Over the past few weeks I’ve been conducting licence reviews on behalf of a client. An one part of the review revolved around Cloud platforms.

This lead me down an interesting, and truly unexpected, path of discover – and uncovered so many mistruths, unknowns and some seriously concerned staff training issues…

Now, I’m no Microsoft Licencing expert, but I can safely say that I know more about it that some other people in the industry, and I know my way around the various Microsoft schemes.

The problems all develop when you start looking at Cloud platforms – specifically Amazon EC and Microsoft Azure – when you are looking to run Windows nodes (either a Windows AMI in EC, or a Windows VM Role in Azure).  Neither of these options supports running a Microsoft Windows Server Web edition, so in essence, you have to tread carefully with regards to licencing, as there are requirements with these editions.

Both Amazon EC and Microsoft Azure bundle the licence cost of the Windows Server into the Instance Hour cost. So sorted. Or are you.

As I’m sure any readers in the industry will be aware, there are Client Access Licence (CAL) requirements to operate a Windows Server on your own hardware – for both users making use of services on the box (even if they are consuming them remotely, via a website) or, in a rather nicely worded paragraph in Microsoft’s EULA, are not anonymous when making use of any websites or webservices hosted on said server.

The curious thing is, there is no clarification on how this authentication or identification has to be carried out. The immediate assumption would be that users need to be authenticated by Active Directory accounts. But what about authenticating against a customer SQL Table? Or a XML file? Surely in these cases a user is no longer anonymous, and therefore you are required to have a CAL per user?  Obviously this would have a massive impact on services hosted without clouds – as most of them have authentication, and as such know who you are. Yet they are not purchasing additional CALs (which, by chance, would make any service hosted prohibitively expensive. This is after all why Microsoft brought out Microsoft Windows Server Web edition).

I pitched this question to Amazon’s support guys. Who referred me to their sales team. Who after four attempts to elicit a response finally got back to me. With one of the most confused, and noncommittal responses I’ve ever seen.

Now, ultimately, this could be a really big deal to services that are using Cloud platforms, and assuming they are fully licence compliant. In order to try and get clarification (and ultimately, wrap this up for my client!), I’ve ended up contacting Microsoft to give me the final verdict. But I’ve yet to hear.

I hope things are not as dire as they seem to be …