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Forrester: Microsoft opens virtual desktop options

Changes that Microsoft Corp. has made to its desktop virtualization licensing are giving enterprises more scenarios for how they can virtualize Windows XP or Vista on corporate desktops, but it's still a complicated and relatively expensive endeavor, according to a recent report by Forrester Research Inc.

Effective Jan. 1, Microsoft loosened some previous restrictions regarding how PCs can access a virtualized corporate desktop of Windows PCs in its Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) license, Forrester analyst Natalie Lambert wrote in the report, “Desktop Virtualization: The Updated Rules of the Road for Virtualizing Windows.”

However, the licensing is still tied to Software Assurance (SA), Microsoft's costly enterprise maintenance and update service, and Microsoft still requires companies to license Windows on top of whichever enabling virtualization software — its own, VMware or another competitor's — a company is using, she said.

“It's still very complicated, but the scenarios are opening up to make the vision of desktop virtualization possible,” Lambert said.

Desktop virtualization allows an enterprise to run a virtual image of a user's desktop, complete with operating system, applications and data an employee would normally have access to, in the data center rather than locally. Companies can, among other things, use this to reduce costs in their IT environments.

The changes to VECD licensing in particular open up two scenarios that allow contractors and full-time employees of enterprises to use their own PCs to access a virtualized corporate desktop and are among the problems enterprises are trying to solve using virtualization, Lambert said.

On the one hand, enterprises are trying to reduce the number of IT assets they provide to employees to reduce costs, Lambert said. This is particularly true with contractors who don't work for a company full time. On the other hand, full-time employees want access to their corporate desktops even when they're not in the office, which is another problem desktop virtualization can solve.

If an enterprise had virtualized its desktop PCs on a corporate network even before Jan. 1, those scenarios were possible, Lambert said, but they were not allowed under the previous version of VECD. Now Microsoft is allowing them, but with some caveats and additional fees, she added.

The new licensing works like this: If an enterprise already has SA covering all of its devices, it can pay $23 per device per year to grant employees the ability to access their corporate PCs through their company's virtualized desktop.

If a PC is not covered by SA — say, in the case of a contracted offshore developer working in India without a Microsoft SA contract — then it costs $110 per device per year to grant someone access to the virtualized corporate desktop. Moreover, the company that wants to give a contractor access to the virtualized network has to purchase a business version of Vista or XP and have it installed on the contractor's PC for that person to legally access the virtualized network under VECD, Lambert said.

Employees who want to bring their own computers to work and use the corporate virtual desktop environment can access a Windows virtualized desktop environment for $110 per device annually, but only if each employee who wants to do this has already purchased a copy of Windows and is running it on a PC that he owns, Lambert said.

This type of scenario also makes it possible for an employee who prefers working on a Macintosh to use that computer at work to access the corporate desktop network, she added.

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