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Analysis: Why Microsoft is killing desktop virtualisation

Desktop virtualisation is hurting the company's profits

Microsoft's software licence restrictions and one of the key hostilities to the virtual desktop infrastructure. We look at how Microsoft is killing virtualisation.

VDI is good for enterprises, but not for Microsoft

So the question is, Why does Microsoft sabotage VDI? The reason is pretty clear: virtual machines can live forever. By its very nature, virtualisation abstracts the hardware from the operating system. You can upgrade your virtualisation hosts many times without needing to change your virtualised guests at all.

If you're feeling particularly masochistic, you can even run Windows 3.1 on your brand-new Nehalem box. It's no secret that the last desktop operating system upgrade cycle has not gone particularly well for Microsoft.

A huge percentage of enterprise customers are still running Windows XP whether or not they actually own Vista licences. One of the only things saving Microsoft from a huge drop in desktop OS revenue here is the OEM licence.

While a business might have decided to run Windows XP for the past seven or eight years without upgrading, the desktop hardware that was originally installed has been replaced one or two times.

In most cases, this means Microsoft has sold you one or two more OEM desktop licences with your new hardware, even if you're not using them to run Vista.

If Microsoft's Windows XP licensing agreement had allowed it to be virtualised and VDI had been mature in 2001, you could be running the same full XP licence today that you bought then without spending a penny on additional operating system licensing in the meantime. That's obviously not good for Microsoft, and VECD is its answer to prevent this from happening in the future.

Unless some considerable market pressure is exerted on Microsoft, this higher VDI pricing will serve to deter some customers from implementing VDI. The higher Microsoft licensing costs alone - about $200 (£120) per desktop every three years - often make VDI look unattractive in a cost-benefit analysis.

Sure, Microsoft will pretend to recommend the technology, such as through its listing of Citrix XenDesktop combined with Hyper-V as it recommended VDI solution, but at the same time the company does not really recommend VDI at all.

Of course, this VDI aversion will change as soon as Microsoft has its own native VDI capability. Once it does, I expect the current anti-VDI pricing to magically decrease. Perhaps that's cynical, but it certainly seems logical.

If there were some way for Microsoft to charge twice as much for server licences run on non-Microsoft hypervisors without encountering antitrust laws, I have to imagine the company would do that, too.

However, the really interesting thing about this is that Microsoft has been selling its desktop operating system as a subscription for nearly two years, but it doesn't appear that anyone outside of the VDI space has really given it a whole lot of thought.

Is it so outlandish to assume that all of Microsoft's products might eventually end up as subscriptions? If the Vista upgrade debacle repeats itself, big deal - Microsoft is still getting its pound of flesh whether or not you use the new stuff.

No matter what happens on the subscription front, VECD will continue to be a thorn in the sides of those recommending or implementing VDI.

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See also: How to use virtualisation software

  1. Desktop virtualisation is hurting the company's profits
  2. Microsoft's licensing rules for VDI cost you more
  3. VDI is good for enterprises, but not for Microsoft

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