Windows Server 2012 licensing cheat sheet

       1174 words, 6 minutes

Windows Server 2012 is the best Windows Server system ever released… Yada yada yeepee teepee hey! Nevertheless, things have changed ; quite a few. And here’s a summary of what I keep in mind regarding Edition and Licensing.

The Windows Server editions

The new Windows Server 2012 provides a simpler way to determine which editions fits your needs and is supposed to optimize your costs and ROI. There are only 4 editions mostly depending on the number of Windows Server you (will) have and what you shall do with them (regarding Cloud and/or Virtualization).

Windows Server 2012 Foundation

Windows Server 2012 Essentials

Windows Server 2012 Standard

Windows Server 2012 Datacenter

* Approximate public cost in US$. Check your Microsoft reseller for exact pricing.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials replaces Small Business Server 2011 Essentials. Windows Server 2012 Foundation replaces Windows Server 2008 R2 Foundation. Windows Server 2012 Datacenter and Standard replace Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, Enterprise and Standard. Using Standard or Datacenter editions depends on how much Virtualization you aim to use ; the available features difference between Standard & Enterprise disappears.

Moving to the 2012 licensing

If you don’t own a Software Assurance, upgrading to Server 2012 is not possible. You have to buy the new licenses. If you have a Software Assurance, upgrade is possible since you own the SA at the time Windows Server 2012 started shipping.

Current licenseConversion ratioNew license(s)
SBS Essentials1:1Essentials
Web Server2:1Standard
Windows HPC Server Suite1:1Standard

Getting the right kind and number of license

Choosing between Foundation, Essentials and Standard/Datacenter is a matter of features you need and number of users you have. Foundation is limited to OEM / 15 users / No Virtualization / 1 physical processor. Essentials is limited to 25 users / No Virtualization / 2 physical processor. Quite simple to choose.

Regarding Standard and Datacenter, both edition differs on the Virtualization rights. Both allow up to 2 physical CPU and can be summed to match more CPU. Both match a single physical server. Standard only allows up to 2 virtual operating system environment (VOSE) ; Datacenter allows unlimited number.

Beware that, using the 2 VOSE with a Standard license, the physical server may only be used for Virtualization management. This means you are not allowed to run, let’s say Hyper-V + DNS + DHCP + Active Directory on the physical host if you also run 2 VMs (like Exchange and Sharepoint).

Here’re a few examples of the best cost effective license to get in some real environments.

DescriptionSTD EditionDC Edition
License #Total costLicense #Total cost
1 Host, 1 CPU, no VM1$8821$4,809
1 Host, 2 CPUs, no VM1$8821$4,809
1 Host, 4 CPUs, no VM2$1,7642$9,618
10 Hosts, 2 CPUs/host, no VM10$8,82010$48,090
1 Host, 2 CPUs, 2 VMs1$8821$4,809
1 Host, 2 CPUs, 4 VMs2$1,7641$4,809
1 Host, 2 CPUs, 6 VMs3$2,6461$4,809
1 Host, 2 CPUs, 10 VMs5$4,4101$4,809
1 Host, 4 CPUs, 4 VMs2$1,7642$9,618
1 Host, 4 CPUs, 6 VMs3$2,6462$9,618
1 Host, 4 CPUs, 20 VMs10$8,8202$9,618
3 Hosts, 2 CPUs/host, 20 VMs10$8,8203$14,427
3 Hosts, 2 CPUs/host, 30 VMs15$13,2303$14,427
3 Hosts, 2 CPUs/host, 50 VMs25$22,0503$14,427
5 Hosts, 2 CPUs/host, 50 VMs25$22,0505$24,045
5 Hosts, 2 CPUs/host, 100 VMs50$88,2005$24,045

The first conclusion is that, as expected, the Datacenter edition has no use when dealing with physical hardware only.

A second result is that “lightly virtualized environments” seems to mean “less than 10 virtual machines per 2-processors host”. If you plan to have less than (about) 10 VMs on each of your physical server (or 2-processors couple), you’d better keep with Standard licenses. In some cases, stacking licenses can be worth a try.

Beware that if you own a SA, you can upgrade from Standard to Datacenter. If you don’t, you can’t ; you’d have to buy the Datacenter licenses. Furthermore, you can’t use both a Standard and a Datacenter license on a single physical hardware ; 4x CPU and unlimited VM is 2x Datacenter licenses, not 1x Datacenter (2x CPU and unlimited VM) and 1x Standard (2x CPU). Downgrade from Server 2012 to previous version can be done in some certain circumstances ; check FAQ Q14.

Regarding third-party virtualization system (like VMware vSphere or Citrix Xen), licensing is done the same way. Just beware that the Windows Server 2012 license matches every physical hosts (aka hypervisors), their CPU number and VM supposed to run on top of them. The 90-days restriction still applies: “(…) For Volume Licensing (VL) Windows Server licenses, you can reassign the software licenses from one server to another, but not more often than every 90 days. There are some exceptions to this rule outlined in the Product Use Rights document. For example, you may reassign the license earlier than 90 days if you must retire the licensed server due to permanent hardware failure.” Depending on how many VMs you run on each of your hypervisor and wether they migrate regularly from one host to another, one edition might be worth the other. If you’re a heavy HA/DRS user, your best bet is to license each 2-processors ESXi server with a Datacenter edition.

Client Access License

You thought getting the system licenses were enough? Nahhh. Since you have users accessing the services ran by the Windows Servers, you will need a Client Access License (CAL) per user and/or device.

A User CAL will allow a single user to use an infinite number of device to connect to the Windows Server. If you choose a Device CAL, then a particular device can be used by an infinite number of users.

In most case, the rule is quite simple : one Active Directory account means one User CAL.