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Windows 7: Virtualization Licensing

Microsoft has a multitiered program for virtualization licensing. It can seem a bit confusing at first, but it ensures you get just what you need.

Jorge Orchilles

Adapted from “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” (Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier)

Windows 7 can support many different methods of virtualization and use them in combinations to meet your organization’s deployment needs. Using Windows 7 in combination with Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V and the Microsoft System Center Suite provides your enterprise with a flexible and robust environment, and gives your users the desktop they require. This starts with the desktop itself and extends to access to applications or a completely hosted desktop.

The key to all of this is a new licensing model that Microsoft has developed to go along with its virtualization offerings. The Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) license is the Windows 7 license that lets you virtualize Windows desktops.

VECD Licensing Is a Challenge

The VECD license is the Windows 7 license that permits and manages virtualization. Traditionally, a user would be licensed to access only one desktop at a time on a single, specific device. When a new desktop device was installed, it typically required a new Windows license. If it relocated an existing license, the previous desktop was taken out of service.

With virtualization, this is not the typical use case anymore. The VECD lets you run a copy of Windows 7 in a datacenter that might provision multiple desktops across several servers in production and for disaster recovery.

A VECD license allows the following:

  • The ability to run a copy of Windows 7 in a datacenter: This is required for dynamic provisioning and creating Windows 7 deployment images for your users.
  • The rights to move virtual machines (VMs) between servers for increased reliability: With load balancing and disaster recovery, even a virtual desktop may run on several servers in a datacenter or even multiple datacenters. You would normally need to license each instance of Windows 7. With the VECD, you only need to license the active instance.
  • Unlimited backup of VMs: This is especially important for distributed disaster recovery sites. Many companies will back up desktops to multiple disaster recovery sites for rapid recovery if any one location becomes unavailable. This is different from the normal backup to tape or even a removable disk for desktops. It’s not uncommon for servers to maintain a continuous data-protection model, but now, more frequently, desktops fit the category of a critical system.
  • Ability to access up to four running VM instances per device: Traditionally, all users needed their own license for a desktop. The VECD allows the same desktop device to access up to four running VMs. This is possible with Virtual PC. You can create a complete datacenter on just your desktop. You might need to license the other three OSes, but not the connections.
  • Rights to access corporate desktops from home for a user already licensed at work: If a user normally accesses a VM running Windows 7 at work, they can access the same virtual desktop from home without requiring an additional license.
  • Availability to volume licensing keys, such as Key Management Service (KMS) and Multiple Activation Keys: This feature lets your enterprise use the KMS system in Windows Server 2008 to activate and authorize Windows 7 desktops locally without needing to connect to the Internet or contact Microsoft individually.

SA Required

The key to the VECD license is that your desktops must be covered under Microsoft Software Assurance (SA). This is a requirement to even purchase the VECD license. This can ultimately save a great deal on the cost of the upgrade and support of the Windows 7 environment.

Imagine your company has 100 laptops and desktops, and also 100 thin clients. If the laptops didn’t have SA, you would need 200 VECD licenses (for the 100 thin clients and 100 laptops). If the laptops did have SA, you would need 100 VECD licenses (just for the 100 laptops).

You would need to maintain SA on each of the laptops. It would be a good idea to learn more about Microsoft volume licensing policies as they pertain to virtualization or contact your Microsoft licensing specialist.

As you can see from this simple example, you could save a significant amount on your licensing costs if you decide to leverage virtualization in your business. Although it can seem a bit tricky at first look, it’s worth spending a few minutes discussing the benefits and requirements with your Microsoft licensing provider.

Lafe Low

Jorge Orchilles began his networking career as a network administrator for the small private school he attended. He’s currently a security operating center analyst, and recently completed his Master of Science degree in management information systems at Florida International University.

©2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier. Copyright 2011. “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” by Jorge Orchilles. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit elsevierdirect.com.

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