Office ProPlus on RDS environments

Office ProPlus on RDS environments: this is something that generates a lot of head aches both for IT pros and users. The entire deployment process is fairly well described on TechNet, so we won't dwell on this aspect right now. However, after the deployment, admins will often receive desperate calls from end users saying: "I need to activate Office almost all the time". And this is the pain point that we want to analyse in this blog post.

First of all, in normal environments, when users start Office ProPlus for the first time, they have to activate it. After that, the product is licensed and it should appear also in the Office 365 portal. In this case, the license token is stored in the user profile and is valid for 30 days. If the computer has an internet connection, then this token will be automatically renewed once it get close to the expiration date.

We can't, however, activate and license Office like this in an RDS environment. And the most compelling reason is that the end user will run out of available installations. Let's say that in a bigger company, there is an RDS farm containing 6 nodes. On Monday, the user is redirected to Node 1, Tuesday on Node 2 and so on. Now if Saturday the user is redirected to Node 6, he won't have any available Office installations left. That's why Office ProPlus needs to be installed using shared computer activation.

In this scenario we have a totally different activation process. The licensing token is stored in the %localappdata%\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Licensing folder and is only valid a couple of days. That's why, everytime a user will start Office ProPlus he will be prompted to activate the software again. And this is what end users want to avoid.

Here we have to say that the only way to avoid continuous activation is to implement also AD FS.  This is the way admins can enable a seamless authentication to Office 365 and this helps us out in an RDS environment. We won't go through the process of setting up AD FS to work with Office 365, as this will be discussed in another blog post. However, there are two very important things to note when deploying ADFS in this scenario:

  1. The federation service FQDN needs to be added to the Intrane zone in Internet Explorer;
  2. Automatic logon in the intranet zone should be ebanled:

Automatic logion intranet

Also, when you deploy AD FS don't forget that this is a system critical component so we would also need to plan for high availability.

Unfortunately, there is no other supported workaround to implement a seamless Office ProPlus activation process in RDS environments.

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