TS CAL handling in Windows Server 2008
Windows licensing spells trouble
Comment April 30th, 2008
By Roger Howorth

While Microsoft is preparing to launch Windows Server 2008 I’m left wondering about licensing the new software. Let’s hope that the license management tools are an improvement on those in Windows Server 2003.

Recently I heard about a firm using Windows Server 2003 Terminal Services that had run into a nasty problem. Messages were popping up on their screens warning that the Windows server licenses would expire in 7 days, which was quite a surprise as the firm had purchased and installed all the necessary licenses several years ago.

But if you’re familiar with Windows licenses you’ll know there’s plenty of scope for confusion. For example, each Windows XP and Vista PC needs a Windows Server Client Access License (CAL) in order to use Windows Terminal Services. You’ll probably also know there’s no monitoring or enforcement of these CALs in Windows Server 2003. A supplier recently told me most firms just buy the licenses packs and throw them in a cupboard.

To use Terminal Services you also need Terminal Services Client Access Licenses (TS CALs). Windows issues temporary TS CALs to help with new deployments and the documentation says some of these expire after 90 days and some after 120 days. But in some cases these temporary TS CALs continue to be issued for long past the 120 day period, which can cause further confusion. Finally, individual servers can be configured to operate in one of two modes. “Per device” mode obviously entitles you to connect a certain number of devices to the server, and good for organisations that have several sets of shift workers that share a number of terminals. The complementary “per user” mode was introduced with Windows Server 2003, and is a better fit for firms that have a number of users each with their own computer. You only need one license per person, regardless of how many computers they use to access the system.

Unfortunately the reporting tools don’t seem to have caught up with the requirements. Servers running in “per device” mode can use the Terminal Services Licensing tool to provide a report on how licenses have been allocated. It’s easy to see the system is working properly and easy to see which devices are consuming licenses.

The problem comes when you try to monitor your “per user” license usage. In this case there’s no list reporting on how many “per user” licences have been issued compared to how many you have left. Actually there’s just about no reporting at all except a simple screen to show how many licenses have been installed.

Other problems can crop up because by default Windows 2003 uses “per device” licensing for Terminal Services. Firms that want “per user” licensing must reconfigure their servers to use that mode, and must tick the appropriate option when they install their license packs. Leave one box unchecked and the server could issue licenses from its temporary pool rather than from the permanent pool of TS CALs. The license reporting tools in Windows Server 2003 make it virtually impossible to see if things are actually working correctly. The first you might know about a problem is when warning messages start appearing on people’s screens.

Microsoft has yet to announce details of pricing and license requirements for Windows Server 2008. However, it said there will be a tool for tracking Terminal Services per-user licenses.

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