Two new enterprise data center licenses from Microsoft may now offer greater flexibility for remotely accessing the Vista operating system. The licenses, announced Monday by Microsoft, both apply to customers using Windows Vista Enterprise Edition.
One license allows the use of Vista on diskless PCs. Diskless PCs, without hard drives of their own, can run off remote hard drives, such as those in storage area networks (SANs). The drives can be individualized or shared, and an image of the OS is streamed to the user.
The other license, called the Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktops (VECD), for the first time allows users to run Windows client software in virtual machines on centralized servers, delivered to either PCs or thin clients. If the users have PCs, they can potentially also have local or offline use of applications.
Remote access to an operating system offers a variety of potential advantages, from easier updating to managing security. But the two new licenses represent new and "still nascent technologies," Scott Woodgate, Director of the Microsoft Windows Business Group, said in a statement.
"We think that only a select few customers are planning to broadly implement these centralized desktop models today," he said, noting that the customers exploring these new deployment scenarios are early adopters.
"The technology in this space is evolving," he went on to say, "so customers deploying with diskless PCs or VECD in the short term are likely to develop in-house solutions or cobble together the supporting technology that exist today."
Woodgate also noted that Microsoft's Terminal Services, available now in Windows Server 2003 and in Windows Server Longhorn, is a mature infrastructure that meets the "same set of needs" as VECD. However, he noted that VECD offers the same "application compatibility" as Vista.
'Get It Right'
Mark Margevicius, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner, said that Microsoft is being cautious because these licenses represent a substantial change in Microsoft's approach to enterprise use of its operating system.
"The entire history of Windows had been coupled to hardware sales," he said. "So, anytime you mess with the business model as they're doing with these licenses, you have to make sure you get it right."
From the enterprise's point of view, he said, there could be a business case for either license, depending on security, operational costs, efficiency, and other factors.
Microsoft said that there will be no additional charge to Vista Enterprise customers for the diskless PCs license, but it does require a change to the existing Software Assurance license.
VECD, however, does require an annual, per-device subscription fee for Software Assurance customers. The amount, according to a Microsoft official, will depend on hardware configurations, number of users, and other factors.