Windows Licensing and BYOD: A case for Companion Subscription Licenses in the SMB

Woody Walton

I work every day supporting Microsoft Partners of one type or another.  VARs, hosters, distributors, you name it.  Today my opinion was solicited on an aspect of Windows client licensing that is not commonly asked about and it got me thinking that many of you may not know about the offering, *** benefits, nor its limitations as it concerns how it can be purchased ( or better yet NOT purchased).  My purpose is two fold.  First, to convey something useful, and second to solicit your input on whether the limitations and caveats I speak to below are an issue for you as a Microsoft partner that supports SMB customers.  …or if you are an SMB customer, how does this sit with you?

So what am I referring to?

Windows Companion Subscription License (CSL)

With the release of Windows 8 we brought some new capabilities to Windows Client licensing. Windows CSL was one that got a lot of attention initially as it seemed to address a need, and to do it in a cost effective manner (relatively speaking).  According to the Volume Licensing Guide for Windows 8 and Windows RT:


The Windows CSL enables Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scenarios for secondary or companion devices, thus providing businesses greater flexibility to run Windows across multiple devices for employees. When attached to a work device licensed with Software Assurance for Windows or Windows VDA, the Windows CSL grants the primary user of that device rights to access a corporate desktop through either VDI or Windows To Go on up to four additional devices capable of leveraging these technologies. Devices eligible for use under the Windows CSL include any type of personally owned device as well as corporate owned non-x86 devices.


The beauty of the Windows CSL is that it provides a single license valid for up to four devices instead of requiring individual licenses for each companion device.  Basically, you license the primary work PC with the Windows Client and Software Assurance (SA), and then identify users who will be bringing cool devices from home (cough, Surface) and add the Windows CSL for that number of users only.  …and it is cheaper by far than the alternative and well known option, VDA.  VDA would require EACH companion device be covered and the cost is 100 per device per year.  Although a (relatively) fine solution for VDI in many cases, it does not address the device proliferation we are now seeing in the work place.


The above slide illustrates why the Windows CSL is so advantageous in BYOD scenarios.

Now for the Fine Print

If your customer is an SMB, below 250 PCs in Microsoft’s segmentation, they are not eligible to purchase Windows CSLs.  The aforementioned Volume Licensing Guide for Windows 8 and Windows RT calls this out on a matrix near the bottom:


You will note that Windows CSL is not available through Open license or Open Value & Subscription.   These licensing programs are catered toward the small and medium sized business.

So what this means is that a smaller business that may be cutting edge and want to embrace BYOD scenarios for any number of reasons cannot benefit from the Windows CSL.  They can still play, but they lose the benefit of buying fewer licenses and at a lower cost.  For a cash conscious SMB this puts them at a disadvantage, or does it?

This is where you come in.  With Microsoft making its move to a devices and services company, with new cool tablets coming out from major OEMs every few weeks, with Haswell and Bay Trail processors right around the corner from Intel, and with prices dropping all the time, does it make sense for us to limit Windows CSLs to organizations with 250 PCs or above?  We have not seen much “complaining” in the last 7 months.  The inquiry I received from one of our distribution partners about a VAR having a tough time swallowing this brought it back to my mind.   My team escalated this concern internally when we were first made aware of it.   Nothing ever transpired.  Not because it fell on deaf ears, but because we had little statistical or anecdotal evidence to suggest a need for Windows CSL in the SMB.

When I think of the way I work, and the devices I use, Windows CSL would be the perfect fit.   If I left Microsoft tomorrow and started my own company, undoubtedly a small one, I would want what Windows CSL provides.  …Maybe I am unusual, but I do not think so.  Devices are hear; they are hear to stay.  VDI is growing, RDS is commonplace.  SMBs need an efficacious way to use devices to maximum benefit in the Microsoft productivity ecosystem.

Please chime in with your experiences, comments and concerns on the matter.


Kind Regards,






Comments (3)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Pingback from Experience: Why Microsoft Surface (RT/Pro) devices are the best tablets available… « Unofficial IGEL Thin Client Blog

  2. Anonymous says:

    Pingback from Experience: Why Microsoft Surface (RT/Pro) devices are the best tablets available??? « TUG Sweden

  3. Hi Woody,
    just FYI: The Windows Companion Subscription License (CSL) is available since October 2012 in Microsoft Open. The SKU 9HS-00015 is the optional add-on which grants the rights for the primary user of an SA or VDA licensed device to access a corporate desktop
    through VDI or Windows To Go on up to four devices. Devices eligible for use under the Windows CSL include any type of personally owned device as well as corporate owned non-x86 devices.
    Best, Daniel

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