NSW Education Dept in Vista licensing jam

Microsoft and DET tangle over Vista licensing

Unresolved licensing issues have put on hold mass adoption of Microsoft Windows Vista at the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET).

Last November, ZDNet Australia reported that DET would make the final decision about its Vista deployment in March or April.

In an exclusive interview, DET Information Services Director, Tim Anderson, has told ZDNet Australia that decision is "on hold in a sense" while it works out a few kinks with the software giant.

The sticking point, according to Anderson, is the management of licence keys for the version of Vista which the department expects to deploy across its desktop fleet.

DET has one of the largest IT infrastructures in the country with 1.3 million users spread across 2,500 locations. Its desktop fleet consists of 250,000 devices of which 160,000 are PCs. Microsoft is the dominant platform with DET standardising on Windows XP, however, because of the size of the organisation there are some Windows 98 and Windows 2000 legacy systems.

The version of the operating system DET uses is Vista Ultimate. According to Anderson, individual licence keys are required each time this version is installed on a client, which is not a requirement of Vista Enterprise, for example.

He believes keeping track of individual keys for a fleet of DET's size is a logistical nightmare. "It's a pain when you're looking at around 160,000 places. It's not a technical problem, we just have to work out the best way of dealing with it."

"I can see why Microsoft wants [such a scheme], particularly in the retail market, but in the context of a large corporation it makes less sense. There are other means of compliance than tracking large numbers of keys," he said.

Before committing to a large scale deployment Anderson wants a more workable licence management method. His ideal is simple: Microsoft to remove the requirement for individual licence keys and let DET operate (manage) its fleet with a single licence key.

Microsoft Australia was asked if it would relent, and accept DET's demands, however, the software giant has refused to comment. "The Microsoft Windows Vista licensing agreement is a confidential agreement between Microsoft and the NSW Department of Education and Training, and as such we are not able to discuss it in detail," said Nigel Cadywould, Microsoft Australia director of Public Sector.

Despite its battle with Microsoft to secure a better agreement, DET will go ahead with its controlled deployment of Vista for training purposes. Anderson said DET will honour its 1,000 seat deployment it committed to as part of the early adopter program for Vista. The implementation is expected some time in the first half of the year.

DET spent eight months last year vigorously testing Windows Vista -- within the department's Information Technology Directorate as well as a pilot program at Ashcroft High School in Sydney's south west -- to determine its usefulness now and in the future.

"There is some pent-up demand from TAFEs that want direct access to Vista for training purposes," Anderson said. Beyond the initial deployment which it has committed to, DET's roadmap for a mass Vista deployment is over the next 12-24 months.

Old is gold
Anderson, like many other CIOs in Australia and New Zealand, doesn't see any compelling reason to fully deploy the new operating system now. While Vista won't be incorporated into the department's standard operating environment (SOE) until the OS can be exploited to its best advantage, he said.

DET staff also need to evaluate how Vista and Office 2007 can be integrated with as little disruption as possible, so there are few problems when the jump is made. As a result, it will continue to standardise on Windows XP for the remainder of 2007.

Anderson believes Windows XP is a good platform and is happy with the performance and security aspects, as well as the way it fits with DET's educational objectives.

A number of CIOs surveyed by ZDNet Australia since the launch of Vista to businesses in November last year, have said their organisations would implement the new operating system when it was time for a hardware refresh.

DET will buck the trend, however, and stick with its current SOE when it refreshes 20,000 desktops across the state in July. Anderson is not alone in his stance, however; Vista didn't figure in the plans of Queensland's Department of Natural Resources and Water bid to replace 250 desktops, laptops and servers.

Anderson said the new desktops will run on Windows XP, and carry Office 2003 -- even though DET is licensed for both Windows Vista and an upgrade to Office 2007 under its enterprise agreement with Microsoft. DET will, however, conduct a limited deployment of Office 2007 for research purposes.

Tim Anderson's views on DET's Vista deployment last November:

Part 1: DET begins slow crawl to a new Vista
Part 2: DET mulls Vista savings, training
Part 3: Licence costs may delay DET Vista plans