Microsoft lifts virtualisation licensing restriction

90-day limit has been stopped in some circumstances

Microsoft has confirmed that it will eliminate a licensing restriction that prevented customers from moving virtualised applications to a different server more than once every 90 days.

Microsoft also says it will begin providing new levels of technical support for applications running on virtual servers.

Server virtualisation technologies allow virtual machines to be swapped from one physical server to another without disrupting end users. But under current Microsoft policies, customers must reassign a software licence in order to make such a move, and can only do so once every 90 days.

That 90-day restriction will be removed on September 1 for the most commonly used Microsoft server applications, including SQL Server 2008 Enterprise edition, Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 Standard and Enterprise editions, Dynamics CRM 4.0 Enterprise and Professional editions, Office SharePoint Server 2007, and Microsoft System Centre products. In all, 41 server applications are affected.

This move was anticipated by industry observers. Analysts believed the time restriction unnecessarily limited the system flexibility that makes server virtualisation so useful.

Not all server applications are gaining the new, more favorable licensing structure, however. Forrester analyst Christopher Voce says one noticeable absence is SQL Server Standard edition. Microsoft is apparently trying to give customers added incentive to upgrade to the more pricy SQL Server Enterprise edition, Voce says.

"This was an evolutionary change to the Microsoft licensing that everyone expected," he says. "They introduced the kind of flexibility that you would expect for Microsoft applications in virtual environments. But it's not all roses for certain customers."

Microsoft predicts that many customers will be able to reduce the number of licences they have to purchase, since they won't need licences for every machine a workload might possibly be moved to. "You don't have to have every target machine licensed ahead of time," says Zane Adam, senior director of integrated virtualisation at Microsoft.

With the change, Microsoft server apps running on virtual machines can be moved to any server within a server farm, as often as customers want, without accruing additional licensing fees.

Server farms are defined broadly. A customer, for example, can move a workload from a server in New York to one in Los Angeles without being charged an extra licence fee, Adam says. However, moving a workload from the United States to Europe would require an additional licence.

A 90-day restriction still applies to desktop applications, such as the Microsoft Office suite. Adam says Microsoft is leaving the desktop time limit in place because desktop programs don't require the same level of mobility as server applications.

In addition to eliminating the 90-day rule for server applications, Microsoft also says it will provide technical support for applications running on several types of hypervisors. Previously, it did not offer the same level of support for products if they were running on virtual machines rather than physical servers. Now customers using any one of 31 server applications on virtual machines can expect full support.

VMware  and Microsoft have found common ground in a deal that will let customers receive technical support for Microsoft applications running on servers virtualised with VMware's hypervisor.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said last week that VMware has joined Microsoft's Server Virtualisation Validation Program. This means that VMware will try to get its hypervisor certified by Microsoft, and once that happens Microsoft will offer technical support for Microsoft applications running on VMware servers. It's not clear when those support plans would become available.

Previously, Microsoft said VMware had been invited to the validation program but had not joined. VMware apparently changed its mind last week. Hypervisor vendors already in the Microsoft programme include Cisco, Citrix, Novell, Sun, and Virtual Iron.

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Tags managementMicrosoftvirtualisation licensing

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