Can You Run Visual Studio in Azure?

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UPDATE 6/1/2013: As of June 1, 2013, the licensing has been updated so you can run all of your MSDN software except Windows client and Windows Server on Azure. This is outlined in the licensing whitepaper. I’ll leave the below discussion in place for posterity but the latest update has rendered it irrelevant.

I was sitting at the car repair place on Saturday with my Surface RT thinking it’d be nice to have a Visual Studio instance to tinker with. Given I have an MSDN subscription that comes with a free Azure VM and Visual Studio, it made sense to me that I could just set up the VM with Visual Studio and play on that.

It doesn’t look like licensing allows you to do that.

I’m still waiting to hear something somewhat “official” from Barry Dorrans (@blowdart) but Mark Brown (@markjbrown, an Azure community person) says you can’t do that, and my research agrees with Mark. Here’s what I’ve put together:

The Azure licensing FAQ says you can’t install Windows 7 or Office in Azure because they’re classified as “Desktop Applications” and can’t run on virtual machines. There’s also a question about running MSDN licensed items in the cloud indicating you can’t extend your rights there. I’ll copy/paste those here:

Q: Can customers run Microsoft Office and Windows 7 Client on Virtual Machines? A: No.  Under the Microsoft Product Usage Rights (PUR), Office and Windows 7 are not licensed to run on Virtual Machines.  In particular, Microsoft Office is classified in the PUR as “Desktop Applications”, which is not included in Licensing Mobility.

More information is available at the site for Microsoft Product Use Rights.

Q: Can a customer extend their MSDN use rights to the cloud? A: No, the software licensed under MSDN subscriptions is not for use in cloud environments.  However, most MSDN subscribers are entitled to a significant amount of Windows Azure services as a benefit of their subscription and can use these benefits to run instances of Windows Server on the Windows Azure IaaS or to run Windows Azure PaaS services.  For details on the amount of Windows Azure services included with MSDN subscriptions, please see

To run a VM including Microsoft server software such as SharePoint Server, Exchange Server, SQL Server, or BizTalk Server in a Windows Azure VM, an MSDN subscriber could use their Windows Azure benefits to cover the usage of the Windows Azure services and Windows Server running in the VM, then use license mobility on server licenses that their organization has covered under Software Assurance in order to run instances of the server software in the VM.

Following that Product Use Rights link, you can get the latest product list document and you’ll see that Visual Studio is also classified as a “Desktop Application,” so I have to assume it’s considered in the same way Office and Windows 7 are.

UPDATE 2/20/2013: Looking at the Visual Studio 2012 and MSDN Licensing White Paper, there’s this section:

When Virtual Environments Require a Separate License

If a physical machine running one or more virtual machines is used entirely for development and test, then the operating system used on the physical host system can be MSDN software. However, if the physical machine or any of the VMs hosted on that physical system are used for other purposes, then both the operating system within the VM and the operating system for the physical host must be licensed separately. The same holds true for other software used on the system—for example, Microsoft SQL Server obtained as MSDN software can only be used to design, develop, test, and demonstrate your programs.

I can see how Azure is a cloudy (haha) area here because the physical hardware backing it is hosting multiple VMs - some are production sites, some are dev/test.

It also appears there is some discrepancy in interpretation of whether or not you can use Windows 7 on a VM. It looks like if you have certain licenses for it, you actually can run Windows 7 in a VM.

This makes me re-think whether or not you really can use Visual Studio in the cloud. I’m less certain than I was when I posted the original article

From a personal standpoint, if you can’t use VS in the cloud… I think that’s dumb. From a business standpoint, if a company wanted to pay for Azure VM resources to host all of their dev machines or something in the cloud so you can stamp them out easily, scale up or down… why not? Sounds like a missed opportunity to me. But even if you ignore that, I feel like Visual Studio should be a kind of “special case” app. Yeah, it’s a desktop app, but there are different reasons you’d want to install it in places like Azure so I don’t know why you’d restrict it. Maybe they’ll change it in the future. Maybe they’ll extend MSDN licensing to allow for that special case or something. I hope they do. Until then… looks like I don’t get to dev on my Surface RT unless I want to set up the hosting for that myself… on a real, physical machine.

Standard disclaimers apply here. Doubly so because we’re in legal territory. I’m no lawyer, and I don’t know if you or your company negotiated different licensing. I don’t know about all the different crazy combinations of licensing out there and there’s a lot of craziness around licensing you need to be aware of to be fully compliant. For me, I’d recommend erring on the side of caution - if you don’t know for sure, don’t do it. Check with your Microsoft rep or company or whatever to find out for sure. I’m just providing the above research to show you what I found and maybe help inform you. If it turns out I’m wrong… let me know (and provide some docs I can refer to). I’ll be happy to update the article.