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Windows 10 Licensing on Cloud

You probably know that, until recently, the Microsoft license did not permit you to run a Windows Client OS on cloud infrastructure. This has now changed. The exact license terms are difficult to find, and the cases where the changes could make a difference are limited. Here is a summary.

The clause that restricts you is the one that permits you to run a virtualised copy of Windows only "on (a) device(s) dedicated to Customer’s use". Here is the relevant document: Licensing Windows Desktop OS for Virtual Machines.

The key parts of this are:

  • Virtual Device Access (VDA) Rights are what you need to access a virtual copy of the Windows client OS. "VDA Rights" are not the same as "VDA Subscription". VDA Rights are what you acquire either with Software Assurance to run a copy of Windows, or a VDA Subscription if you are running something else. 
  • VDA Rights are subject to the restriction above, to run only on dedicated hardware.

To state the obvious, this means no Windows 10 in Azure or AWS running on shared infrastructure. Under these terms, for example, you cannot use Azure to provide a DR facility for enterprise desktops.

In May 2016 a Microsoft blog said that Windows 10 would be coming to Azure through a partnership with Citrix, using XenDesktop: Microsoft and Citrix Partner to Help Customers Move to the Cloud. This was picked up widely in the press. The Citrix offer was announced in April 2017: Citrix XenDesktop Essentials for Azure.

On the face of it this is a significant change. Yes, it has a minimum requirement of 25 users, but still it is:

  • a monthly subscription, not a long term contract
  • pay for capacity if you use it, and not if you don't.

The curious thing about this is that there is no corresponding announcement from Microsoft, and no apparent change in Windows 10 licensing. So what exactly has changed? 

  • The Citrix offer requires the customer to have an "Enterprise Agreement"
  • This EA will cover all users and devices in the organisation, already permitting them to access virtual Windows 10 Enterprise through VDA Rights (although restricted to dedicated hardware).

So the change is that, provided you have an Enterprise Agreement, and use XenDesktop Essentials with a minimum of 25 accounts, you do not need to use explicitly dedicated hardware.

Separately, in May 2017 Microsoft introduced a new offer: Azure Hybrid Use Benefit for Windows Server and Windows Client. This is not explicitly related to the Citrix XenDesktop Essentials offer. It allows customers to upload a Windows 10 Enterprise image to Azure, but "Only Enterprise customers with Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5 per user or Windows VDA per user... are eligible".

You can already run a Windows desktop in Amazon Web Services (AWS). Here the licensing terms are more straightforward:

  • For a regular Windows "desktop experience" you get a licensed copy of Windows Server Datacenter Edition. Desktop Experience is a feature of Windows server that adds some of the features of a Windows client. Datacenter Edition is the license that allows you to run multiple virtual copies of the OS on one host.
  • For a minimum of 200 machines per month, you can Bring Your Own License (BYOL), provided you have VDA Rights (see above).
  • This puts a value on the license part of the VM of $4 per month, but with a 200 minimum. 

So in summary:

  1. You can already run a virtual desktop (a real dedicated desktop, not a session) using a Windows Server OS on Azure or AWS without restriction
  2. You can already run a virtual desktop using your own Windows client licenses on any dedicated hardware, if you have VDA Rights through Software Assurance or a VDA Subscription.
  3. As a special case of 2) above, you can already do this on AWS with a minimum of 200 desktops
  4. You can now (2017) run a virtual desktop with your own Windows client licenses in Azure, if you have a Microsoft Enterprise agreement.

To use a virtual desktop on any scale you will still need the surrounding infrastructure: a machine composer; a broker; and a client. XenDesktop Essentials provides a way of obtaining these on a monthly rental, compared to the normal annual subscription or perpetual license.

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