Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Licensing –What’s New?

Microsoft has recently announced how the licensing will work around their latest server operating system (OS) offering, Microsoft Windows Server 2012. Along with some licensing model changes they have also indicated that the number of Windows Server editions being offered is to decrease, with there now only being two mainstream editions:

  • Datacenter: Intended for highly virtualized private cloud environments.
  • Standard: For non-virtualized or smaller virtualized environments.

The Enterprise edition has been dropped with Microsoft now angling for the Datacenter edition to take the lead for most medium to large virtualized server implementations.  Both editions have the same underlying functionality, ie: the Standard edition doesn’t have any less functionality (eg: Hyper-V, DNS, DHCP, RDP Services, BranchCache, etc) than the Enterprise edition.

Microsoft Windows Server 2012 VMware vSphere Hyper-V

Here is a summary of the key Microsoft’s Windows Server 2012 licensing changes:

  • Processor Based Licensing: All Windows Server 2012 licensing is moving to a number of physical processors based model, meaning that there will no longer be any more “Per Server” licensing offered. Each Windows Server 2012 license will cover up to two physical processors on a server, for example if you have a dual CPU (physical) server you will only require a single Windows Server 2012 license, if you had four physical CPUs you would need two Windows Server 2012 licenses.
  • No more “Enterprise”: There will no longer be a Windows Server “Enterprise” edition.

Windows Server 2012 – What edition is best for virtualized server environments?

The differentiating factor between the “Standard” and Datacenter” editions of Windows Server 2012 is how each edition handles the licensing of virtual operating systems:

  • Datacenter:  As with previous versions of the Windows Server Datacenter edition, this license allows you to run unlimited virtual (VM) instances on the physical server.  With the higher performance of physical servers for the same or less cost these days, businesses can now have a higher consolidation of virtual machines (VMs) on a physical host, this will no doubt make the Datacenter edition a more attractive option for many businesses.
  • Standard: This edition is primarily targeted at non-virtualized or smaller virtualized implementations where only up to two virtual operating system environments (VOSE) can be run.  This will have a limited audience these days with many businesses running more than two VMs per physical server host.

Microsoft Windows Server 2012 licensing 

Along with the processor based licensing, the usual Client Access Licenses (CAL) are also required for every user or device accessing the server.

Of course, there are still a couple of editions of Windows Server targeted at the SMB space, though it is important to note that the licensing model for these two SMB edition offerings are based on a per server basis and the number of physical processors as found with Datacenter and Standard editions. Client Access Licenses are not required for either of these editions although they do offer more limited service functionality compared to that of the Datacenter and Standard editions, see this Microsoft document for more details.

  • Essentials: For SMBs with up to 25 users, and running on physical servers with up to two processors.  This SMB edition can be run either in a physical or  virtual environment, ie: can be run as a VM.
  • Foundation: For SMBs with up to 15 users running on a single processor physical server.  This edition cannot be run as a virtualized instance, ie: can only be run directly on a physical server.

Microsoft Windows Server 2012 licensing[6]Here is a Windows Server 2012 information sheet by Microsoft that provides more details around the new licensing model and edition offerings, along with how the transitioning of licensing from earlier versions of Windows Server to the new 2012 version will work.

If you want to find out more about Microsoft licensing I strongly recommend you take a look at Emma’s (aka Lady Licensing) highly informative site here. This is an excellent resource for anything Microsoft licensing related.

In my opinion it is good to see a more straight forward and easy to follow Microsoft Windows Server licensing model.  In the past it has been something of a dark art to get your licensing correct, particularly in large corporate infrastructures and especially with the introduction of virtual machines running in heavily consolidated virtualized environments.

That said, in this modern world where virtualized servers are now common place I can see many businesses, even SMBs, being left in a position where they want to perhaps run 3-5 virtual machines though end up having to either purchase an Enterprise (US$4809) or two or more Standard (US$882) edition licenses.  For some businesses perhaps this is an incentive for them to look at outsourcing some of their day to day user services such as email out to The Cloud, a space where Microsoft has an offering with its “Online” range of services.  Perhaps charging a little more for the Standard edition though increasing the number of VOSE to 5 would have been a more accommodating alternative.  What do you think?

About Simon Seagrave 706 Articles
Simon is a UK based Virtualization, Cloud & IT Technology Evangelist working as a Senior Technology Consultant and vSpecialist for EMC. He loves working in the ever changing IT industry & spends most of his time working with Virtualization, Cloud & other Enterprise IT based technologies, in particular VMware, EMC and HP products. As well as on this site, you can find him on Twitter and Google+


  1. Not sure about them bumping up the VOSEs to 5, lets assume they kept an enterprise edition with the 4 (or bumped up to 5) VOSES they have today, we were still looking at a 3k cost for it (albeit not feature comparable as today).

    I think buying multiple Standard licenses would meed this need with a lower, staggered cost model (nothing against applying multiple STD licenses to the same system right? or has that changed too?? 😉

    • Hi Ryan,

      On reflection, I agree that bumping up the VOSE to 5 is perhaps a little ambitious. With Virtual Machines being common place now, and with more being spun up due to their ease and convenience, I was originally thinking about the possibility of a Standard Plus type edition, though admittedly at this point it is then venturing into the space where the Enterprise edition used to play, at least with the number of VOSE which kind of defeats the purpose. Re: running multiple Standard edition licenses on the same system, I haven’t heard/read anything saying that this is now not possible.

      Thanks for the comment, 🙂


  2. Simon and Ryan Re: Running multiple standard licenses on the same system; if you look at the diagram of the examples, all the examples relate to one system, with multiple licences for standard when needed.

  3. Yup that’s how we did it with Enterprise currently, I couldn’t see them moving away from that
    and it actually comes up cheaper for most small scale deployments (I’m still in love with DC licensing though 🙂

    loving the feature parity between versions though!

    Presenting a licensing overview to my sales team tomorrow 🙂

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