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Virtualization licensing terms: A call to arms

Vendors are working on ways to create virtualization licensing terms better suited to multi-tenant environments, but there is clearly still a lot of confusion out there surrounding licensing terms for desktop virtualization.

Well, virtualization licensing in general, for that matter.

An IT person in charge of application management for a systems integrator told me that some of his customers can’t make heads or tails of how they should approach Microsoft if they want to do client virtualization.

Do they need two operating system licenses if two virtual machines run on one physical client? This question applies to the use of Microsoft’s server hypervisor Hyper-V as well, since many of the systems integrator’s customers are using Hyper-V to create virtual desktops. (My story on pricing out Windows Server 2008 for virtualization cost efficiency explains how many virtual machines, and in turn operating systems per physical device, you can get under Windows Server 2008 agreements.)

Experts presenting at the recent Burton Group Catalyst conference said time and again that it was up to companies of all sizes to push vendors to change their licensing terms to better suit virtualization and cloud models.

Chris Wolf, virtualization analyst with Burton Group, asked point blank: When do you cut loose vendors that refuse to get on board? Meaning ones that will not support your virtual infrastructure model with fair licensing terms.

And what is fair licensing to Wolf? Licensing that is based on virtual CPUs, managed instances or installed instances, and not licenses that tie to physical hardware or compute resources.

“You need to push vendors for licensing terms that are physical system-agnostic,” Wolf said.

Let us know what you think here, or email me at

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You may be interested in my analysis of this issue "The Real Problem Of Counting Virtual Licenses" that can be found at,7211,46749,00.html I have a less techy perspective, so I disagree that more instances necessarily means the user is getting more value from the software and hence more revenue to the vendor would be fair. Its also unrealistic to think you can switch vendors simply because of their unfair licensing terms, although it should be a long term decision factor. It may be easier to switch metrics (e.g. move from 'per core' to 'per user'), but the Number 1 priority is to understand your vendors' policies, which vary considerably. Only virtualize a software product when you've worked out how to stay within your license limits. Its surprising how many companies are getting caught out by compliance audits because they implemented virtualization without checking the cost implications.