Microsoft unveils long awaited virtual licensing changes

Microsoft is making strides toward helping IT shops develop dynamic data centers with changes to application virtualization licensing.

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Microsoft plans to drop virtual licensing restrictions that prevent IT managers from shifting application workloads between servers when necessary.

On Sept. 1, customers will be allowed to move any of 41 server applications between servers and server farms without having to pay more for licenses, the company said. The list of applications includes SQL Server 2008 Enterprise edition, Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 Standard and Enterprise edition, Dynamics CRM 4.0 Enterprise and Professional editions, Office SharePoint Server 2007 and System Center server products.

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This podcast reviews more on Microsoft's plans to reveal virtual licensing changes.
Microsoft said it will support 31 of its applications in a virtual environment so they will get the same level of support as they would expect on a physical server.

"This makes the dynamic data center a lot easier," said Nelson Ruest, principal at Resolution Enterprises, a Victoria, Canada-based consulting firm that specializes in Microsoft technology.

"Before, you had to reassign your licenses every time you wanted to move an application from one host to another," Ruest said. "Now your license is tied to the whole data center and not the specific host server."

Another expert, Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm, agreed that the change to virtual licensing was imperative for Microsoft if IT shops were to move forward with dynamic data centers. It was also clear that nothing could happen until Microsoft had technology that was capable of exploiting the change.

"This will act as a brake on VMware [Inc.], " DeGroot said. "[VMware] can move virtual machines around in real time from one physical device to another, and it has a good management infrastructure for doing so."

He added that no one had a way to track information about these virtual licenses, such as whether a virtual machine had moved from one physical machine to another. One way to prevent falling out of licensing compliance was to add spare licenses, but that meant IT shops had to buy a lot of licenses to cover possibilities, he said.

Licensing restrictions made it impossible to achieve the promise of virtualization. For example, if a processor on one server spiked and there were other machines in the data center that were more lightly loaded, you could not just move the virtual machine to take advantage of that extra capacity and still be legal, DeGroot said.

With the release of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 in Q4 of this year, there will be a resource allocation feature to address virtual machine management. The only drawback is it works only with System Center Operations Manager 2007. For this feature to be meaningful, Microsoft had to change its licensing rules.

One thing that will remain the same is licensing rights that govern Windows Server itself. Today with Windows Server Enterprise edition, IT shops can run up to four instances in virtual machines. Customers using the DataCenter edition have unlimited virtual instances.

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