Understanding Microsoft Licensing for VDI Environments (i.e. VECD)

Understanding Microsoft Licensing for VDI Environments (i.e. VECD)

When it comes to the topic of virtualization, VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) has been one of the fastest growing areas.  The ability to virtualize your desktops and then manage and store those images back in the datacenter offers many advantages over standard thick-client computing.  By creating one “golden image” and deploying that to end users via VDI, IT departments can greatly reduce the administrative efforts and costs of trying to manage 100’s or 1000’s of desktops distributed across an enterprise.

Ok, so you’re sold on the idea of virtualizing your desktops, so now what?  Buy and enterprise VDI platform like VMware, create one or two golden images, deploy them to your existing users and all your problems are solved right?  Now you can sit back play video games, eat Twinkies and spend a few hours a month updating and managing your user’s desktops all at a fraction of the cost of the way things “used to be”.  Obviously things aren’t quite that simple and there are many more obstacles and challenges to implementing VDI.  One obstacle which may not be at the top of your list is licensing.  Not just any licensing…… Microsoft Licensing…..what a mess!

Recently I was putting together a proposal for one of our clients and had to deal with Microsoft’s genius licensing solution called VECD.  Anyone familiar with VECD or what it stands for?  I didn’t have a clue and had to look it up.  “Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop”….yeah that’s it!  So after a few minutes on Google, Technet and a few other sites I was more confused than when I started.  How many licenses do I need?  Which OS requires which licenses?  What about thin-clients?  What if some clients are running Vista and some are running XP?  Is the license cost per month, per year, per machine….? Ah screw it I’ll just call our vendor and surely they can tell me what I need.

So I finally get the Microsoft Licensing rep from our vendor on the phone, we’ll just call her Ms. Happy for the purposes of this discussion and to protect her identity of course.  I tell her what I need and am instantly drawn into an interrogation session where I’m asked questions about stuff like “Software Assurance Membership” and given statements like “well it depends” …… you get the picture.  After about 5 minutes I was praying for the magical ability to reach through the phone and ………well you get the idea!

After hanging up the phone I thought …. It can’t possibly be this complicated.  I emailed a pricing request to Ms Happy and her jolly friends at the Microsoft Licensing group requesting licensing and pricing for a hypothetical client to try to understand things better.  The environment consisted of 150 Virtual Desktops being accessed from:

50           Windows XP laptop clients

50           Windows Vista Business clients

50           Wyse Thin Clients

About 30 minutes later I received the quote back from Ms. Happy.   The verdict…..it doesn’t matter what you are using to connect to the VDI image, it all cost the same and it doesn’t matter how many people are connected concurrently as the license is done per device.  So in my hypothetical situation above I would need 150 VECD licenses.  Approximate cost for 36 months – just under $50,000.  Now why couldn’t they have told me that in the first place!

So, if you’re thinking about VDI for your environment:

1-      Be aware of some of the less obvious costs associated with the solution, especially licensing.

2-      If you have questions about Microsoft licensing: a) pay someone else to do it or b) make the call towards the end of the day because you’ll probably need a drink afterwards.

Good luck!


Here are some links that “might” be helpful:





Update 1/26/09:

The info above (especially the pricing) ended up being incorrect.  Told you it was confusing.  It appears Ms. Happy didn’t know what she was talking about either.  Please see the most recent VECD blog entry.

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