Microsoft licensing rules for BYOD not set; beware of snags

Experts warn that BYOD can lead to Microsoft licensing violations, and they explain how to properly license software for mobile access.

You could be violating Microsoft's licensing rules by letting end users access corporate email and applications on their personal devices.

Microsoft hasn't adapted its licensing rules for the bring your own device (BYOD) world yet and probably won't update its licensing policies to address remote access from user-owned tablets and smartphones until Windows 8 comes out, analysts said.

"It's very common for them to keep restrictive rules in place for categories in which it can't compete, and then, once Microsoft is in a position to compete, the restrictions may drop away," said Paul DeGroot, a Microsoft licensing specialist and analyst at Pica Communications.

Microsoft doesn't appear to be enforcing its remote-access licensing rules very strictly, but that's dangerous for customers -- particularly among those not paying attention to employees using their own devices to access Microsoft software, DeGroot said.

"If you don't know all of the devices being used, you could be in for a nasty surprise down the road, since most of Microsoft's licensing, particularly for desktops and tablets, is device-based," he said.

Companies have to look closely at the remote-access rights to Microsoft products from mobile devices. For instance, "it is much cheaper and simpler to license a user to access his own PC from a mobile device than it is for the same users to access a server," said Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, during the market researcher firm's Microsoft Enterprise Software Roadmap 2012 webcast last week.

Microsoft has adjusted its licensing policies in response to recent trends, and it could do the same for mobility. For instance, Microsoft overhauled its licensing to support virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) under Software Assurance in 2010. The company also added Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licensing for non-Windows clients (such as thin clients) that access Windows via VDI.

"The rules have become more liberal -- but that liberalization is tied to Software Assurance," Helm said.

For now, companies supporting BYOD should check their licensing policies for any possible violations, he added.

Explaining Microsoft licensing for mobile enterprises
Enterprises with a "platform" Enterprise Agreement (EA), which is common in large companies, need to buy a Windows Upgrade, an Office license and a Client Access License (CAL) suite for any "qualified device," which includes any device used by or "for the benefit of" your organization, DeGroot said.

"Since that language says nothing about who owns the device, something an employee buys is covered equally to something the employer buys," DeGroot said.

"Interpreted strictly, that could mean if you read an email from your boss on your iPad, the company will need to count that device on the next anniversary of the agreement, when the customer 'trues up' any devices added during the year," DeGroot said. Typically, adding a "qualified device" to an EA costs $900 to $1,300, depending on the enterprise discount level and the type of CAL suite, he added.

There is an exception to the qualified desktop rule for devices that access Microsoft software using VDI. "Since VDI, in Microsoft's view, includes Remote Desktop Services, which is a very popular way to get at your corporate resources with an iPad, a lot of tablets will still be considered qualified devices, but not necessarily all," DeGroot said.

Customers with licensing agreements that don't have the "qualified desktop" language are off the hook, he said.

But IT pros also have to consider how devices are used. If a company doesn't have an EA and employees use mobile devices to access only email from the company's Exchange server, all that's needed are Windows and Exchange Client Access licenses, DeGroot said.

If employees use RDS to access Office from their iPads, the company needs an RDS CAL, and the device must have an Office license -- even if the device can't run Office, DeGroot said. In addition, if employees use their smartphones and tablets to access documents from a SharePoint Server, the company needs a CAL for that, too, he said.

Companies can get around these licensing issues by encouraging the use of mobile applications that let users view Office documents, said Michael Oh, CEO of Apple device consultancy TechSuperPowers in Boston. Some of these apps include Apple iWork, Quick Office or DataViz Inc.'s DocumentsToGo products.

"These apps are limited, but for many people, they are more than sufficient," Oh said.

As mentioned earlier, companies also use RDP or VDI to deliver Microsoft apps to mobile devices. But this isn't ideal because virtual desktops typically don't conform to most tablet and smartphone screens, said Brian Katz, a director of mobility engineering at a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. It's a "good idea for a quick problem solve, but painful for more than a little bit of time," he said.

Cloud-based offerings such as Office 365 could be a better option. "[Customers] will have to look at per-user licensing where possible," Directions on Microsoft's Helm said. "For Microsoft, that means per-user prescription licensing through things like Office 365."

In the short term, a subscription to hosted Exchange should cost about the same as purchasing CALs for users who access on-premises mail servers, DeGroot said. "However, unless you've moved all of your Exchange [servers] to the cloud, you may find that keeping both on-premises and cloud email going for different uses and devices is more trouble than it's worth," he said.

Also, if a company's licenses are based on User CALs, extra CALs may not be necessary. These CALs are purchased for users, not devices, so a user can legally use any device without needing other CALs.

If the organization uses Device CALs, then the device does need its own set of CALs.

"User and Device CALs cost the same, and these days, precisely because so many people access email and other resources from multiple machines, I recommend going with User CALs," DeGroot said.

Both Katz and Oh said they expect Microsoft to deliver a version of Office for the iPad soon.

"It's up to Microsoft to decide if Office for the iPad is necessary," Oh said. "But they offer it for the Mac, and they are missing out on millions of potential iPad Office users at this point."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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