OPINION: Virtualization licensing could be simpler

Microsoft Canada Co. and Citrix Systems Inc. held a round table discussion recently, the object being to jointly tout their partnership in the virtualization market. Since virtualization has been pinning the hype meter for two years now, finding a new angle to pitch isn’t easy. This presentation didn’t seem aimed at providing one, either. It simply cemented the message that Citrix and Microsoft have been working together to fashion complementary offerings to address your virtualization needs.

(There was a Pythonesque moment before the presentation as I was introduced to David Wright, area vice-president for Citrix in Canada, and David Cooper, the company’s sales engineering manager. Having reached a critical mass of Davids, Microsoft Canada’s virtualization lead, an Australian, introduced himself and, a la Michael Baldwin, apologized for the confusion. His name? Bruce Cowper.)

Citrix and Microsoft have been working together since 1995, but the release of Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor upped the compatibility ante considerably. As Cowper put it, the aim is desktop-to-data-centre virtualization.

One virtue of virtualization is that it can help manage software licensing. But, of course, Microsoft and Citrix virtualization offerings have to be licensed, too. One slide in the team’s PowerPoint deck illustrated how, lincensing-wise, Citrix’s Xen Desktop software sits comfortably atop Microsoft’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, which, in turn, rests on the Windows Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop.

Therein lies the first instance of licensing confusion: While Citrix prefers to license by the user, Microsoft’s VDI is licensed on a per-device basis.

The per-user scheme fits recent trends in enterprise computing: increasing mobility, a work-anywhere philosophy, the bring-your-own-computer model that allows end users more control over the device they choose to work on. “The hardware has no identity,” according to Cooper, in a virtual desktop environment.”It’s much easier to make the application follow the user” from device to device and manage, say, 200 instances of an application rather than 700 licences to accommodate all the users’ touchpoints.

So why Microsoft’s per-device model? Cowper says customer feedback is that that model is easier, particularly in a shared-machine environment, say, a manufacturing floor, call centre or student lab.

There’s an argument to be made for either, but conflicting licensing regimens simply don’t simplify.

But perhaps the real problem is the number a layers of licensing. Hyper-V’s biggest selling point on its launch was that it was included at no extra charge with Windows Server 2008. Successive layers of infrastructure and management slathered on top offset that advantage, confuse the needs analysis and cloud licensing issues.

Something should be squeezed out of the middle of the stack — perhaps into the VECD layer — to simplify matters for IT decision-makers.

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