The Biz-Tech Intersect: Windows, BYOD and the Multi-Device Environment — The Software Licensing Angle

Bring your own device (BYOD) has caused heated debate and more than its share of IT issues in 2012. Early in the year, security and integration led the list of top challenges for CIOs, but recently attention has turned towards the software licensing implications of BYOD and multiple-device-per-user scenarios, especially with respect to to Microsoft licensing. Given these recent developments, it’s worth delving into a few of the trickier issues that BYOD raises for enterprise IT departments.

BYOD is not going away any time soon

It’s true that the imminent launch of a new breed of enterprise-focused (and easier-to-integrate) personal mobility offerings running on Microsoft Windows 8 makes it more likely that order may ultimately prevail over the BYOD chaos. This will apply not only to Surface tablets, but also new devices in the pipeline from the likes of Samsung, Dell and HP.

In the meantime, however, we can’t pretend the Pandora’s box hasn’t already been opened. Despite the fervent wishes of CIOs, the business-class mobile device environment will remain mixed for some time to come. Organizations will have to wait for new, appropriate offerings to trickle onto the market before they can write off some of their recent investments in BYOD, and meanwhile users continue to cling to their Apple and Android habits.

The upshot is that CIOS dealing with a multi-device environment face a far more complex Microsoft licensing scenario. While corporate policies governing the use of these devices are becoming more common, in our experience most IT departments that have introduced BYOD policies over the last year are still unlikely to feel totally confident about a software audit. This is understandable: Depending on its needs, a company probably has dozens of software contracts governed by multiple licensing models at any given time. To avoid confusion and non-compliance, having a coherent software asset management strategy in place that allows you to continually review how BYOD will affect existing license agreements, and vice versa, is critical.

Veering off the compliance path

Here’s where confusion begins: In a BYOD environment, employees are permitted to use their own personal devices (or secondary devices 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 or both. This is a natural evolution of the closer intertwining of employees, mobility, and personalized devices. Unfortunately, BYOD has also had the unintended consequence of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that strays far from the path of license compliance.

If you access your employer network from a BYOD device, even if it is harnessed to or “companioned” with another licensed device (think desktop plus tablet or notebook), it can trigger extra licensing costs and raise compliance considerations you may not be aware of, depending on multiple – and somewhat obscure – factors. For example, the type of Microsoft licensing your organization already has in place will make a difference. If you have Windows 8, you receive free roaming use rights, free virtual desktop access (VDA) and a companion device add-on. Also, 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 software license that’s required, depending on how you license Office.

The type of device you use also matters. For example, an employee-owned device is not covered by roaming use rights available under Microsoft Office Software Assurance – unless, of course, it’s a Microsoft Windows 8 RT device

Access scenarios and why they matter

One area of licensing that ought to be relatively easy to grasp is when client access licenses (CALs) are required for devices to connect with servers. But even that use case can bring complications. The boundaries that define when BYOD devices might incur additional licensing fees in Windows environments are not always clear cut, depending on varying network access scenarios. For example, you should worry about compliance if users directly access a Microsoft server and if that access requires CALs. You should also be concerned if users remotely connect to their work PCs or access the server via Remote Desktop Services, or if users work with Microsoft’s virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology, where each user connects to a virtual machine hosted on a Windows server.

How should IT departments juggle all these variables? If you want relief, Microsoft does have per-user licensing options for some products. 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.

In general, it’s useful to keep in mind thatif licenses are bought on a per-user basis, the device is probably covered. Don’t, however, let this lull you into a false sense of security; asset managers must be absolutely clear about what any particular per-user license covers, and they should also be prepared to research whether it’s cheaper or better than per-device licensing, because the answer isn’t always obvious.

Changes May Be Coming

It does appear that inside Microsoft efforts are underway to improve the the incorporation of BYOD and multiple device usage into software licensing, but consistency is elusive. This is in part because different Microsoft product teams seem to be working in silos rather than coordinating efforts across the entire lineup of offerings. As a result, some of these attempts at simplification have made the situation more complicated.

True, Microsoft has recently made a strong play in support of its Surface RT tablet by introducing new policies applying only to tablets running Windows RT (a non-Intel processor based version of Windows 8). Effectively, this means that users of any device running Windows RT are excused from the companion licensing fees imposed on non-Windows RT companion devices such as iPads and Android-based tablets. That’s certainly helpful, but if you’re waiting for a comprehensive simplification of licensing requirements reaching across the entire suite of Microsoft products, don’t hold your breath. And for organizations open to the use of Apple or other non-Windows laptops and devices, its unlikely to help – ever.

What do these conflicting license scenarios mean for IT and software asset managers? Will Microsoft shops be calling ever more loudly for per-user licensing? Or will Microsoft smother (most of) the BYOD madness by creating a pervasive Microsoft Windows 8 ecosystem that seamlessly interacts with existing license environments? Whatever the result, we are looking far into the future before a comprehensive answer to this puzzle becomes available.

Until then, 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 BYOD boat is sailing on very rough seas.

BIO: As CEO of Express Metrix, Kris Barker leads a strong organization of passionate software developers who plan and develop Express Metrix products. He focuses not only on product strategy, but also on the individual features that set Express Metrix products apart from other asset management software on the market.


About Express Metrix: Express Metrix is a 16-year veteran in the IT asset management market. With a strong emphasis on software license management, Express Metrix leads the market in the areas of IT asset reporting, ease of use, and customer support.