How do you license software on virtual desktops?

Good question; Microsoft can't tell you, either

As if when, how and why to add virtualized desktops to your mix of end-user compute options isn't already complicated enough, now it turns out even one of the vendors pushing hardest on the technology can't give a consistent answer on how users should pay for it.

Computerworld has a story listing examples of pretty appallingly baldfaced examples of Microsoft failing customers who were migrating to or adding virtual desktops, usually with help from Microsoft itself.

One customer of IT services company Dataprise tried to virtualize 700 desktops but, despite an enterprise licensing agreement with Microsoft, neither Dataprise nor the customer could get a straight answer about what was or wasn't covered in virtual environments rather than the traditional kind.

Last year CA Technologies built 500 virtual desktops, with plans to expand to 2,000 and, in January, bought a special enterprise license called the Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) to cover it.

"...As of July 1, the VECD licenses disappeared, and those rights are now included in the SA program, which for all practical purposes bases licensing on the number of users rather than pieces of hardware, [the project manager] says. "In our case, our enterprise agreement works out to a ratio of around 1-to-1.27. So every employee can run 1.27 copies of the operating system and Microsoft Office."

Nice.

Microsoft expanded its virtual licenses last year so end users could use the same instance on different devices. Citrix loosened its to attach to specific users, not just machines, but that penalizes companies that have several shifts of workers using the same machines.

It went back to concurrent-user licenses and added a per-device license to add more options.

Almost none of the big enterprise software vendors has cracked the problem of how to adapt licenses to accommodate the mix of devices, access methods and virtual environments end-user companies are adopting, according to Chris Wolf, infrastructure analyst at Gartner, Inc.

Microsoft is moving in that direction, but not quickly enough, Wolf said.

Because it's so ubiquitous and sells so many types of software, Microsoft's confusion over licensing causes problems for users more often than any other, but it still hasn't really addressed the question, let alone gotten it under control.

A lot of vendors wonder why end-user companies haven't adopted virtual desktops more quickly. Usually they blame confusion and slow payback.

Could it be, maybe, that it's not the users or their confusion that is at fault?

Could it be, maybe, that the vendors have refused to face the potential hit to their revenues – or simply a shift from one revenue line to another – that's holding up the works by adding a fatal level of complexity not in the technology, but something as foolish and fixable as the terms for payment.

"It's like the IRS tax code," Dave Buchholz, principal engineer at Intel's internal IT unit told Computerworld.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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