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Windows, BYOD, and the Multi-Device Environment: What Does It Mean for Software Licensing?

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Bring your own device (BYOD) is a burning topic in many organizations, especially for IT staff. Until recently, security issues have occupied the lion’s share of the BYOD debate, but we’re now seeing more frequent discussions about the software licensing implications of BYOD and multiple-device-per-user scenarios, especially as it relates to Microsoft licensing. Given these discussions and the pervasiveness of BYOD, it’s worth delving into a few of the trickier aspects.

Depending on its needs, an organization likely has dozens of software contracts governed by multiple licensing models at any given time. This means, for IT departments who want to avoid confusion and non-compliance, it’s critical to have a coherent software asset management strategy in place.

Under the BYOD scenario, employees are permitted to use their own personal devices (or secondary devices which are paid for by the company) for work. Depending on corporate policies, they may be able use these devices to access the company network either on-site or remotely. Though seemingly a natural evolution of the growing ‘consumerization’ of IT, BYOD has had the unintended consequence of plunging organizations even further into the dark corners of license compliance.

Access to the employer network from a BYOD device, even if harnessed to or ‘companioned’ with another licensed device (think desktop plus tablet or notebook) can trigger extra licensing costs and raise compliance considerations, depending on multiple somewhat obscure factors. These might include:

  • Type of Microsoft licensing secured by an organization. For example, if you have Windows 8, you receive free roaming use rights, free virtual desktop access (VDA) and a companion device add-on. You can license Microsoft Office per user as part of Office 365 or via a separate Office Subscription product, but perpetual licenses are allocated per-device. And, don’t forget the Microsoft Mobile Access Service User SL that is required depending on how you license Office.
  • Type of device used. For example, employee-owned BYOD devices are not covered by the roaming use rights available under Microsoft Windows Software Assurance. (Oh, but if it’s a Microsoft Surface then it’s OK!)

One area of licensing that is, in theory, relatively straightforward is the situation in which client access licenses (CALs) are required for devices to connect with servers. Varying network access scenarios can blur the boundaries that define when BYOD devices might incur additional licensing fees in Windows environments. For example, the compliance flag should be raised if 1) users directly access a Microsoft server, and that access requires CALs; 2) users remotely connect to their work PCs or access the server via Remote Desktop Services; or 3) if users work with Microsoft’s virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology, where each user connects to a virtual machine hosted on a Windows server.

Microsoft does have per-user licensing options for some products. For instance, you can buy user CALs instead of device CALs for Windows Server, Exchange, and SharePoint. You can even mix the two types, buying user CALs for people who have, say, iPads and Android devices in addition to their work PC, and device CALs for kiosk PCs that several people use.

One relatively simple rule of thumb is this: if licenses are bought on a per-user basis, the device is probably covered. Do not, however, feel too secure about this rule; asset managers must be absolutely clear about what a per-user license covers, and be prepared to research whether it’s more economical than a per-device equivalent.

It appears that Microsoft is trying to improve the way it incorporates BYOD and employee use of multiple devices into its licensing, but some of these attempts have unfortunately proven to make the situation more complicated.

In a recent post, Duncan Jones of Forrester Research discussed the (likely) unintended consequences arising from the fact that different Microsoft product teams continue to invent new ways to handle licensing in BYOD situations. Their individual license rules exist in their own separate vacuums which might work well for a single product, but are inconsistent with how other product teams handle the same situation.

For example, Microsoft has recently made a strong play in support of its Surface RT tablet with the introduction of new policies applying only to tablets running Windows RT (a light version of Windows 8 software). Effectively this means that users of any device running Windows RT are excused from the companion licensing fees imposed on non-Windows RT devices.

What do these conflicting license scenarios mean for IT? Will its customers be calling ever more loudly for per-user licensing? It would take a major overhaul of license policies on Microsoft’s part to make that happen, but whatever the outcome, we can be sure that any new user-based licensing rules would likely not result in lower overall revenues for the Redmond giant.

IT professionals are more than ever in need of advanced software asset management programs to help them align their licensing purchases with evolving BYOD strategies. Those who lack a clear picture of their licensing posture are likely to find the winds of BYOD change to be chilly in the extreme.