There's a wide variety of technological approaches organizations can take to deliver software apps to their end-users. But with each one having a slightly different licensing model, do you fully understand all the costs involved? 

Software deployment and delivery solutions can take many different forms. You could be using legacy approaches such as imaging, a form of application virtualization such as Microsoft App-V, or a full-blown VDI approach from the likes of Citrix and VMware. But with each vendor selling their solutions on different pricing models, it's hard to compare the total cost of ownership (TCO), including soft costs, for each of the application delivery technologies you might be considering or against what you already have deployed.

Read more: Examining the costs of delivering software >

And while the differences in pricing might all just sound like a nuance, when it comes to end-user access on non-managed devices (all BYOD and user-owned devices) you might need to prepare yourself for additional license costs. And this additional cost could even be charged based on your total number of end-users or FTE (full time equivalent) student count...

The goal of this article is to help you learn and understand the various license models and costs prevalent with solutions throughout the application delivery space.

License types

What are the different types of licenses?

Each application delivery, VDI, virtualization or remote desktop solution on the market has a slightly different pricing model. Some of these are perpetual licenses, some are annual, some are concurrent, some require annual maintenance or specific Microsoft licenses such as VDA or CAL.

We've put together a simple explanation of each license type here to help you understand the different pricing models of solutions from common names such as Citrix, VMware, Parallels and Numecent.

Perpetual licenses

Perpetual licenses are purchased one time only and as such are typically very expensive, involving a huge upfront capital expenditure. Perpetual licenses entitle you as the customer to forever use of the current version only. If you've purchased a solution on a perpetual license, you will likely not get any support or upgrades included or free of charge. With some vendors' perpetual licenses, if you don't commit to ongoing maintenance charges (as below) you may lose access to the software service. 

One of the overreaching benefits to using a perpetual license model however, is the ability to capitalize the cost and depreciate those licenses over time as you would any physical asset. Due to pressure from the market, many companies are 'sunsetting' this license type in favour of annual licenses or subscription to show on-going revenue. The perpetual license model is less common now than it ever has been, with may vendors moving to a subscription type model.

Annual maintenance

Usually found with software solutions that charge on a perpetual license model, annual maintenance is a fee paid by customers (on a yearly basis!) that entitles them to upgrades and support at different levels of cost. Annual maintenance charges are usually optional but come highly recommended.

When managing or administering complex systems to support campus-wide services, IT admins and leadership never want to be without support for mission-critical systems. This is analogous to owning a car without accident insurance; no one wants to get stuck with a full-priced bill!

Annual licenses

Annual licenses are a fee that's paid each year for licensing and maintenance, including all upgrades and anytime support. Annual licenses are often called a 'subscription license', and despite their name, they may be charged monthly or annually.

Within the higher ed sector, the real leader for this type of model was Google with their G Suite of products, closely followed by Microsoft with Office 365. Historically though, Microsoft has always been the leader with campus-wide licensing of Windows desktop and server operating systems. Regardless, most organizations are now familiar and comfortable with any kind of annual or monthly subscription costs hitting their budgets.

The hidden license costs of VDI glossary


Client Access Licenses


Virtual Desktop Access


Remote Desktop Service


Virtual desktop infrastructure

Perpetual license

Paid upfront for 'forever usage' of current version

Annual license

Also known as annual subscription

Annual maintenance

The ongoing cost for support and upgrades

VDA (Virtual Desktop Access) licenses

VDA licenses are required by Microsoft when accessing a multi-user desktop virtualization solution (apps and desktops) from a lower family of Windows, such as Windows 10 Home or Pro. The Windows 10 Enterprise SKU includes a VDA license, so many organizations and higher education institutions will not require a license of this type for their company-owned devices. But for delivery of software to BYO devices, many organizations will need to buy VDA licenses.

This can sometimes be passed through to the end-users via an enrolment or 'technology fee', but generally is a budget shock when the requirement is first uncovered. This type of license would be required for both VMware's Horizon and Citrix XenDesktop (now Citrix Virtual Desktops) on-premise products.

Note: Microsoft recently made a change where you must license your full end-user or student FTE count, and can no longer do it on a per-device basis.

Client Access Licenses (CALs)

Client Access Licenses are another type of license required by Microsoft when accessing a hosted server solution, for either applications or desktops. CALs apply when using the RDS (Remote Desktop Services) protocol, used by many of the leading application delivery solutions on the market. CALs are purchased on a per-user basis.

This license type has been around for decades and will be familiar to most IT admins. What may be new information, however, is that with most cloud-hosted solutions companies must buy CALs and not VDA licenses.

Note: It's always advisable to check with your Microsoft Licensing representative to get the latest guidance and requirements.

RDS external connectors

Remote Desktop Services external connectors, to give it its full name, is an alternate license to CALs (above). These apply to on-premise deployments of RDS solutions that are multi-user. RDS external connectors permit the organization to license non-employees at the server level for all users, at a cheaper cost.

This type of license works very well with a solution such as Parallels RAS and especially in higher education where students are considered non-employee “customers” of the college or university. Unfortunately, RDS external connectors aren't valid for cloud-hosted solutions such as Amazon Workspaces.

Note: Some new information has recently come to light regarding software application licensing for apps that are served from cloud-hosted delivery technologies. Many software vendors are stipulating that running their software on a cloud-hosted technology does not meet the requirement of “installing and running on company-owned equipment” because ultimately the servers are simply rented or leased. Upon review, the software vendor may opt to charge for a much more expensive site license in this case. This may be another factor to consider when weighing the options between on-premise or cloud-based solutions.

Compare vendor licenses

What type of license scheme do I need?

The following table shows the licensing schemes required listed by application delivery or virtualization solution. 

Solution Perpetual license Annual maintenance Annual license VDA license CALs
VMware (On-prem) Yes Optional NA Required for BYOD NA
VMware (Cloud) NA NA Yes (or pay-as-you-go monthly) Required for BYOD NA
Citrix (On-prem) Yes Optional NA Required for BYOD NA
Apporto NA NA Yes (or pay-as-you-go monthly) NA RDS CALs
AWS Workspaces NA NA No (pay-as-you-go monthly) NA RDS CALs
AWS AppStream NA NA No (pay-as-you-go monthly) NA RDS CALs
AppsAnywhere from AppsAnywhere NA Included Yes NA NA
Cloudpaging from Numecent NA Included Yes NA NA
Parallels RAS NA Included Yes NA RDS Connector License, per server
Azure Windows Virtual Desktop NA NA No (pay-as-you-go monthly) Included at license level A3 or above, for 100% usage
Azure Lab Services NA NA No (pay-as-you-go monthly) Required for Windows 10 VMs RDS CALs

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Licensing for BYOD

What about vendor licensing for BYOD?

So what additional licensing do you need when it comes to delivering software to BYO (bring your own) and personal devices in your existing infrastructure? We give a few indicative examples of different vendors' solutions below.

Citrix and VMware (desktop virtualization)

For traditional VDI solutions from both Citrix and VMware, you will require a VDA license, which is purchased on an annual basis. This is required on top of your perpetual license for the solution, as well as any optional annual maintenance contract you might choose for support and upgrades. These solutions require Microsoft's VDA licenses on a per-user basis. That's because applications and other end-user services are accessed through a virtual desktop protocol.

Cloudpaging (application virtualization)

Cloudpaging from Numecent is charged on an annual basis, with upgrades and support included within the license cost. To deploy applications using Cloudpaging does not require a Virtual Desktop Access license or a Client Access License. That's because the applications themselves are virtualized, and access to them does not require any form or virtual desktop or remote desktop session.

Read more: Cloudpaging from Numecent >

Parallels RAS (remote application server)

Parallels RAS is an alternative technology to both VDI (Citrix and VMware) and RDS (e.g. Microsoft RemoteApp) solutions. It is priced on an annual basis with all maintenance included. Unlike traditional desktop virtualization solutions, Parallels RAS does not require a Virtual Desktop Access license or a CAL. To deploy applications to BYO devices through Parallels RAS all that is required is an RDS external connector, which is more cost effective than the alternatives because it is licensed for all users at the server level. Again, Microsoft allows that students are non-employee “customers” of the college or university.

Read more: Parallels RAS >

AppsAnywhere from AppsAnywhere

AppsAnywhere is priced through an annual license model, with support, upgrades and ongoing maintenance included for all customers. To use AppsAnywhere across your BYOD estate, you do not require any additional Microsoft licenses such as VDA and CAL.

Read more: AppsAnywhere >

Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure (Coming soon!)

The IT community across all business sectors have been buzzing about Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) on Azure this year as it entered public preview. WVD will deliver multi-user Windows 7 and Windows 10 desktops and published apps without the backend overhead of on-premise solutions. We're excited about this new offering and are eager to see how our customers leverage this new service within their environments. To promote adoption, Microsoft is currently including (or perhaps waiving) VDA and CAL license requirements for organizations that have a minimum license agreement with Microsoft. Be sure to check with your representative to confirm that you’re eligible.


In summary...

As if choosing a software delivery technology wasn’t hard enough, you should also be considering the hidden licensing costs that will be hitting your annual budgets.

The information provided in this article should help to explain what different license models mean for you and which additional licenses you will be required to buy to achieve both internal IT strategies and compliance. It's worth considering all of the above costs and pricing structures before deciding to commit to a new application delivery technology, especially if it's a solution like VDI that requires maximum upfront investment!

You should pay close attention to these license types and costs if you have plans to roll-out your software delivery technologies to personal devices, for example to enable BYOD strategies and off-campus/off-site app access. For BYOD deployment of applications, associated license costs can sky-rocket when it comes to certain vendors' solutions, so make sure you factor these into your budgets.

What we do

We recognize that there is no “silver bullet” solution for software delivery; each solution on the market has its own benefits and limitations. That is especially true in certain IT environments such as higher education, where there are thousands of new end-users every single year, with hundreds of different device types in multiple locations, using a wide variety of applications. No single solution can satisfy all those use cases in a way that provides a consistent user experience for every student on any device.

We like to think of AppsAnywhere as the “revolver” that enables you to leverage many different technologies by using just the right amount of each to help control costs. By picking and choosing between over 20 different delivery methods included in the product, IT admins can select the most appropriate technology for each use case within their own environment, including for BYOD deployments! Citrix, VMware, Cloudpaging, Parallels RAS, App-V, SCCM, local installs, RemoteApp and JAMF - all of these can be deployed through AppsAnywhere; a single app store for every device and any application.