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Microsoft Eases Up on Licensing

Microsoft is beginning to get it when it comes to virtualization licensing. They still have a ways to go yet, but at least they're taking steps in the right direction.

Starting Sept. 1, according to this document ("Application Server License Mobility"), you can now move certain applications around to various servers within a farm without buying extra licenses. It's very complicated (par for the course when it comes to Microsoft licensing), but broken down into its simplest terms, this is what it means:

Under the old system, if you moved an app from one server to another, you couldn't move it again for 90 days without buying a license for the new server. In other words, you would need two licenses for your copy of Exchange 2003, if the software was regularly moved from one physical box to the other. This, of course, is the rule with virtualization. Under the new rules, if those servers are part of a farm, the only license you'll need is for the software itself -- not for each individual server on which the software may run.

Chris Wolf, our "Virtual Advisor" columnist, wrote about this circumstance in our March/April issue. It was the key reason he had Microsoft in his "thumbs down" category when it comes to virtualization licensing. Now, to a large degree, Microsoft has overcome that weakness.

There are a number of restrictions to the new policy, though, and they will rankle many of you. First and foremost is that server OSes aren't included. So you can move SQL Server 2007 around to your heart's content; try the same thing with Windows Server 2003 or 2008, and you're violating your license agreement. This seems strange and capricious to me. Isn't server consolidation the main reason, at present, that most people start using virtualization? To restrict the mobility of server OSes is just not smart.

The other big omission in the new policy will hurt small and medium businesses (SMBs). The new rules only apply to volume license agreements, which requires a minimum of five instances of a product. So if you only need one instance of Microsoft Identity Lifecycle Manager 2007, or three copies of SharePoint Server 2007 and don't want to pay volume licenses (but still want the high availability benefits of using a farm, or even two servers), you're plumb out of luck, and will need to buy licenses for every server. Why cut out the little and medium-sized guys, Microsoft? If anything, they have less ability to fork out giant amounts of dough for licenses than the enterprises.

But even given those oversights, it's still a very positive change. Microsoft's byzantine licensing requirements have stumped smarter people than me; in the recent past, though, Redmond has been willing to be flexible in making changes, and listens closely to customer feedback in this area.

One piece of advice: you have negotiating power with Microsoft when discussing licenses; they're almost never cut and dried. No matter what size shop you have, you can work for the best deal, and maybe get the volume license restrictions, for example, lifted if you're an SMB. How? Tell Microsoft that you're considering moving to open source software if it doesn't give you what you need. And don't make it an empty threat. Mean it.

Let me know what you think of the new rules, and whether or not Microsoft needs to go further.

Posted by Keith Ward on 08/19/2008 at 12:48 PM


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