Microsoft and the BYOD Era – How to License Expecting Multiple Devices and Access Anywhere

By Daniel Rettig

Long gone are the days when an employee arrives on his or her first day of work and is handed a desktop computer, a laptop and a cell phone. It is becoming more and more common for employees to provide their own devices for work, often considered a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. In fact, TechRepublic’s BYOD Business Strategy Survey predicted that 18.2 percent of companies who previously had no BYOD policy would move to one by the end of 2013, which would mean 62 percent of organizations, would allow BYOD. Welcome to the new era of business technology.

Many companies appreciate that this policy enables employees to work remotely from a regularly used device and have the expectation that employees will work and check email when not in the office. This mentality can be attributed to our constantly connected culture.

BYOD is beneficial in many ways. It gives employees the freedom to work from home, while traveling and during off-business hours. It can also improve the IT department’s bottom line because they no longer have to provide devices for every employee. It is anticipated that by the end of 2014, every employee will have three or more personal devices capable of completing work functions.

While a BYOD policy can help increase productivity, there is a certain level of ambiguity regarding licensing. What licenses are actually necessary to stay in compliance? How can you enable your employees to work from different devices? How can you manage the different types of licenses?

Reading on, you will find answers to all of these questions.

Types of Licensing: Per User vs. Per Device

There are two types of Client Access Licenses (CAL): Per User and Per Device. When determining which CAL is right for your organization, it really depends on your specific needs. And it may turn out that you need both – many companies actually have a mixed environment of User CALs and Device CALS.

When you buy a Per User license, it is licensed under the name of the individual who will use it. This allows this person to access the software from any number of devices. He or she is able to check email from his or her phone, home computer, work computer and while traveling. It is most cost effective to buy User licenses for individuals who will be working from multiple devices.

The Per Device model is most effective for shared environments, like call centers and nurses’ stations. Licenses are purchased for specific devices, and any number of users can access the server from the licensed device.

For example, if an employee is using his or her device to check email, he or she really needs a User CAL. While this way may be more expensive than just purchasing a Device CAL (User CALs are generally 15% more), it is still less expensive than buying two separate CALs to stay in compliance.

Accessing Software

It does not matter how many devices your employees have access to if they cannot access the software they need to do their job. There are a few services you should pursue to ensure your BYOD environment is most effective.

Virtual Desktop Access: Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) is being pursued by organizations because they want to provide their users with access to their desktop from anywhere. VDAs can improve your organization’s security because a data center is more secure for data than the local user’s endpoint. It also gives administrators greater control over desktop and app distribution. VDA is extremely important when employees are expected to work from multiple devices and while not in the office.

There are two ways you can obtain VDA licensing rights; you can get Windows OS with Software Assurance (SA), or VDA as a separate subscription. Isolating licensing costs only, the VDA subscription is more expensive than the desktop OS with SA.

Purchased as part of VDA, Roaming Use Rights provide the flexibility employees need to access their personal desktop OS when not in the office. The Roaming Use Rights are tied to the primary user, so you do not need other licensing options to manage it.

For example, imagine a company has 100 employees, and each employee has their own desktop or laptop at work. There are also 10 thin clients shared amongst the 100 employees. To deliver VDA to the entire environment, you would need 100 desktop OS licenses with SA, and 10 VDA subscriptions for the thin client access. When the users leave the office, Roaming Use Rights allow for them to access the same virtual infrastructure from personally owned and third-party devices.

Companion Subscription License (CSL) is a new offering with Windows 8. These licenses give you VDA rights without the need to pay for individual computers, and you may have up to four devices under one license.

Remote Desktop Services: Remote Desktop Services (RDS) allows a user to take control of a remote computer or virtual machine over a network connection. It enables users to have a rich Windows Desktop experience and delivers Microsoft desktop applications.

RDS is necessary for every device that accesses Microsoft licenses remotely, which makes RDS most appropriate for shared devices.

Many companies opt to host a desktop on the server so that they do not have to worry about the security of the local machine. However, when many people have access to applications they may not need, it can be difficult to determine how many licenses to purchase.

For example, you could have 100 people in a remote desktop. If you’re publishing Office as part of the environment, but only five people need access to it, you run the risk of exposure and liability because more than five people may use the program. Even though everyone may not be using it, if they have access to it, you need to pay for the license. However, if there is a way to block the use by unauthorized individuals, only the people accessing the program would need a CAL.

Software Assurance: Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) is a resource that helps an organization deploy, manage and maximize its Volume Licensing purchases. The program covers Microsoft technologies and services and includes new product version rights, training, deployment planning and support.

There are many features and deployment restrictions tied to SA. For instance, SA must be bought when you first buy the licensing; it can’t be purchased afterward. So, it is important to determine if your company could benefit from SA before you finalize your agreement.

Gain Control of Your Software Assets

Software Asset Management, better known as SAM, is critical for the BYOD device era. You need to know where your licenses are, if you have any available or if you have used too many. This knowledge will keep you in compliance and save your organization money.

You should have a designated SAM person available to you. He or she may be a member of your IT team or a contractor hired specifically for this purpose. He or she will need to understand downgrade rights, license conversions, virtualization and many types of licensing to be able to accurately assess your licensing position.

Software assets are hard to track and easy to lose. This is especially true in a BYOD environment. While a SAM engagement is an important part of your software asset management, it is not enough – SAM engagements only provide you with a snapshot of your software assets.

Take advantage of your SAM baseline, and implement a Software License Management System (SLMS), which will give you a real-time view of your inventory and allow you to manage it. SLMS will help you make the most of your software assets. It allows you to designate certain business identities and employees, allocate software to each one and transfer between them. So, if you discover your financial department has more User CALs than it needs, you can transfer unused User CALs to a team that does not have enough.

In a BYOD environment, it can be tempting to purchase more licensing than necessary. You may get a better deal for buying more licenses or you may want to stay ahead of your company’s needs. An SLMS allows you to forecast your needs, so you can easily determine which deals are truly for the benefit of your company.


The BOYD era has enabled employees to work from multiple devices, from different locations and at almost any time. While this is beneficial for the IT department’s bottom line, it can be difficult to manage the different licensing types and determine software needs.

Managing your software assets is critical, especially for companies who have a BYOD policy. You need to know what kind of licensing and subscriptions you have, and ensure you are using IT resources most efficiently. A SAM baseline will provide a snapshot of software assets. But, a baseline is not enough, an SLMS is key to staying in compliance.

About the Author

Daniel Rettig is a Software Licensing Specialist.