Microsoft hones Vista licensing for virtualisation

Microsoft has unveiled two licensing options for Windows Vista Enterprise targeted at helping large companies centralise their desktop management.

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Microsoft has unveiled two licensing options for Windows Vista Enterprise targeted at helping large companies centralise their desktop management.

The options, which are only available to users with Software Assurance contracts, include support for diskless PCs and the ability to run Vista within virtual machines on server hardware.

Microsoft says the licensing options at this time are likely to appeal only to very large IT shops and admits that the deployment options are for early adopters. The company hopes to use the next 18 to 24 months to gather feedback and tune the options, says a Microsoft spokeswoman.

The two options are: the right to use Windows Vista Enterprise on diskless PCs; and Windows Vista Enterprise Centralised Desktops (VECD), a subscription license to use Windows in virtual machines centralised on server hardware.

A company statement calls the deployment scenarios, "nascent technologies and new architectures" and acknowledges that "only a select few customers are planning to broadly implement these centralised desktop models today."

But the options seem to be a setup for the future to align licensing and new virtualisation technologies that are central to Microsoft's emerging management platform as laid out last week at its annual Management Summit.

Later this year, the company will release System Centre Virtual Machine Manager, which helps increase physical server utilisation, and centralise management and provisioning of virtual machines. In addition, Microsoft plans to release in mid-2008 its hypervisor technology, code-named Viridian, which will run on the forthcoming Windows Longhorn Server. Longhorn includes a feature called the Terminal Services Gateway that will let users remotely access both their Terminal Services and VECD desktops.

"This seems to be preparation for impending wave of desktop virtualisation," says Andi Mann, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. "Our research shows this as a rapidly growing area of virtualisation -- with a predicted growth rate higher than server, application, or operating system virtualisation."

VECD is similar to Terminal Services, but Microsoft says the latter, well-established technology is a better choice for most users.

But VECD with PCs is being pushed as an option that allows local and offline use of productivity applications, such as Office, while providing centralisation for line-of-business applications.

VECD also provides options not available in Terminal Services, such as allowing a developer to run as an administrator, according to Microsoft officials. A company spokeswoman also says VECD has better application compatibility.

To support the use of the VECD option, Microsoft outlined integration with Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 and Microsoft SoftGrid application virtualisation technology, most notably its dynamic application provisioning capabilities.

The company says those capabilities combined with policy-based management reduces the number of operating system images needed for VECD and diskless PC deployment because applications can be installed in real-time into images without needing to be preconfigured for individual users.

Microsoft defines a diskless PC as a computer without a hard drive that can run Windows but does not store Windows or data locally. Microsoft said the diskless option lets users move Windows data and applications to centralised storage hardware but maintain local computing characteristics of a PC.

The company envisions two usage scenarios: Each employee's hard drive is stored individually on centralised storage hardware or shared images are used by a group of users.

The rights to use Windows Vista Enterprise on diskless PCs are available immediately, as part of the "Product Use Rights" quarterly updates to Software Assurance. VECD is available upon request and will become a part of the Product Use Rights.

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