Featured Image

Microsoft Licensing for Citrix Environments

March 31, 2015

Subscribe to Email Updates

Is there anybody out there in IT land who is NOT confused by Microsoft licensing rules and options? I certainly don’t think so. Let me try to make some sense out of this mess. This is a two-part article covering the CAL options in this segment, and the various contract options in the next.

Server Client Access Licenses (CALs)

Coming from the Citrix world, we have had to deal with this issue for years. On the MetaFrame-Presentation Server-XenApp side of the equation, the solution is pretty simple. When you start talking about VDI, things start to get interesting. This chart below does a pretty good job of laying out the options.

microsoft licensing   citrix licensing   rules and options  

The XenApp environment requires an RDS, or Remote Desktop Services CAL and that’s about it. The RDS CAL was previously called a Terminal Server CAL. Notice that streaming an application directly to the workstation OS does not require an RDS CAL. A Windows File/Print CAL is also required for this environment. One thing to note is that if your company has XenDesktop licenses, but are ONLY using the XenApp portion of those licenses, you still only need an RDS Cal (no VDA licenses).

When you throw XenDesktop VDI into the mix, things get more interesting. Do your PC workstations have Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) coverage? You can only buy SA coverage at the time you buy the PC, or up to 90 days after purchase. If so, you are pretty much good to go as far as VDI access from that workstation. This also includes Extended Roaming Rights (ERR) that allows users of an SA covered PC to access their VDI desktop from a home PC, tablet or kiosk that is NOT company- owned or inside the corporate environment, without additional licensing. If the devices are company owned or used directly on the corporate LAN in the OFFICE, then a Companion Device License (CDL) must be purchased for each additional device used by that user. There is one exception to this that is about to be introduced. There is no CDL license required for a Windows RT tablet (Microsoft Surface and others) that are corporate owned for SA or VDA users. Big surprise, huh. They are giving users a big incentive to use the Microsoft Surface rather than an iPad or Android tablet.

OK, so what if your PC were bought with OEM Windows licenses (no SA coverage) or you are using thin client or other devices (tablets, smart phones) that have an OS other than Windows? Then you need a Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license that is only available on a subscription basis for about $90 annually. A VDA license is effectively SA coverage for those devices that weren’t bought with SA, or had no SA available for them.

ERR applies to VDA licensed devices as well, except for the following. Your home-owned devices can NOT be used at the office to access your VDI sessions… remember, that’s when Microsoft considers that the same as a corporate owned device, and wants another VDA license on each device in that category. The other exception is when a user does NOT have a corporate device of any type (SA covered PC or VDA covered device). In other words, users that only have access from various personal devices. In that case, you need a VDA license for each device with access. Is all that clear as mud? Don’t blame the messenger.

There is also a thing called a VDI Suite that is designed for VDI environments that have no Terminal Server or XenApp. It is effectively the RDS CAL without the pieces to access Term Server and XenApp, plus a few additional minor utilities. It takes the place of an RDS CAL in that environment, which can save you money. This suite can be bought with or without the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) suite of tools, which includes:

  • APP-V: Packaging and streaming tool that Citrix now recommends
  • User Experience Virtualization (UE-V): A tool to make viewing consistent from different devices
  • Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V):A tool that allows Windows XP apps to run on Windows 7
  • Adv. Group Policy Management (AGPM):A better profile manager than roaming profiles
  • BitLocker Admin & Monitoring (MBAM):Disk encryption tool
  • Diagnostics and Recovery Toolkit (DaRT):14 tools to help techs fix broken PCs

In a Citrix environment, App-V, BitLocker and DaRT could be valuable and you may want to consider the VDI Suite with MDOP, or MDOP by itself.

Microsoft Applications

Let’s look at OFFICE, since it is the most ubiquitous Microsoft application. Some of these rules may surprise you.

  • Only Volume licensed copies (Open, Open Value, Select, Select PLUS, or Enterprise) of Microsoft applications may be hosted on Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop. No OEM, packaged product or even OFFICE 365 licenses may be used.
  • If OFFICE Pro 2010 is hosted on Citrix, users with workstation licenses of OFFICE STD 2010 or OFFICE Pro 2007 are NOT licensed to access the server version.
  • All devices capable of accessing the application on the Citrix environment must be licensed for that application regardless of whether or not they are used for that purpose.

These rules seem pretty harsh.

Hosted Environments

There is some relief for those that choose to host their environment. Any Microsoft licensed system provider can offer most of these products on a System Provider License agreement (SPLA) schedule. This is a monthly fee on a per user basis, and the fees are actually reasonable. See the pricing comparison in the next section. RDS CAL and VDA subscriptions are not available on the SPLA monthly pricing contract, but Whitehat and many other hosting firms can buy the subscriptions on your behalf and bake them into your monthly pricing. 

General Pricing      
Product OPEN (1 Time Payment) OPEN Value (3 annual payments) SPLA (Monthly)
  (License Only) (Lic + SA)  
RDS User CAL $90 $61 x3 $7.50 (1st year)
Windows User CAL $31 $18 x3 $3.00 (1st year)
VDA Subscription  NA $90 x3 $7.50 (monthly)
OFFICE Standard $342 $207 x3 $11.00 (monthly)
OFFICE ProPlus $467 $283 x3 $15.00 (monthly)
VDI Suite w/MDOP NA $20 x3 $2.00 (monthly)
VDI Suite w/o MDOP NA $12 x3 $1.00 (monthly)

Bottom Line

Microsoft is not making application and desktop virtualization easy.  They have been using this pricing policy to strong arm companies into buying PCs with SA, and Enterprise agreements for support. Google and other companies know this, and the alternatives are starting to roll in from desktop OSes, to browsers, to office-like applications. There is a good chance that Microsoft will regret this pricing policy in the not too distant future.

Diagnose All Of Your Citrix Issues: Download Our Ebook


Citrix Slowing you down
Start speeding things up!

Get Our Ebook