License changes for Windows Server – Virtualisation goes mainstream


As was just announced at SoftSummit in Santa Clara, CA today, Microsoft is making some big changes to licensing in from Windows Server 2003 R2 which launches very soon. As was announced at the Microsoft Management Summit earlier this year, Microsoft is committed to making a "big bet" on virtualisation. Now that could mean a lot of different thing to different people, but certainly something as a headline which pleases me as it's without doubt my favourite technology. Let's see what that "big bet" really means as today started the wave of change.

Two announcements today affect the way in which Windows Server licensing changes, and for the first time in Microsoft history takes into account the industry trend of a the increasing significance of virtualisation technology.

The first announcement recognises that many companies have images of virtual machines sitting on their hard disk - maybe as a library for test and development purposes. Today, licensing rules means that you must have a license to install that operating system instance, regardless of whether it is turned on and running - in other words (and these are mine rather than official MS licensing speak, so please note the disclaimer on my blog), your license provides the right to install the operating system. Now this could be expensive if you have 10, 20, 100 or even 1000's of virtual images in your library. Each image would require a separate license. The change is that the license EULA will in the future be a "use right". For example, 100 virtual images, 3 running = 3 licenses required. The cost savings here could be huge, and removes a significant barrier to the use of virtual machine technology.

The second announcement is equally as significant, and applies to Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition only (ie not Standard). Due to the power of server technology these days, and when looking to the near future when we start talking Intel VT or AMD Pacifica technology, people are going to increasingly be looking at consolidating their workloads onto virtual machines. Again, as for the first announcement, this too can be expensive and a barrier in terms of cost as you require a license for each virtual machine which is running, both host and guests. To address this, the EULA for WS2003 R2 EE (again, my words, not official legal speak) will include the right for your one license to be used to actively run up to five instances of that operating system on a single host machine. That being: One for the host operating system, plus a further four virtual machines for other workloads. The host operating system workload cannot however be used for any application services other than as a virtual machine host and management/monitoring. To put this another way, the effective workloads for the license in terms of application services being provided to your organisation is of the four virtual instances only.

This is just a summary, and part of what is termed "Self Managing Dynamic Systems". You will hear a lot more about this over the coming months, and is a major change to the way in which Virtualisation technology is going to be a key part of the future, so stay tuned!

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