Windows 8 VDA Licensing For VDI

I won’t be answering any questions on this post.  If you have any questions then ask your reseller, LAR, or distributor (if you are a reseller) – that’s what you pay them for.  The other important note that this post is correct (or as correct as I can verify) based on how things are at this time (written on 14/Nov/2012).
Microsoft has made some great improvements with licensing.  Windows Server licensing is simple, and virtualisation has been simplified no end – those of you who disagree with the latter really need to stop overthinking things because it is simple.  Windows 8 started out great too; a nice small set of SKUs.  But then they started figuring out licensing for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and Windows To Go … and this stuff is a mess.  Start reading and you’ll soon see why I’m redirecting everyone to bring their their unique scenarios and questions to their reseller/LAR/distributor.  I just don’t have the time.
One thing that didn’t change was the need for VDA (Virtual Desktop Access) in some form.  You cannot just buy a copy of Windows XP/Vista/7/8, install it in a VM, and let people have at it.  You need to license your VDI client devices with VDA (in some form), and that’s what has changed.
There are a number of scenarios, depending on the client device:
Windows PCs
There are two ways to license this:
  1. You attach Software Assurance (SA) to company PCs using Windows 8 Pro. This gives you Windows 8 Enterprise and the many benefits of Software Assurance.  This includes VDA.
  2. You do not attach SA to your PCs.  This might be because you don’t want to buy SA, or because the client PCs are the users’ home PCs.  In this case, you have to buy VDA for each VDI client device.
Company Owned Windows RT Tablets As Companion Devices
This is where:
  • The user uses a PC with SA as their primary device AND
  • The company supplies the user with a Windows RT device as their companion device that will be used as a VDI client.
There is a new SA benefit called Windows RT Companion VDA Rights.  With this right, the VDA granted to the primary PC that has SA is also extended to the Windows RT device.
Let me be very clear on this:
  • The VDA right does not extend to BYOD or employee-owned Windows RT devices.  It only extends to company owned Windows RT devices.
  • The VDA right does not extend to any other kind of company owned tablet, including iPad, Android, or Windows 8 (home or Pro).
Yes, I know; your company is more likely to purchase Windows 8 Pro tablets, which do not get this right, and BYOD is a hot topic, and employee owned devices (even Windows RT) also do not get this right.
Employee Owned Devices Outside The Company Firewall
This is where an employee will access the VDI VMs from personally owned devices outside of the company firewall, i.e. from the Internet, and not from inside the office.  There are two options:
  1. If you have SA for the user’s primary device (company owned PC + Windows 8 Pro), then you get a right called Roaming Use Rights at no extra cost.  To quote Microsoft: “Roaming Use Rights allow the primary user any licensed device to access a virtual instance of Windows running in the datacenter (VDI) or Windows To Go from non-corporate devices such as personally-owned or hotel business center PCs while away from the office”
  2. Without SA on a primary device, then you have no choice but to buy VDA for the employee owned devices.
Employee Owned Devices Inside The Company Firewall (BYOD To Work)
This is when an employee brings their own device to work (inside the company firewall) to access VDI.  Once again, there are two options:
  1. If you have purchased your licensing through Select, Enterprise Agreement, Enrollment For Education Solutions, or School Enrollment AND you have purchased SA for the user’s primary device (company owned PC + Windows 8 Pro), then you can purchase a Windows Companion Subscription License (CSL).  This entitles the user to bring up to 4 of their devices to work, and use them as VDI clients.  Note that an SA customer doesn’t need CSL if the devices are being used only from outside of work (the company firewall).
  2. Sorry: if you are licensed via OEM, Open, OV, or OVS, then it appears that you must not want to do BYOD.  You’ll have no choice but to buy VDA for each employee owned device being brought to work for use as a VDI client.
Everything Else
Off the top of my head, this appears to be company owned devices such as Windows 8 Pro tablets, company owned iPads or Android, company owned phones, etc, and company owned Windows RT devices where the primary device doesn’t have SA.  In this case, you need to buy VDA for each client device.
I know; it’s a mess.  What if BYOD devices are allowed in the office but must be outside the firewall?  I don’t know that one yet.  Why are company owned Windows 8 Pro tablets lesser citizens than Windows RT?  I’m guessing that MSFT must think that a Windows 8 Pro tablet would only ever be a primary device, and that’s a big generalised assumption.  You can find the information here.
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Server Posterpedia –Windows Server Poster App

A new app that features the feature poster apps for a number of server products, not just Hyper-V, has been released. You can download this app from the Microsoft Store for Windows 8.


Click on a poster, and it’s displayed for you:


You can zoom and scroll through the poster. Cleverly, the actions that you can run from the app will link you to additional information on TechNet. And there is even a link to download the original poster.  What a handy way to start learning the features of server products.  This is worth installing Windows 8 for!

Ben Armstrong posted about the app overnight, including a video of the app in action.


Windows 8 for Business Licensing Guides, Including Windows To Go, App Sideloading, BYOD, and VDI

I have found 3 guides to (try) help you understand how to Windows (including Windows 8 and older versions via downgrade rights) for desktops, companion devices, and VDI via volume licensing in the business:

I actually was going to try write a longer post detailing lots of the details of Windows 8 licensing butitseemslikepunctuationandwritingunderstandableEnglishhavefallenoutoffavourinRedmondThelanguagein






That’s my own, personal, non-work-related opinion on that.

Some interesting bits:

  • If you want to dual boot a PC, then you need to cover it with Software Assurance (SA)
  • SA also gives you rights to 4 VMs on the licensed Windows 8 machine.  That’s not new; I remember it from way, way back from when I first started blogging.
  • OEM licensing can only downgrade to Windows 7 (except Ultimate) or Windows Vista.  You need a volume license upgrade to downgrade to XP.
  • You need to look at Companion Subscription Licensing (CSL – available to buy for PCs covered by VL upgrade with SA) if you’re looking at Windows To Go or VDI from additional (non primary) devices such as tablets or smartphones.

This stuff is complex.  Please consult with your LAR (if you are buying Select/Enterprise Agreement), reseller (if you are buying Open/OV/OVS) or distributor (if you are reselling Open/OV/OVS) if this stuff is unclear (which it will be if you are not an aforementioned constitutional lawyer).

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Finally Some Sense – Gartner Says “Cost Savings” Of VDI Are Fiction

I think I’ve talked about how VDI makes no financial sense once or twice before.  The Register has a story on how Gartner has analysed the costs of implementing and owning VDI.  Long story short: it costs as much if not more (I say much more) than buying and owning PCs.  The reason to implement VDI isn’t simplified management, it isn’t reduced costs.  It is the side effects of centralisation such as easier data access and stricter security. 

Personally I think RDS Session Hosts (Terminal Servers) are a much more cost effective way of getting these same results, possibly with App-V to prevent application silos.

Microsoft Assessment & Planning Toolkit 7.0 Goes Live – Supports Windows 8 and Server 2012

I just received an email informing me that MAP 7.0 is live, and it now supports assessment to help you plan the deployment of Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V.  You can start planning now, with the products coming down the pipe soon.

The new version which you can download now allows you to:

  • Understand your readiness to deploy Windows Server 2012 in your environment
  • Determine Windows 8 readiness
  • Investigate how Windows Server and System Center can manage your heterogeneous environment through VMware migration and Linux server virtualization assessments
  • Size your desktop virtualization needs for both Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and session-based virtualization using Remote Desktop Services
  • Ready your information platform for the cloud with the SQL Server 2012 discovery and migration assessment
  • Evaluate your licensing needs with usage tracking for Lync 2010, active users and devices, SQL Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012

You should know that I believe that assessment is a critical early step in a virtualisation project, be it XenServer, VMware, or Hyper-V.  Without it, you’re shooting blind, and you’ll end up being an anecdote in a presentation on how to do a crap project.

In The Year 2000: VDI Will Replace The PC

Ok, I meant in the year 2009 … err … 2010 … err … 2011 … hmm … maybe 2012?  Some of you might remember back to 1998 or thereabouts when the PC was doomed by the return to mainframe style computing based on WinFrame MetaFrame (aka Presentation Server, XenApp).  Somehow or other, that didn’t happen.  Instead, a few companies did go for this style of server based computing based on Terminal Services Remote Desktop Services Session Hosts – seriously Microsoft, can we just call them Terminal Servers once again?

A decade later, virtual desktop infrastructure was to call time on the PC in the business.  Endless new years forecasts, and a heap of VMware marketing, promised us this would happen in 2010.  Then it would happen in 2011.  I’m betting that come December 2012 the forecasts will once gain proclaim that the coming year will be The Year Of The Virtual Desktop.  Pfft!  Just like this year was, and the year before.

Like I’ve been saying for a couple of years, VDI is a false economy.  Costs go up when you move from the desk to the data centre, and you’re just moving the management problem from one place to another, and adding the need to add more management and lock down to the end user desktop experience – and that’s the last thing the customer (we in IT are in a service business and the business/user is our customer *throws up just a little bit*) wants right now (see Consumerisation of IT).

An article in Network World sums this "year of virtual desktop” claptrap up nicely.  My opinion, and what the local MSFT folks here have been saying too, is that VDI is part of the overall solution, just like *breath in* Remote Desktop Services Session Hosts *gasp for air – I’m sure glad I don’t have emphysema*.

So the next time you see a forecast telling you that the coming year will be the year of VDI (I think they’ve pretty much moved to The Year Of The Cloud these days) or you hear a VMware sales/marketing person telling you that the PC is dead, you know it’s time to either move on, or walk outside to the free coffee in the hall outside.

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Looking Back on Day 3 at Build Windows … Plus More!

Today was storage day at Build for me.  I attended 1.5 Hyper-V networking sessions and filled out the rest of the day with clustering and storage (which are pretty much one and the same now).  The highlights:

  • CSV backup in Windows Server 8 does not use Redirected I/O
  • The storage vendors were warned to increase the size of their iSCSI 3 tables (much bigger cluster support now from Microsoft, and more opportunity to use the SAN)
  • Storage Pool and File Share Clustering … well let me dig deeper ….


Investing in a virtualisation cluster is a pricey deal, for anyone because of the cost of SAS/iSCSI/FC SANs.  Even a start kit with just a few TB of disk will be the biggest investment in IT that most small/medium businesses will ever make.  And it requires a bunch of new skills, management systems, and procedures.   The operations of LUN deployment can slow down a cloud’s ability to respond to business demands.

Microsoft obviously recognised this several years ago and started working on Storage Pools and Spaces.  The idea here is that you can take a JBOD (just a bunch of disks, which can be internal or DAS) or disks on an existing SAN, and create a storage pool.  That is an aggregation of disks.  You can have many of these for isolation of storage class, administrative delegation, and so on.  From the pool, you create Storage Spaces.  These are VHDX files AFAIK on the disk, and they can be mounted as volumes by servers.

In this new style of Hyper-V cluster design, you can create a highly available File Server cluster with transparent failover.  That means failover is instant, thanks to a Witness (informs the server connecting to the cluster if a node fails and to connect to an alternative).  For something like Hyper-V, you can set your cluster up with active-active clustering of the file shares, and this uses CSV (CSV is no longer just for storing Hyper-V VMs).  The connecting clients (which are servers) can be load balanced using PowerShell scripting (could be a scheduled task).

Note: active/passive file share clustering (not using CSV) is recommended when there are lots of little files, when implementing end user file shares, and when there is a lot of file metadata activity.

Now you can create a Hyper-V cluster which uses the UNC paths of the file share cluster to store VMs.

This is all made possible by native NIC teaming, SMB 2.2, RDMA, and offloading technologies.

The result is actually a much cheaper storage solution than you could get with a starter kit SAN, and probably would include much more storage space.  It is more flexible, and more economic.  One of the examples we were shown had the file server cluster also hosting other shares for SQL Server files and end user file shares.

Brian Ehlert (@BrianEh) said it best: file servers are now cool.

Asymmetric Hyper-V Cluster

Elden Christensen briefly mentioned this one in his talk and I asked him about it at Ask The Experts.  The idea is that you take the above design, but only a single Windows cluster is used.  It is used to cluster the VMs and to cluster the file share(s).  This flattens the infrastructure, reduces the number of servers, and thus reduces the cost.  This one would be of great interest to small and medium businesses, as well as corporate branch offices.

Self Healing CSV

Myself and Didier van Hoye (@workinghardinit) once had a chat about sizing of CSV.  He brought up the point that no one wanted to take a CSV offline for a weekend to chkdsk a multi-terabye CSV volume.  True!

Microsoft have now implemented this solution in Windows Server 8:

  • Every 60 seconds, the health of the CSV volume is assessed.
  • If a fault is found, Windows will target that fault for a fix.
  • Windows will dismount the volume, and start caching VM write activity.
  • With the CSV offline, Windows will start fixing the fault.  It has an 8 second window.
  • If the fault is fixed the volume is brought back online and the storage activity cache is pushed out.
  • If the fault is not fixed, the volume is brought back online, and Windows will take a later 8 second break at continuing to fix the fault.  Eventually the fault is fixed with a one or more 8 second cumulative attempts.

VDI Changes

It seems like the VDI management/broker architecture will be getting much simpler.  We’re also getting some performance boosts to deal with the 9am disk storm.  Pooled VMs will be based on a single VHD.  Each created pooled VM will actually be a differencing disk.  When a pooled VM is booted up on a host, a differencing disk is created and cached on the host.  The disk is stored on an SSD in the host.  Because it’s a differencing disk, it should be tiny, holding probably no more than the user’s state.  Using local high IOPS SSD massively improves performance over accessing AVHDs on the SAN, and takes care of the 9am storage storm.

Whitepaper: A Guide to Hyper-V Dynamic Memory

I’ve just published a new document or guide that is subtitled as “Understanding, enabling, and configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V Dynamic Memory for virtualised workloads”.

This whitepaper will walk you through:

  • The mechanics of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Hyper-V Dynamic Memory
  • The scenarios that you’ll employ it in
  • The pre-requisites for Dynamic Memory
  • Configuring Dynamic Memory
  • Some of the application workload scenarios

“We normally don’t like it when a service pack includes new features. New features mean changes that need to be tested, possible compatibility issues, and more headaches in between the usual operating system deployment cycles. Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 came with a number of new features but we did not complain; in fact, we virtualisation engineers had a mini celebration. This is because those new features were mostly targeted at server and desktop/session virtualisation, and aimed to give us a better return on hardware investment.

Dynamic Memory was one of those new features. Put very simply, this VM memory allocation feature allows us to get more virtual machines on to a Hyper-V host without sacrificing performance.

You can use Dynamic Memory in a few scenarios. The one that gets the most publicity is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) where economic PCs are replaced by expensive virtual machines running in the data centre. It’s critical to get as many of them on a host as possible to reduce the cost of ownership. Server virtualisation is the scenario that we techies are most concerned with. We’ve typically found that we tend to run out of memory before we get near to the processor or storage I/O limits of our hardware. And the final scenario is where we use Hyper-V to build an Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud, where elasticity and greater virtual machine density are required.

The approach that Microsoft took with this new memory optimisation technique ensures that concepts such as over commitment are not possible; that’s because over commitment potentially does cause performance issues. Dynamic Memory does require that you understand how it works, how to troubleshoot it, and how applications may be affected, before you log into your hosts and start enabling it. It will require some planning.

The aim of this document is to teach you how Dynamic Memory works, show you how to configure it, how to monitor it, and how to use it in various application scenarios”.

The document continues …


Big shout out to the Hyper-V PMs and my fellow MVPs for the many conversations over the past year that allowed us to learn a lot.

Speaking at PubForum This Week

PubForum Dublin 2011 started today with a “pre-con” master class on Windows Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services, focusing on VDI.  The speakers are Christa Anderson, Kristin Griffin (contributed but couldn’t be here) (both of them them wrote Windows Server® 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services Resource Kit), Alex Yushchenko (RDS MVP, and the organiser), and me.

Christa is an RDS program manager in Microsoft and therefore is a fountain of knowledge.  She’s speaking right now.  I’m sitting here, listening, and making the most of the learning opportunity.

I’ll be doing a 2 hour brain dump on Hyper-V/SCVMM/backup in a VDI context.  My slide deck is monstrous.  I’ve had to drop a check point into it so I can see how I’m doing for time.  I’m not hitting all possible subjects, but I am focusing on what I think is critical, and some of the usual “pits” that I find people fall into.

Tomorrow I have a Microsoft Private Cloud session.  That’ll be funny; VMware will be in the next room talking about their solution.

And on Friday I have a 15 minute session.  I’d thought about doing an update session on Dynamic Memory but that is being covered in another 1 hour session.  And I thought about CSV/backup but I’m doing that today and it requires more than 15 minutes.  I think I’ll do a BYOQ session combined with chalk’n’talk.

Event – Private Cloud Academy W2008 R2 SP1

On May 20th, I will be presenting the 4th in the series of these events.  This event, focusing on what Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 brings to Hyper-V, will be co-sponsored by Microsoft Ireland and MicroWarehouse Ltd.  You can register now.

Content will focus on RemoteFX and Dynamic Memory.  As you may have gathered from the last couple of months, I probably have a lot to talk about the latter in this 3 hour long event.  I’ll also try to squeeze in time for some other topics.