MS to unveil new licensing policies for virtual machines

Microsoft expected to tie licenses to virtual machines rather than to physical ones

"As server virtualization becomes more mainstream, Microsoft will be announcing new licensing and support policies to help customers make their data centers and enterprise IT more dynamic on August 19," Microsoft said.

The exact changes haven't been revealed. Lifting the 90-day restriction would give Microsoft customers an ideal set of licensing policies for virtual environments, according to a January report written by Wolf titled "Virtualization Licensing and Support Lethargy: Curing the Disease that Stalls Virtualization Adoption."

Microsoft already supports multiple virtualization platforms and gives customers several licensing options tailored both for small businesses and large enterprises.

"Allowing Standard Edition Windows Server OS licenses to be assigned directly to a VM and move with a VM without restriction is all that is needed for Microsoft to offer the most nearly ideal licensing terms," Wolf wrote.

Most vendors are making a good-faith effort to offer fair licensing terms, says analyst Charles King of Pund-IT Research. "Vendors are working hard to come up with schemas that work well and are fair to them and the end customer," he says.

But adapting licensing to data centers where virtual machines can be created in an instant and moved just as quickly is challenging. Multi-core processors add to the complexity. Vendors are still grappling with the question of whether to charge license fees for each server, core or socket, or use some other calculation to determine the value of software. Virtualization, meanwhile, lets IT managers operate multiple virtual servers on a single core.

In virtualized data centers designed for high availability, "you've got the ability to spin up additional virtual machines as your processing demands increase," King says. "The difficulty with software licensing is how you keep track of how many virtual machines, how many applications, or how many iterations of the operating system you're running at any time. ... It's an interesting can of worms."

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Jon Brodkin

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