The increasing capabilities and popularity of tablet computers and smartphones is simplifying the way in which many users work but it also presents some licensing, security, and technical challenges. Historically, actions as simple as reading and responding to e-mail, for example, were easily addressed but as tablets have become more powerful users rely upon them for increasingly heavy lifting and are now often selected by many as the computing device of choice. Since users often insist upon portability and it’s in most parties’ best interest to make them as productive as possible, it’s important to not only find a way to accommodate these devices but to embrace them as well.

The purpose of this article is to explore the use of tablets and smartphones in environments which are subject to the terms of Microsoft® Volume Licensing Agreements. Microsoft® is aggressively reviewing licensing compliance by means of their Software Asset Management program, aka “SAM”. Microsoft® is attempting to evaluate usage (read: Compliance) for each of their managed accounts at least once every three years and you can be sure they are looking closely at the rapidly emerging use of tablets. This article will refer primarily to “tablets”, but the licensing requirements also apply to smartphones, netbooks, laptops, home PCs, and any device which accesses resources licensed under MS® Volume Licensing.


Microsoft® recently released a scaled-down version of Office for the iPhone®, but they have yet to make Office available on tablets except the Surface™ and others running Windows® RT. This doesn’t mean iPad® or Android™ users can’t access the Windows® Client or Office on their desktop PC, but doing so will require an appropriate license for the remote device.


It is important to note that legally accessing a device remotely does not ensure that the user has rights to specific applications residing on that device. For example, a user may access their licensed work PC using their tablet, but if they don’t have Roaming Use Rights for Microsoft® Office they may be in violation of the terms of their license for Office.



In many cases, the need to evaluate licensing for tablets or smartphones arises when the user accesses company-owned assets such as servers in a datacenter or applications residing on their work PC. It’s also important to distinguish whether the device is used exclusively remotely or if the user brings it onto the company’s physical property. From a licensing perspective, there is a difference between employee owned and company owned devices, as well as whether it is used inside or outside the company firewall. For more information about BYOD and VL, see


Applicable Microsoft® Products

Whether the user is remotely accessing their company owned desktop PC or data or applications residing in the datacenter or cloud, the infrastructure is likely networked and will require licenses for impacted server products. The primary products requiring licensing on tablets are applications such as Exchange, SharePoint®, Lync®, and SQL Server®. The licensing mechanism for server products is the Client Access License, or CAL. CALs are available on a “Per-User” or “Per-Device” basis and are typically the same price for either. Since the afore mentioned products all run on Windows Server®, a Windows Server® CAL is also required.


In most cases, the Per-User CAL is most cost effective, but there are instances in which multiple users share a device, making the Device CAL preferable.




Client Access Licenses (CALs)

If you have users who will be executing applications you will need a Remote Desktop Services (RDS) CAL for that user, or for the client device (tablet) being used.

Depending upon access requirements, you may also need Windows Server® and Exchange Server CALs and the Microsoft® Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). It is very difficult to manage a mixture of User CALs and Device CALs in a Remote Desktop Services environment so you will likely have to evaluate your needs and select one or the other.


Which Version of Windows®?

The licensing requirements for tablets and other remote devices depend upon the version of Windows® you’re accessing. When a company owned work PC is licensed for Windows® 8 Professional and has either Software Assurance or a VDA Subscription the primary user also receives a Companion Subscription License which enables them to access their work PC from up to four “Companion Devices”. A Companion Device is any non-x86/x64 device, regardless of whether it is owned by the company, the individual, or someone else.


Previous versions of Windows® have different requirements. Tablet users whose desktop PC is running earlier versions of Windows® may use their tablet to access their desktop PC by means of a Remote Desktop Services CAL. Remote Desktop connects two computers over a network or the Internet. Once connected, the user will see the remote computer’s desktop as if they were sitting right in front of it, and have access to all its programs and files.


Remote Desktop is included or available on all editions of Windows® since XP, but you can only connect to computers running the Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions. The tablet user still requires either a User or Device CAL, but both Windows® 7 and Office® 2013 include remote access rights so there is no need for additional (Windows® or Office®) licenses to access either from a tablet as long as they obtain a CAL.


Where will you use the Tablet?

The rules also vary depending upon where a person uses the tablet to access company resources. In VDI scenarios governed by SA, the user may only access virtual Operating System Environments from within the company’s firewall. For devices which are ineligible for SA such as thin clients or non-RT tablets (iOS, Android™), the organization can purchase Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licenses. A VDA license is a subscription which grants the primary user of a company owned device rights to access company resources either locally or externally. VDA rights are included with Software Assurance or may be obtained separately for approximately $100 per device, per year. The Microsoft® Surface™ and other tablets running Windows® RT are not required to obtain a VDA.


Windows® InTune™

Windows® InTune™ is a non-perpetual, per-user, set of software and services intended to meet many PC and mobile device management needs. This may apply to cloud based resources or by extending access to on-premises architecture. InTune supports Windows® PCs, Windows® Phone 8, Windows® RT tablets, as well as iOS and Android™ devices. InTune may be purchased with or without Software Assurance.


Roaming Use Rights

Roaming Use Rights allow the primary user of any licensed device to access Windows® 8 running in a datacenter via VDI or via Windows®-To-Go from non-company owned devices while not on company premises. Roaming Use Rights are a benefit of Software Assurance.


Configuration Options

There are multiple ways to structure your licensing and user access with tablets. If, for example, the user connects directly to Exchange, Lync®, SharePoint®, or SQL Server® running on Windows® Server®, and you already have appropriate Per-User CALs, there is no need to purchase anything additional. If you are currently licensed on a Per-Device basis, however, you will require a Device CAL for each connecting device.


Another method to enable tablets to access applications is to use Remote Desktop Session Host, or Terminal Server as it was previously known. Under this scenario, Office® and other applications reside on the server and each user experiences a typical desktop appearance and interface on their tablet or other remote device. It’s important to note that unlike accessing a desktop using Remote Desktop Access as previously discussed, doing so via Remote Desktop Session Host will require a separate license for Office. As before, the user must also obtain either a User or Device CAL for Windows® Server®, Exchange, Lync®, SharePoint®, and SQL Server®, and additionally, an RDS CAL. The RDS CAL is a perpetual license that costs approximately $85 per device.


The specific CALs will depend upon access and functionality required, but the following table summarizes required licenses for most situations:



Windows® 8

Windows® 7


Windows® XP

Accessing an HVD using Secure Access Client

User or Device CAL; RDS CAL; SA or VDA

User or Device CAL; RDS CAL; SA or VDA

User or Device CAL; RDS CAL; SA or VDA

User or Device CAL; RDS CAL; SA or VDA

Server based Apps via Remote Desktop Services

License for App;  User or Device CAL;  RDS CAL; SA or VDA

License for App;  User or Device CAL;  RDS CAL; SA or VDA

License for App;  User or Device CAL;  RDS CAL; SA or VDA

License for App;  User or Device CAL;  RDS CAL; SA or VDA

Remote access to primary users’ desktop

SA and Free CSL

RDS CAL; User or Device CAL; SA or VDA

RDS CAL; User or Device CAL; SA or VDA

RDS CAL; User or Device CAL; SA or VDA



As is so often the case, final pricing is dependent upon a number of factors, and final discounts are rarely disclosed. Additionally, many of the required licenses to enable tablet access to Microsoft® VL environments are included with Software Assurance or as a component of the software or hardware. That said, we have elected to present retail pricing for key components here, if only to communicate that allowing company or employee owned devices to access your data or hardware can be expensive and in some cases, may cost more than the tablet itself. While most devices won’t require every license, the complexity of managing it all motivates some companies to purchase them all, if only to ensure compliance. The following are retail or readily available street prices for commonly licensed Device CALs:


CSL – $48 – $84/year

Exchange 2010 – $37 perpetual

Exchange 2013 – $75 perpetual

Lync® – $40 perpetual

RDS – $85 perpetual

SharePoint® – $130 perpetual

SQL Server® – $200 perpetual

VDA – $100/year

Windows Server® – $25 perpetual


As previously noted, it is typically more cost effective to purchase User CALs, but combining Device and User CALs can be particularly problematic so adding devices in certain environments can become expensive.


Third Party Implications

This article has focused on requirements which are specific to Microsoft® Volume Licensing, but they don’t necessarily extend to third party providers which may be impacted.


The product licensing requirements for tablets will depend ultimately on the type of virtualization and access requirements that will be adopted. There are three major usage scenarios for tablets in the enterprise that access Microsoft® software and servers:

  • Accessing email on the Exchange Server
  • Accessing a Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) using Secure Access Client (Access Gateway)
  • Using server-based Microsoft® applications, such as Office using Microsoft® Remote Desktop Services enabled by 3rd party secure access clients, such as Citrix® Receiver™ for iPad®

It’s unlikely any company will select their IT infrastructure based solely upon their ability to support mobile computing, but if your company is currently using a Microsoft®, VMware®, or Citrix® platform (or combination thereof), the following summaries and links may serve as a resource for specific requirements for your organization:


Microsoft® System Center 2012

Microsoft® describes its System Center® 2012 as an integrated management platform that helps you to easily and efficiently manage your datacenters, client devices, and hybrid cloud IT environments. If you are using Microsoft® System Center® 2012, managed clients are licensed via Client Management Licenses (ML). These are available within the Client Management Suite and Configuration Manager Client ML.


For more information on Microsoft® System Center® 2012:


VMware® Infrastructure

For a more robust management platform customers may be using VMware®’s Horizon View (formerly View Premier) with an appropriate combination of Microsoft® Exchange and Windows® Server CALs, Windows® and/or Windows® Virtual Desktop Access (VDA), Office with Roaming Use Rights, Software Assurance, and applicable licenses for Windows® Server®, SQL Server®, and/or Exchange Server.


For more information on a VMware® solution:


Citrix® Infrastructure

Another option is to combine Citrix® Premiere Bundled XenDesktop® Platinum with NetScaler® Hardware and applicable Microsoft® RDS, Exchange®, and Windows® Server CALs, Windows® and/or Windows® Virtual Desktop Access (VDA), Office® with Roaming Use Rights, Software Assurance, and applicable licenses for Windows® Server®, SQL Server®, and/or Exchange Server.


For more information on a Citrix® solution:


As you can see, allowing tablets to access company owned resources can be very complex and there are many variables which impact the licensing requirements. For information regarding your specific needs, please contact or consult your authorized Microsoft® Channel Partner. It is also wise to periodically review the current Product Use Rights document for current usage terms and conditions.

Nov 2016