How to justify the business case for virtual desktop infrastructure licensing

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology can cut energy bills, increase business agility and improve mobile working flexibility. But licensing cost and complexity can wipe off the financial savings of VDI deployment. Jenny Williams explores the labyrinth of VDI licensing.


Baffling licensing complexity in virtualised desktop technologies

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology can cut energy bills, increase business agility and improve mobile working flexibility. But licensing cost and complexity can wipe off the financial savings of a virtual desktop deployment.

A recent Ovum CIO survey found simplifying the management of desktops to reduce costs and provide business agility were the two main reasons for implementing desktop virtualisation.

David Roberts, executive director at the Corporate IT Forum (TIF), says the organisation has received complaints that virtualisation makes licensing significantly more complicated, with others experiencing increased licensing costs.

Recent user comments from TIF's Virtual Licence Management Workshop included: "We are living in a virtualised world where keeping on top of the necessary licensing is creating confusion as vendors try to get their licensing rules to keep pace with the technology."

"There is no homogeneous approach to licensing around the world," said one user. Another said: "Sometimes it seems as if the market likes the complexity so it can baffle organisations."

Analyst research shows desktop virtualisation is a particular headache for CIOs due to licensing terms.

Analyst firm, Forrester, surveyed 150 clients on 15 controversial software licensing policies. Forrester's report states: "Our Q1 2011 Global Unfair Licensing Policies Online Survey revealed a high level of unhappiness among buyers we surveyed."


Complaints over pricing of virtual desktop licensing

In particular, 91% complained about maintenance pricing: "Customers cannot get a pro-rata cut in their maintenance by waiving licences that they no longer need. Instead, the licensor recalculates the ongoing maintenance based on list price, less a much lower discount than the customer originally received," said Forrester.

Ian Moulster, product manager for desktop virtualisation at Microsoft, admits its virtual desktop access (VDA) licence can cost organisations more money - and justifying the cost is a decision companies have to make based on the benefits desktop virtualisation can provide.

"Typically VDI isn't a cost saver. It can cost as much as Windows," he says.

Moulster says the reason for the different licences is due to the different set of requirements between running a desktop on server and on a PC. Windows 7 bought on PCs can't simply be moved to a server but it can be accessed via thin-client devices.


Different ways - and costs - of delivering virtualised desktops

Moulster says VDI can offer other benefits such as flexibility, mobile working and known data location. He adds that there are other ways to deliver a desktop that costs less, such as using Microsoft's Terminal Services or Windows Server 2008 R2's Remote Desktop Services (RDS).

RDS is a Windows Server Desktop, which packs more onto a machine and can be changed to look like a Windows 7 desktop.

"One of the challenges I hear is running Windows 7 on a server. But there are other ways it can be done at a lower cost," he says.

"Customers find it's best to mix and match. If it's for a callcentre, RDS can work well with thin-client devices. If it's for a sales person, VDI will be awkward so streaming cached apps could be better approach," says Moulster.

Overall, Moulster believes the licensing model is "generous" - giving controlled access to four machines on a single VDI licence - as well as "reasonable cost".

Microsoft changed its VDA licence a year ago from VECD to allow for more roaming as well as reducing the price.

"We think VDA is giving people what they need, to be able to have unlimited back-ups, at a price they can justify," he says.


Virtualised environment licensing based on memory usage

But individual supplier licensing costs can increase when mixed with other suppliers' licensing models.

VMware recently unveiled vSphere5 and introduced the company's new licensing model called vRAM, based on memory usage. The company also introduced vSphere Desktop to address some licensing concerns and costs.

However, three weeks after announcing the new model, VMware raised the vRAM limits in response to customer fears over increased costs and reduced flexibility.

The potential to go bigger with virtual environments also takes VMware's memory-based licensing into uncharted territory, according to Gartner vice-president, Philip Dawson.

He believes memory licensing will have a significant impact in the future when an increasingly virtualised environment will increase the memory footprint.

"Where companies are 20-30% virtualised, 5% is utilised by workload, so it's not much memory. If you virtualised an application server, that's a lot more memory," says Dawson.

He adds that third-party independent software vendor (ISV) applications will create mixed licensing models. His advice for businesses is to ensure enterprise licences transfer to include new technology and licences.

Dawson adds that it could be interesting if other ISVs adopt the memory licensing model in the future.

Martin Mutch, CEO at Oracle consultancy firm, Rocela believes introducing vSphere5 could catch companies out, causing "ten-fold" increases in other licence costs, such as Oracle licensing, as a result of minor changes in architecture to deploy vSphere5.

Mutch said these changes could cause companies to suddenly become non-compliant with Oracle licensing, facing additional costs.

"Unbudgeted bills can have a huge impact. Lifted restrictions with vSphere5 create the opportunity to go bigger with virtual environments but there's a possibility if you're not on top of licensing, you may pay more for Oracle licensing," he says.

Justifying a business case for desktop virtualisation can be tricky when faced with expensive first-year costs. Despite benefits of mobile working, flexibility and -eventually - cost savings surrounding energy reduction, successful VDI deployments will be defined by careful management of licensing to make sure shifts in models and updates don't leave businesses with large bills rather than virtual benefits.


Immature desktop virtualisation market risk deters CIOs

Roy Illsley, Ovum principal analyst and author of the report, said CIOs are reluctant to deploy desktop virtualisation due to significant procurement risks and the immaturity of the market but are coming under pressure to reduce PC costs.

"CIOs are coming under increasing pressure due to the escalating cost of maintaining corporate-owned remote PCs and laptops, demands for more user flexibility and mobility, and the proliferation of personal mobile devices in the workplace," Illsley adds.

A report by Ovum shows new desktop virtualisation offerings from the likes of VMware, Citrix and Microsoft currently only make up 3% of the overall business PC market. The question is why, given VDI is currently the best approach to centralising the PC desktop estate.

"The move away from business PCs towards desktop virtualisation has been hampered by the fragmented market," says Illsley.

"The general view is that as the market is relatively immature, selecting the correct technology represents a significant risk because nobody wants to invest in the Betamax of the desktop virtualisation world," he says.

For the market to mature suppliers will need to address the issue of licensing virtual machines and the commercial software that runs on top of these VMs.



Opinion: Complexity means slight shift can bring huge repercussions

The IT setup of modern enterprises is a complex and interlinked ecosystem, writes Martin Mutch. As a result, new influences can shift the balance, requiring some serious consideration by administrators, managers and CIOs when looking to restore equilibrium.

The introduction of vSphere 5 and changes to its licence model are a great example of how the rules of the game can change, requiring decision-makers to closely scrutinise their infrastructure and make (or re-make) the right decisions.

For example, a big advantage of vSphere 5 is the increased levels of virtualised memory and processors available to virtual machines, making large, virtualised Enterprise Oracle installations a realistic possibility. However, VMware are now charging customers for allocated virtual memory - causing potential issues when you consider that Oracle charges for physical processor cores.

Conversely, you may already have a virtualised Oracle system running under vSphere 4 with all the benefits that virtualisation brings. But vSphere 5 introduces the potential need for additional licences to cover virtual RAM usage - which may force you to abandon such a setup.

vSphere 5 also represents a move towards a new cloud model of pooled licensing - potentially a pattern that could continue across other vendors. If this were the case, it would demand closer scrutiny on what this could mean for Oracle licensing, and the knock-on effects.

This also leads into a much maligned feature of modern software licensing - the power that big vendors hold over licensees. They're able to alter terms and once you're locked into using their solutions, most businesses find it difficult or expensive to do anything but soak up the difference.

The message here is simple: if you want to make changes to your IT estate, or if vendors alter the landscape then a vital step is to understand licensing for your current setup and what the consequences may be. This is only more true when it comes to still evolving areas like the world of virtualisation.

Martin Mutch is CEO at Oracle consultancy firm, Rocela



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