As the central hub of Microsoft’s ALM suite, many people expect Team Foundation Server to be an expensive product, and a cursory search for pricing might back that preconception up – Amazon.co.uk lists the server software at £500 and one client access license (CAL) at £450.
However, there are three factors that (for some companies) reduces the price of TFS to zero while allowing them to roll it out to their entire organisation. Yes, it sounds a little too good to be true. Here are the factors:
Visual Studio MSDN subscriptions come with one TFS server license for production use and one CAL. So team members like developers and testers, who are often provided with MSDN subs, don’t need anything more to use TFS. If you don’t get MSDN subscriptions for developers I can heartily recommend it as pretty much the whole Microsoft stack of OS, server tools, and development tools is included – upgrades and all – for development and testing purposes. Bear in mind that subscriptions can be cheaper (sometimes much cheaper) from a reseller. I can recommend Parkway Gordon.
Note: MSDN subscriptions are per-user not per-machine so a single subscription covers use at any location (office, home, customer sites) on any number of machines.
Work Item Only View
TFS users who only enter and edit their own work items, using TFS web access, don’t need a CAL. To make it easy to ensure users don’t overstep this provision, there is even a Work Item Only View security group which includes the relevant permissions and no more. This means anyone in your organisation can submit requirements, changes and bugs without impacting TFS licensing.
A recent development is that users do not need a CAL for accessing reports. So managers and other stakeholders can help themselves to project summary data and graphs without a license either.
Other Free TFS Stuff
- Team Explorer Everywhere (the Eclipse IDE plug-in) is free in itself, although a CAL is needed (Brian Harry’s blog again)
- Two system administrators can access a TFS instance for free (TFS licensing whitepaper)
- Access via Microsoft System Center Operations Manager is free (ditto)
- Static data from TFS can be distributed manually for free (ditto)
- Five users don’t need a CAL when TFS server is bought at retail (ditto)
- TFS 11 Express is completely free for up to 5 users (Brian Harry’s blog)
- Team Explorer (Visual Studio Shell) is free, although you would need a CAL (or retail/express edition exemption) if you access more than reports
A good understanding of Visual Studio and TFS licensing, canny use of security groups, and potentially free client tools (web access, Team Explorer, Visual Studio Express) can quite realistically reduce the price of TFS to zero.
If your development team have MSDN subscriptions (a good idea in any event) there might be no further cost to adopting TFS in the team, and even rolling it out to a much wider audience.
Final note: Don’t dive in based on this blog post alone – the licensing is complex so read the TFS licensing whitepaper first and clear up any questions you have.