Per-User Windows Licensing Will Soon Be Available to Microsoft Enterprise Customers – What You Need to Know Now

By Forrest Silverman

Director of Client Services, NPI

November 18, 2014

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Microsoft recently announced Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS) – a subscription-based, per-user licensing option for its most popular productivity services. They include Windows and Office (on-premise) as well as Windows Server, Exchange and SharePoint (on-premise or cloud).

One very important piece of news embedded in this announcement was the introduction of the User Subscription License (USL) for Windows.
Until now, Windows was licensed on a per-device basis, which has always presented challenges to enterprises using virtualization. These customers were required to purchase a Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license, either separately or as part of Software Assurance (SA). The SA option had its own limitations, as it only supported Windows devices and was costly at $100 per device, per year.

The end result was two-fold – (1) Microsoft customers and critics voicing their frustration over the complexity, cost and inflexibility of Windows access in a multi-device business environment; and (2) an increase in the number of customers that were creating their own workarounds (which put them in a state of non-compliance).

The Windows USL, available on December 1, 2014, aims to solve both of these problems. As long as Windows 8/8.1/7 Professional or Enterprise is licensed on a user’s primary device, that user is licensed to access it from, and use it on, an unlimited number of other devices. This also has an impact on another Windows license add-on, the Companion Device License (CDL). The CDL used to support up to four devices per user, but now also supports an unlimited number of devices.

Here are a few things to know about this announcement:

  • Pricing for the new USL option won’t be announced for a few more weeks, but we can assume it won’t be free – cost and license transition impact is still unknown.
  • It’s a clear path to compliance. If you’re running Windows in a virtualized desktop environment, you know that compliance with Microsoft’s product use rights, terms and conditions is difficult. With USL, Microsoft is giving users a clearer path to compliance. As you know, Microsoft has turned up the heat on software audits – and customers with virtual desktop environments are closely inspected. If you’re not running Windows in a compliant way, you can expect Microsoft to push the USL as a remedy.
  • License transition assessment, planning and implementation will likely be confusing – especially if the availability of this new licensing option intersects with a near-term EA purchase or renewal. Customers will be under the gun to figure out the optimal license scenario and cost scenario for their environment. In part, it’s about subscription revenue. Microsoft is doing all they can to move customers from perpetual licenses to subscription-based licensing. This is one more move in that direction. Customers will undoubtedly feel this pressure applied in 2015.
  • Once pricing and license transition details are announced, NPI will provide a more detailed assessment of the impact USL will have on customers. Stay tuned!