Microsoft has both licensing and multi-tenancy restrictions that make hosting virtual desktops a cumbersome and potentially costly service for cloud providers to offer. Fortunately, a couple of work-arounds that can help ease the pain.
No SPLA for VDI in the Cloud
Microsoft hosting providers typically sign up for the SPLA program (Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement), but SPLA is not available for virtual desktops. Cloud providers consequently have two choices: they can either pay the annual $100 VDA license for their customers and hold the licensing for them, or customers can transfer their VDA licenses to the designated cloud provider. VDA is not required in the event that the customer is both running Microsoft Subscription Advantage and utilizes a Windows-based machine to access the virtual desktop.
In order to get around the onerous VDA licensing requirements, cloud providers can potentially utilize Windows Server OS as the client OS. Leostream takes this approach by leveraging the Microsoft Windows Server 2008 licensing agreement with Amazon to provide customers with Windows Servers that can be utilized as desktops.
No Multi-Tenancy for VDI in the Cloud
Micrsoft licensing prohibits two customers from sharing the same server resources when accessing hosted virtual desktops; cloud providers must dedicate a server for each individual VDI customer. This policy actually represents a huge concession on the part of Microsoft who, up until a few months ago, did not even permit shared storage. Still, the loss of server multi-tenancy can disrupt the cloud providers’ hosting models.
The multitenancy restriction can be overcome by purchasing very low-end, inexpensive servers and pulling them in and out of resource pools as required – but never having more than one customer on a given server. An automated ability both to monitor server usage and move the physical hosts in and out of resource pools as appropriate makes this cloud model more tenable.
SPLA for Microsoft Office
Cloud providers can offer Microsoft Office via SPLA at a cost which is reputed to be around $10/user per month (as a comparison, Office 360 starts at around $6.33/user per month). Without SPLA, cloud providers can still offer Microsoft Office on a purchase basis: either customers transfer their licenses to the cloud provider, or the cloud provider purchases the license on behalf of the customers.
How Does OnLive Do It?
OnLive recently introduced a free Microsoft Office application for the iPad including 2GB of storage which reportedly quickly jumped to the number one ranked free iPad application. The cost goes up to $9.99 per month for 50GB storage. Given that the cost for a VDA license alone from Microsoft is $100/year, and when factoring in the multi-tenancy restrictions, I am perplexed as to how OnLive (and another provider, CloudOn, with a similar offering) can do it.
Gabe Knuth speculates on BrianMadden.com that OnLive may be using dedicated hardware. It could, for example use many individual blade servers that then host only one OnLive desktop session at a time. But even in this case, both Windows and MS Office licensing is still required. I am baffled.
Understanding more about Desktop Virtualisation–VDI and RHSD and how to license it. 02/12/12. David Overeton. davidoverton.com
OnLive’s train wreck: Office on the iPad. 02/07/12. Galen Gruman. InfoWorld
OnLive loose ends: Are they using VMware? Dedicated Hardware? Custom Licensing? Plus, are they on Microsoft’s Acquisition Radar? 02/03/12. Gabe Knuth. BrianMadden.com
Are single user Terminal Server VMs running on Windows Datacenter a loophole for VDI without SA? 11/07/11. Brian Madden. BrianMadden.com
Microsoft Virtual Desktop Licensing Guide. July 2011. SearchVirtualDesktop.com
Microsoft Desktop Virtualization: Frequently Asked Questions. March 2011. Microsoft Web Site
Why Microsoft Hates VDI. 03/02/11. Brian Madden. Brianmadden.com