Microsoft simplifies virtual Windows licensing

Microsoft Corp. on Monday is expected to simplify how it licenses Windows Server System, a move aimed at making it easier for customers to deploy software in networks where multiple virtual images of Windows are running, according to a company official.

The move is part of Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative, the company's plan to promote customer adoption of network virtualization technology, said Bob Kelly, general manager, infrastructure server and IT pro marketing for Microsoft.

Microsoft will no longer require a customer to pay for inactive or stored virtual images of Windows Server System on a network, he said. Windows Server System includes the Windows Server family, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), Systems Management Server (SMS) and a host of other server software that runs on Windows.

Instead, Microsoft will only charge for the virtual images of Windows Server System products actually running on a customer network, a change that will reduce the licensing fees a customer has to pay for running Windows software in a virtual environment, Kelly said.

Virtualization technology enables multiple images of an OS or other software to run in a virtual machine on a server with only one actual copy of the software deployed. It's become an especially helpful technology as penny-pinching customers increasingly want to consolidate servers, or backup existing systems without investing in a host of new hardware, said Laura DiDio, research fellow with The Yankee Group.

Microsoft also will allow customers to have four virtual machines running on top of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition and Windows Server "Longhorn" Datacenter Edition at no extra cost, Kelly said.

Windows Server 2003 R2 is expected to be released before the end of this year, and the Longhorn Datacenter Edition will be available when the Longhorn version of Windows Server ships, a move that is expected next year.

With software licensing already a complex maze for customers to navigate, Microsoft's move to simplify its licensing for Windows Server System is a savvy one, particularly because the vendor is under careful scrutiny for its licensing practices, she said.

The Linux community is quick to paint Microsoft Windows as an expensive proposition, and Microsoft has a well-deserved reputation for confusing licensing practices, one it has been trying to shed, DiDio said.

"Microsoft usually gets a black eye when it comes to software licensing," she said. "Now they are trying to be a white knight. They are being very customer-centric. This is a very straightforward, easy-to-understand pricing model."

As is always the case, Microsoft's moves are not purely altruistic, however. With the expanded virtualization use rights for future high-end versions of Windows Server, it appears Microsoft also is trying to retain and win more data-center customers, a market that accounts for only about 1 percent of Windows revenue and is heavily populated by Linux, DiDio said.

Erik Josowitz, vice president of marketing for Surgient Inc., an Austin, Texas-based software company that builds software on top of Microsoft Virtual Server, said the new licensing will be more cost-effective for customers that purchase Surgient's systems-management software on a hosted basis.

"Today if I have a server and I

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