how to address licensing in desktop virtualization

Planning on virtualizing your desktops? Don't forget to consider licensing. Desktop virtualization, in which the operating system and/or application used on the desktop is removed from the physical hardware, offers many benefits. It makes security more manageable, because users cannot tamper with the system or lose data stored on a client device. However, it does bring unexpected complexity.

One of the issues about desktop virtualization is that there are many different models and scenarios to choose from. It is not a case of simply running multiple virtualized operating systems directly on the client device, or removing everything and running it on a centralized server. There are nuances. For example, Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services uses a single instance of the operating system and applications, shared by multiple users. Virtual desktop interface (VDI) virtualization allocates a single, unique desktop to each user.

Another model, application virtualization, streams just the application to a user's desktop, which may run a full, locally-deployed operating system. Then, some vendors offer solutions that examine the computational load of the job and the available processing power at the client. They offload part of the processing onto the front end in a kind of hybrid virtualization model.

Wading through the licensing implications involved with all these scenarios can be daunting. To what extent are you factoring the vagaries of software licensing into your desktop virtualization strategy? The chances are that it needs work–because many vendors are still behind the curve when it comes to figuring out their pricing mechanisms for these different scenarios (along with others that will continue to develop).

In this confusing and rapidly evolving landscape, the best that many IT departments can do is to gather as much information about how they are using software as possible. Document it all, and then try to fit it as best as possible into the available licensing models. At least if the vendor comes calling with a compliance request in a few months' time, you will be able to show them what you have done.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.