Microsoft's ECI may provide best options for virtualized environments

Virtualizing and deploying VMs is the easy part; scaling the solution in a simple matter becomes the hard part. Rickatron offers one easy way to scale modern infrastructure.

One of the things I dislike most about today's infrastructure practices is the licensing burden associated with deploying operating systems and applications. While virtualization on one hand made my life easier in terms of capital hardware investments, in many cases, it complicated licensing for this modern infrastructure practice.

Regardless of your position on the vSphere versus Hyper-V virtualization platform debate, we all can agree that any solution that can make the licensing process easier is a good option. Microsoft's Enrollment for Core Infrastructure (ECI) may be part of the process to make things easier. ECI is a simple and scalable bundle that can reflect the modern reality: virtualized systems and easy management. ECI is a bundle (available in Standard and Datacenter editions) that includes Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and System Center 2012 Datacenter.

This example is based on the ECI datacenter edition and is forward-looking as the System Center 2012 series is not yet generally available. ECI is licensed per physical processor (piece of hardware, not processor cores).

Let's break this down a bit more, starting with the Windows Datacenter license. Windows Datacenter is a really easy way to deploy Windows OSs in a virtualized infrastructure. Each processor license is entitled to unlimited operating system environments (OSEs) on that hardware. Further, older operating systems such as Windows Server 2003 are included. Newer operating systems are also included as the ECI includes Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) for newer versions of products included in the bundle. What is even more flexible, is that if a processor is licensed for Datacenter edition, actual installation of Windows on the hardware is not required. This means that VMware ESXi could be installed on the hardware, and Windows OSEs on that equipment are licensed. User access via client access licenses (User CALs) would still be required, however.

On the System Center 2012 side, that's a powerful bundle. This is a suite that includes mainstream releases of System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), System Center Endpoint Protection, System Center Operations Manager (SCOM), System Center Orchestrator (SCORCH) and System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM). Three other system center offerings are included in the bundle in beta states.

This is a bundle that clearly rounds out the stack for both VMware and Hyper-V environments with a simple scaling model. In terms of pricing, — well — this is the classic case where your mileage may vary. ECI does require a 50 processor starting point, so it can't be ordered onesie-twosie to start. As with any licensing endeavor with Microsoft; please confirm any options with your Microsoft rep. The ECI bundle is listed as saving 20% off the cost of the product purchased a la carte.

Does the ECI bundle appeal to you for a simple, scalable platform for OS licensing and management tools? If so, share your comments below.


Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

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