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What you need to know about Windows Server 2016 licensing

Microsoft | Posted on September 26, 2016 by Edwin Vergara

First off, let’s all take a moment to remember the licensing model of Windows Server 2012 R2. It was universally loved by the Microsoft community due to its clarity and simplicity. Microsoft offered two editions, Standard and Datacenter with the exact same functionality. Both covered two physical processors with the only difference being that Standard would allow for 1 physical or two virtual operating system environments (OSE) while Datacenter allowed for unlimited OSEs. For an environment with little to no virtualization, organizations would purchase Standard. For highly virtualized environments, organizations would go with Datacenter. This licensing setup would also include your Windows CALs (Client Access Licenses).

While Windows Server 2012 R2 licensing was wildly appreciated, we all knew that due to constant improvements in the processing power, this model would have to adapt soon enough. And it did…

Introducing Windows Server 2016, which is now licensed by core.

2016 will still come in two flavors, Standard and Datacenter, but Datacenter will come with additional functionality that will help reduce storage cost, simplify networking, and extend security. Both will be a 2 core license pack. Each physical processor will require a minimum 8 cores and each physical server will require a minimum of 16 cores. Because each license is a 2 core pack, a bit of simple math is required to know that 8 is the minimum license quantity allowed for Windows Server 2016. The new model is similar to 2012 R2 when looking to license virtual machines. In most cases, we can think of 8 licenses as the new 1. A minimum of 8 Windows Server Standard 2016 licenses (16 cores) will allow for 2 OSEs or 2 Hyper-V Containers. If 4 VMS are required, then double your Standard licensing count to 16 (32 cores). Similarly, a minimum of 8 Windows Server Datacenter 2016 licenses (16 cores) will allow for unlimited. Oh, and don’t forget your CALs.

No price increase unless you exceed the minimum 16 cores per server

Now here’s the good news. For all servers with 16 cores or less, there is no price increase as Microsoft has made the cost of 16 Windows Server 2016 cores the same as the 2 processor Windows Server 2012 R2 license. That being said, if you have less than 16 cores, there will be no price decrease due to the minimum core requirement.

Below is a helpful chart to help you calculate the number of licenses required for your server. As you can see, for the most part, there is no price change when it comes to 2016. However, once you exceed the minimum 16 cores per server, then the quantity and price will increase.


If you purchased Software Assurance (SA) on your Windows Server 2012 R2 licenses, you will be granted a minimum of 8 cores per processor and 16 cores per server. If the processors have more than 8 cores, Microsoft will give you a core grant thereby letting you run Windows Server 2016 on those servers without having to purchase more licenses. At the time of renewal, you would be able to purchase SA for those incremental cores. In order to claim the licensing grant, you can work with Softchoice to run an inventory tool on these Windows servers as a date-stamped document will have to be shared with Microsoft.

Software Assurance (SA) for Windows Server 2016

Windows Server 2016 being per core standardizes Microsoft’s licensing model as it now matches what can be found in Azure. To help customers migrate to the cloud, Microsoft has added a Software Assurance (SA) called the Azure Hybrid Use benefit. This benefit will allow you to load and run your own Windows image to Azure on a non-Windows VM. You will have the option to run two 8-core instances or one 16-core instance in Azure. When licensing Standard with SA, the instances can no longer reside on your physical servers whereas Datacenter with SA will allow for the unlimited virtual machines on premise as well as the added instances in Azure.

To learn more about Windows Server licensing please feel free to reach out to me or post your questions in the comments section below.

To learn more about new Windows Server 2016 features go here.

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