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Leveraging Licenses

Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 Datacenter edition offers unlimited virtualization rights. This means that you can put an unlimited number of Windows server systems as guest VMs on processors licensed with Datacenter.

That's good; but note that if you license a processor with Windows Server 2008 Datacenter, you don't actually have to run the Windows OS. Instead, the Datacenter-licensed processor can run a different virtualization solution on the physical hardware. One approach that many are considering is licensing the processor as Windows Datacenter, but running VMware ESX and vCenter (formerly VirtualCenter) to manage the systems. By buying both platforms, you get an open door to your Windows Server licensing for guest server systems.

Take, for example, a very capable host system by today's standards: a four-socket system with four or six cores each, with at least 128 GB RAM. That configuration can achieve rockstar consolidation ratios with ESX. While Hyper-V is a good hypervisor, as seen in the recent throwdown I did of each of the main platforms, I still feel that ESX will fit most mainstream IT needs. This is primarily due to the ability to get higher consolidation ratios on physical hardware and the current management products for VMware's virtualization offering.

Combine that hardware capacity and the licensing permission to run an unlimited number of Windows Server guest VMs, and you have a compelling cost-savings solution. The language of unlimited virtualization rights for Datacenter applies as follows:

  • You can run ESX and other virtualization software on host processors licensed with Windows Server 2008 Datacenter.
  • Windows server guests includes all versions and editions of Windows Server 2008, 2003, 2000 and NT.
  • The client access licenses must still be purchased separately.

Many large enterprises already know this, but I'm mulling scenarios in my head where even the small and medium-size enterprise can take advantage of this configuration. Organizations of all sizes should consider this as a way to reduce the Windows Server licensing costs for guest VMs.

So, what's the catch from Microsoft's angle? I'm not entirely sure, but my suspicion is that Redmond is banking on the R2 version of Hyper-V making a real run at VMware in the datacenter by having organizations already licensed. If that happened -- assuming Hyper-V is "good enough" -- administrators may see an opportunity to cut the high cost of VMware and gain comparable functionality.

Are you taking this approach with licensing? Let me know how you're responding to the Datacenter opportunity.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 03/10/2009 at 12:47 PM


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