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Interview: Managing changes to Windows Server Licensing models

SQL Server Licensing

Christopher Brune, Consultant, Aspera GmbH

I recently spoke with Christopher Brune, consultant at Aspera, about Microsoft Windows Server Datacenter licensing.

ITAM Review: Christopher, let’s introduce you to the reader. What is it like to be Mr. Christopher Brune working at Aspera?

Christopher Brune: That’s a good question. Working at Aspera is like having found the right destination after a long journey. I started my professional career many years ago in the IT sector as a sales consultant. About 8 years ago, I started to focus my expertise on Software Asset Management with a special love for Microsoft licensing. I also consulted during Microsoft audits and SAM tool evaluations and implementations. In 2015 I arrived at Aspera, the market leading SAM solution provider, in my humble opinion. At Aspera I am part of the vendor expert team for Microsoft and together with my colleagues in the Services and Development departments we ensure Aspera covers the needs of our customers for Microsoft license management. 

ITAM Review: It sounds like you really know your Microsoft licensing! So what do you think is the underlying reason Microsoft is moving towards core based licensing for Windows Server?

Christopher Brune: They keep adjusting their licensing models to underpin the new hardware capabilities and industry trends. Hardware technologies are constantly evolving and physical servers are getting increasingly powerful. So a lot of software vendors see this as a good opportunity for additional revenue streams and Microsoft is not an exception. However, Microsoft might say that they want it to be easier for their customers to have the same licensing model across on-premise Windows Server workloads and for workloads that are placed in the Azure cloud.

ITAM Review: How are most organizations licensing Windows Server currently and what impact is this change likely to have on them?

Christopher: Windows Server 2012 R2 has a CPU/CAL licensing model; one license, either Windows Server Standard or Windows Server Datacenter, covers up to 2 physical processors. Additionally, the Standard license covers up to 2 virtual machines. And the Datacenter has an unlimited virtualization right as long as all physical CPUs are licensed.

As of the 2016 release, powerful servers with more than 8 cores per CPU will be impacted by increased licensing costs compared to Windows Server 2012 R2 licensing and prior versions. However, there’s hope! Customers with active Software Assurance can get additional license grants.

ITAM Review: What advice would you give for customers looking to optimize Windows Server licensing costs, presumably by consolidating Windows Server installations into smaller footprints and a smaller number of cores?

Christopher: This is quite an interesting question. Until recently, good advice was: “If you want to lower your licensing costs for Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, just consolidate your physical base and use fewer servers with more powerful CPUs, meaning processors that have more cores.”

Now it is the other way around. If you have very powerful servers, it will be quite expensive. This may force a change and encourage IT departments to think about different IT infrastructures, especially in the data center. Keeping in mind that it may be cheaper for the customer to add one additional physical server to the virtualization cluster, instead of having fewer servers with more physical CPUs and cores.

However, if you keep using old licenses such as the 2012 R2 version or earlier, the old license rules will still apply and core count will have no impact. So it is worth considering reallocating your licenses across the business. That means, for the most powerful servers consider assigning 2012 R2 or earlier version licenses and buying new licenses for less powerful machines.

ITAM Review: How does Microsoft handle virtualization? Do you have to pin instances to a CPU, or do they accept sub-capacity? Or do they completely ignore it like Oracle?

Christopher: Unfortunately, Microsoft does not accept any sub-capacity. If you have a very powerful server, for instance with 4 or 6 physical CPUs, and each CPU has 20 cores, then you would still have to license the entire physical layout.

ITAM Review: What can organizations do to prepare for this transition?

Christopher: As I said before they should look into reallocating licenses within their estate and assigning 2012 R2 and earlier versions to the servers that have more than 8 cores per CPU. Companies should also separate license purchases with Software Assurance (SA) and those without. If the customer has licenses with Software Assurance, they are allowed to use Windows Server 2016 but following the old model of CPU/CAL, until the end of the Software Assurance duration (according to the Microsoft Product Terms ).

What’s more, to take advantage of Microsoft offering additional core license grants for servers that have above 8 cores per CPU and are covered with licenses and active Software Assurance. In order to do this, the company must be prepared:

  1. The company needs to inventory its environment, time stamp it, and document in detail all the technical server specification – especially cores and CPUs.
  2. Then, keep all these records securely stored so they don’t get lost and can be quickly referenced in the future. Customers need these records not only for the transition, but also for future Microsoft license audits, true-ups, and for negotiations during contract renewals.

To explain how a license grant works, I have an example: For instance, a customer has a server with 2 physical CPUs, and each CPU has 10 cores. A Windows Server Datacenter license with active Software Assurance covers the server. Following the new 2016 licensing and Software Assurance the Datacenter license will be transitioned into a 20 core license, so this server remains fully covered. But the customer has to know how many cores there are so that he can transition the license correctly.

However, if the customer does not have adequate documentation of their inventory, then Microsoft will apply the standard transition of 8 cores per CPU. Going back to my example with the two CPU server, this means the license following the old CPU/CAL licensing model will be transitioned into 16 core licenses following the new 2016 model, which is not enough to cover the server. So knowing your licensing environment is key and this is why so many companies rely on a SAM solution like SmartTrack.

ITAM Review: Are there rules online to dictate exactly how this transition works? Has Microsoft provided good guidance around this?

Christopher: This Windows Server licensing change from Processor to Core is very similar to the change that Microsoft introduced with the SQL 2012 release. Transitioning to the core license model and securing additional license grants for a fully licensed server is available free of charge. Licensing guides and whitepapers are publicly available, but of course you have to know what you are searching for.

About Martin Thompson

Martin is owner and founder of The ITAM Review, an online resource for worldwide ITAM professionals. The ITAM Review is best known for its weekly newsletter of all the latest industry updates, LISA training platform, Excellence Awards and conferences in UK, USA and Australia.

Martin is also the founder of ITAM Forum, a not-for-profit trade body for the ITAM industry created to raise the profile of the profession and bring an organisational certification to market. On a voluntary basis Martin is a contributor to ISO WG21 which develops the ITAM International Standard ISO/IEC 19770.

He is also the author of the book "Practical ITAM - The essential guide for IT Asset Managers", a book that describes how to get started and make a difference in the field of IT Asset Management. In addition, Martin developed the PITAM training course and certification.

Prior to founding the ITAM Review in 2008 Martin worked for Centennial Software (Ivanti), Silicon Graphics, CA Technologies and Computer 2000 (Tech Data).

When not working, Martin likes to Ski, Hike, Motorbike and spend time with his young family.

Connect with Martin on LinkedIn.


  1. J Senior says:

    Post should say:”Managing changes to Windows Server Licensing models” — not SQL

  2. Fixed. Thanks Jacobo

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