Microsoft’s virtual desktop licensing and the de facto user base

I once worked with a guy who had started about a year before I did, but it wasn’t until he quit (after another five or six years) that they finally had to retire his password, which was NEWGUY. We’ve come a long way in terms of welcoming new employees since then, but I never thought Microsoft’s virtualization strategy would be one of them.

And yet, if you take a closer look at the changes the company made to its Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) licensing on Wednesday, you’ll see a change in how we think about what constitutes an “employee,” or even a “partner.” The licensing changes mean that a virtualized PC need not only run on desktops actually owned and run on site by the enterprise customer in question. You could be an employee working at home, or a contractor or partner working for a company and still have the ability to run the corporate desktop image on a virtual machine in your own PC. The company also announced App-V 4.5, which was formerly its SoftGrid application virtualization technology.

This may sound like an idea ahead of its time, at least initially. Only a small group of early adopters are really virtualizing their desktops to begin with. How many of them are really ready to open the floodgates to teleworkers or third parties with whom they have only a short-term relationship?

Then again, there are still a lot of business processes which have migrated from paper to electronic form, but that doesn’t mean they are all accessible through a browser, which may be the only way employees and/or partners can work off site today. Virtual PC images may represent, in a way, a different phase of globalization, where companies cannot only operate across great geographic distances, but across the traditional boundaries of employment as well.

The potential spread of virtual corporate desktop images also means that technology professionals have to approach IT asset management a little differently. The level of automation means that parts of tracking what belongs the company might be a little bit easier. But in the long term I can foresee cost-cutting companies decide that it’s cheaper to put a virtual machine image on an employee’s personal device rather than procure and maintain hardware themselves.

IT departments who experiment with Microsoft’s new VECD licensing will find themselves suddenly in charge of a de facto user base – a group that may or may not be trained in IT usage policies, or may be more likely to ignore them when using their own devices off site and/or off-hours. It could be that contractors or partners will require a different image than what would be offered an employee, though if there’s a huge difference you have to wonder whether there’s any real benefit to providing the virtual machine image in the first place.

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