Microsoft simplifies virtual Windows licensing

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

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

Virtualisation 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 had become an especially helpful technology as penny-pinching customers increasingly wanted to consolidate servers, or backup existing systems without investing in a host of new hardware research fellow with The Yankee Group, Laura DiDio, said.

Microsoft also would 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 was a savvy one, particularly because the vendor was under careful scrutiny for its licensing practices, she said.

The Linux community was quick to paint Microsoft Windows as an expensive proposition, and Microsoft had a well-deserved reputation for confusing licensing practices, one it had 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 virtualisation 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 per cent of Windows revenue and is heavily populated by Linux, DiDio said.

Vice-president of marketing for software company Surgient, Erik Josowitz, said the new licensing would 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'm running four, five or 10 virtual machines on it, I need to have Windows licensing for each one of those virtual machines," he said. "This new licensing plan means that that's no longer the case."

The new licensing also was beneficial to software development and testing environments, in which virtual machines were kept in stasis mode to utilise hardware assets for other tasks, and then activated again when they were needed, Josowitz said.

Microsoft's revising licensing means developers will no longer be paying fees for dormant virtual machines on a network.

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