices that a user owns or controls, such as a home PC. According to a Microsoft customer FAQ, roaming rights can only be used on a "device that is not controlled, directly or indirectly, by you or your affiliates (e.g., a third party's public kiosk)." Going further, the device can't run on the licensee's network. That means the SA roaming rights only permit access from an untrusted device across an insecure network. Honestly, how many administrators find that to be an appealing scenario?

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