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Microsoft adopts virtual licenses

Posted by iTech - 2005-10-11

Microsoft Corp. today unveiled new licensing policies that applies to Windows Server and related products installed in virtual machine environments -- no matter whether users are running Microsoft's Virtual Server software or VMware Inc.'s rival virtualization technology.

One change will let users who buy SQL Server, BizTalk Server and other Microsoft server software under a per-processor model license the products according to the number of virtualized processors they actually use, instead of the number of physical processors in their boxes.

Bob Armstrong, managing director of IT at Delaware North Cos. in Buffalo, N.Y., said he hasn't even evaluated running SQL Server in a virtual environment because of the license fees that would be required. Armstrong noted that with a virtualized quad-processor system, Delaware North would have to pay for four instances of the databases under Microsoft's previous policy, even if it used only two processors for SQL Server. "We were waiting for the change," he said.

Armstrong said the new provision won't necessarily lead him to run SQL Server on machines that are equipped with VMware's ESX software, since virtualization doesn't work well for highly transactional databases and other CPU-intensive workloads. But the modified licensing might provide a way to reduce hardware costs on small, nontransactional database servers, he added.

Alvin Park, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said vendors have largely been applying old licensing models to virtualization software, often leaving customers confused about what they need to buy. Microsoft is stepping to the forefront with its new licensing policies for virtualized software, he added.

Variable Benefits

But there are cases where companies could wind up paying more money under the new model, Park said. For example, if a user runs six virtual instances of a product such as BizTalk Server on a four-processor box, it would have to pay for six BizTalk licenses. Under Microsoft's existing licensing policy, the maximum number of licenses that a customer has to buy for one application is equivalent to the total number of processors in the box, Park said.  

Microsoft struggled with that fact, said Zane Adam, a director of marketing in the company's Windows Server group. But, he added, it's unlikely that a customer would slice up a box to the level envisioned by Park with a mission-critical application.

The new licensing options are due to become available Dec. 1. Another tweak being announced by Microsoft will let users run up to four virtual instances of the upcoming "R2" Enterprise Edition of Windows Server 2003 on one physical server for the cost of a single instance. If they use Virtual Server or VMware's GSX software, the R2 host operating system is included as well, Adam said.

Adam acknowledged that most customers now run the standard edition of Windows Server 2003. But he said he thinks that they will increasingly consider the more scalable Enterprise Edition as they move to heavier processing workloads and seek out the fail-over and clustering capabilities that come with that version.

In addition, in some cases Microsoft's new licensing policy could enable users that virtualize servers to upgrade to the R2 Enterprise Edition for roughly the same price they would have to pay to buy four Standard Edition licenses.

Armstrong said that all of the Windows guest operating systems on his ESX-based servers are Standard Edition and that he doesn't expect to switch to R2 Enterprise Edition. "The training and support and administration that go into the enterprise edition of Windows is beyond what we want to scale up for," he said. "It's not a strategic path for us."

But Michael Brown, a support services manager at Denver Health and Hospitals Authority Inc., said the licensing change might cause him to look at R2 Enterprise Edition. All of the 25 Windows guest operating systems that Denver Health currently runs on computers with Microsoft's Virtual Server are Standard Edition, according to Brown. The host is Enterprise Edition.

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