Understanding Windows Server 2012 Licensing and Virtualization
hpms
November 20, 2012

Windows Server 2012 completely changed the way that the Windows Server OS is deployed and licensed. These changes address many users’ concerns about previous licensing models. The changes also enable Windows Server 2012 to be the building block for your private cloud IT infrastructure. In this article I’ll explain the new changes in Windows Server 2012 licensing.

Windows Server 2012 Editions

The Windows Server 2012 product line-up has been simplified. The older Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise edition and SBS Essentials editions have been discontinued. There are now four editions of Windows Server 2012:

  • Datacenter edition. This edition is designed for highly virtualized environments. Hyper-V virtualization is included. This edition is licensed by processor and CAL and is priced at $4,809.
  • Standard edition. This edition is designed for lightly virtualized environments. Hyper-V virtualization is included. This edition is licensed by processor and CAL and is priced at $882.
  • Essentials edition. This edition is designed for small businesses with fewer than 25 users and two processor servers. There is no support for virtualization. This edition is licensed per server and is priced at $501.
  • Foundation edition. This edition is designed for small businesses with fewer than 15 users and a single processor server. There is no support for virtualization. This edition is licensed by server and is available only for OEMs.

One important difference between Windows Server 2012 and the previous releases of Windows Server is that with Windows Server 2012, the same features are present in the Datacenter and Standard editions. Both editions also support the same number of cluster nodes. The big difference between the two editions is in their support for virtualization. Windows Server 2012 Datacenter edition includes licensing for an unlimited number of virtual Windows instances, whereas Windows Server 2012 Standard edition includes licensing for only two virtual Windows instances.

Processor-Based Licensing and Virtualization

One of the biggest changes in licensing for Windows Server 2012 is the new processor-based licensing model that the Datacenter and Standard editions use. The Essentials and Foundation editions are basically unchanged; they are licensed per server and there is no need for any additional CALs. The processor-based licensing for Windows Server 2012 Datacenter and Standard editions refers to physical processors (not processor cores). Each processor license covers up to two processors, and you can license only physical processors.

The Datacenter edition supports an unlimited number of virtual Windows instances, making it a cost-effective candidate for dense virtualization support. The Standard edition provides for two virtual Windows instances per license. You cannot mix Datacenter and Standard edition licenses on the same server. If you have Windows Server 2012 Standard edition and need to support additional Windows instances, then you will need to buy additional licenses. The following table illustrates how many Windows Server 2012 licenses would be required for the Datacenter and Standard editions in each of seven possible scenarios.

Scenario

 

Required Licenses (Datacenter)

 

 

 

Required Licenses (Standard)

 

 

 

  1. 1.       One 2-processor system
    (no virtualization)

 

1

 

1

 

  1. 2.       One 4-processor system
    (no virtualization)

 

2

 

2

 

  1. 3.       One 2-processor system running 2 virtual machines (VMs)

 

1

 

1

 

  1. 4.       One 2-processor system
    running 4 VMs

 

1

 

2

 

  1. 5.       One 4-processor system
    running 4 VMs

 

2

 

2

 

  1. 6.       One 4-processor system
    running 5 VMs

 

2

 

3

 

  1. 7.       One 8-processor system running 10 VMs

 

4

 

5

 

 

There is one additional caveat for Windows Server 2012 Standard edition licensing scenarios: When you are using the maximum number of virtual OS instances (as is the case with scenarios 3 through 5) then the physical instance may be used only to manage the virtual OS instances.

In addition to the processor-based fee, both Windows Server 2012 Datacenter and Standard editions require that each device and user that connects to the server has a CAL. You cannot use Windows Server 2008 CALs to access Windows Server 2012.

License Mobility

To help you take advantage of private cloud technology, Microsoft has expanded the Windows Server 2012 mobility rights. Under standard user rights, Microsoft limits you to reassigning server licenses to different servers once every 90 days. With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft now offers licensing mobility through Software Assurance (SA). For Windows Server 2012 and certain other server products (e.g., SQL Server 2012 Enterprise edition) Microsoft has removed this licensing limitation within a server farm environment, allowing you to freely move licensing and running instances between servers. Microsoft defines a server farm follows:

A server farm consists of up to two data centers, each physically located either in a time zone that is within four hours of the local time zone of the other [Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and not Daylight Standard Time (DST)], and/or within the European Union (EU) and/or European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

By taking advantage of license mobility, you can effectively stop counting instances or processors by server and instead count instances and processors by server farm.

Additional Resources

Hopefully, this article has given you the basic guidelines to help you plan your Windows Server 2012 licensing requirements. For more information on Windows Server 2012 licensing, you can refer to Microsoft’s Windows Server 2012 Licensing Data SheetWindows Server 2012 Licensing and Pricing FAQ, and Licensing Microsoft Server Products for Use in Virtual Environments.