My Take on Windows Server 2012 Licensing FAQ

Here's the licensing summary and the long official licensing FAQ, but I've tried to summarize the important stuff. I find the new licensing much easier to understand then ever before. I issue no guarantees on my ability to correctly read a Microsoft licensing document:

  • Server 2012 only has two editions: Standard and Datacenter
  • Unlike every Server edition in the past, the ONLY difference between these two editions is the number of virtual machine licenses you get. Standard now has every feature that Datacenter has.
  • A single license of either edition covers two processors, and they stack. To cover a server with four processors, you would just buy two licenses. They don't care about the number of cores.
  • Standard edition includes licensing for 2 VM's, and they stack. Two Standard licenses would cover 4 VM's on a single host, etc.
  • Datacenter edition includes licensing for unlimited VM's on 2 processors, and they stack. Two Datacenter licenses would allow unlimited VM's on 4 processors.
  • Note that we're just talking about "included" licensing for VM's here, not any hardset limits of the OS. Standard can still run many VM's if you have other Windows licenses. Again, there are no feature limits or differences between Standard and Datacenter.
  • Assuming your servers have 2 processors. The decision point at which you should consider buying a Datacenter license (to save money) is when you are running more then 10 Windows Server VM's on a single host (using retail pricing). Until that number, you should just buy more Standard licenses which stack on top of each other, two VM's at a time.
  • Server 2012 licenses are only assigned to hardware. So if you have an unlicensed VM, you would need to buy a single Server 2012 Standard license, which would be assigned to the host hardware and give you two more VM licenses for the host.
  • Downgrade rights: Server 2012 Standard license lets you downgrade to Enterprise or Standard of older versions. Datacenter lets you downgrade to anything.
  • If you have older Windows Server licenses with current Software Assurance:
    • Old Standard gets you one Server 2012 Standard license (2 VM's on 2 Processors)
    • Old Enterprise gets you two Server 2012 Standard licenses (4 VM's on 4 Processors)
    • 2 x Old Datacenter gets you 1 Server 2012 Datacenter license (unlimited VM's on 2 Processors)
    • If you have SA and you find that "transitioning" your licenses to 2012 doesn't cover your hardware like prevision versions did, then Microsoft will work with you to ensure you don't have to buy more licenses just to keep current on SA.


  • Client Access Licenses

    • Remember if you users access just one Windows Server 2012, then they need to have a up-to-date 2012 CAL.
    • Since Web edition and HPC edition are going away, you can use those features (web apps, and high-performance computing) without needing Windows CAL's.