How Microsoft Plans To Refine Server Licensing

How Microsoft Plans To Refine Server Licensing

The introduction of Windows Server 2012 last year saw Microsoft heavily simplify its server licensing. That shift to a per-processor model for servers combined with a per-client access licence remains largely intact, but Microsoft says it is still planning some further refinements to the system.

Speaking in a presentation at MMS 2013 (which I’m covering as part of our World Of Servers project), Microsoft senior business planner Adam Baron said that one of the most common pieces of feedback from users since the new model was introduced was that there needed to be better tracking tools incorporated so that users could be sure they had an appropriate number of licences. “It’s clearly one of the things that’s important to get right moving forward,” he said, though he declined to announce any specific timing or product plans for better licence management tools. “We continually get that feedback from partners and customers all the time.”

Another possible tweak could be to the range of models used for client access to back-end management tools. For instance, businesses using Orchestrator to make changes on end-user desktops have to license the Client Management Suite for each desktop — a package that includes Service Manager, Operations Manager and Data Protection Manager as well. “You end up buying all this stuff and only use this much of it,” one attendee noted. Baron said potential future adjustments could be made, but that Microsoft wanted to keep the number of licensing models as small as practical.

Windows Server 2012 now has two main editions for server licensing purposes: the Standard Edition, which can run up to two virtual machine instances, and the Datacenter Edition, which can run unlimited VMs. Both editions are licensed on a per-processor basis (or more strictly, a per-processor pair basis, since each licence covers up to two processors.) There are also specialised Essentials and Foundation editions aimed at small business users and manufacturers, but those aren’t the focus for most MMS attendees. “”The licences are optimised towards the most common hardware configurations in the market,” Baron said.

Users who want to run more than two VMs can opt to ‘stack up’ additional licences against the same machine. By Microsoft’s calculations, the point where it becomes more economical to purchase the Datacenter Edition rather than licensing is when you are running eight or more VMs. “The breakeven between a set of stacked Standard licences and one Datacenter licence is approximately 8 VMs,” baron said. “By the time you spin up that ninth virtual machine, it would have been cheaper to license Datacenter.”

You can upgrade Standard to Datacenter and only pay the cost difference between the two licences, but that only applies on a licence-for-licence basis; if you purchased additional Standard licences to ‘stack up’ before conversion, you won’t get credit for those (though you could still use them on other physical servers). The practical upshot? For anyone planning to run more than a handful of VMs, Datacenter Edition remains the more likely choice, but a much higher up-front investment.

Lifehacker’s World Of Servers sees me travelling to conferences around Australia and around the globe in search of fresh insights into how server and infrastructure deployment is changing in the cloud era. This week, I’m in Las Vegas for the Microsoft Management Summit 2013, looking for practical guidance on deploying and managing Windows servers.


  • Because these servers are licensed per proc, the breakeven point depends not on the number of VMs per server, but the number of VMs per processor. The breakeven point is four VMs per proc: with four or less, Standard is less costly; with five or more, Datacenter is less costly. So the eight VMs on a server scenario in this article assumes a two-proc server. On a four-proc server, the breakeven point would be 16 VMs.

    • Not really. The licenses are per processor pair as described in the article, meaning one Windows Server license is for two physical sockets in a single physical machine (pc/server/blade/etc)

      Most servers in the field are going to be dual or quad socket machines, so we will generally still talk about a per server license. First and foremost because the licenses are assigned to the physical servers themselves. This makes it a lot easier for people to understand and things get more complicated when we’re working with large virtual environments with DR thrown in there just for fun.

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