Core-Based Licensing Coming to Windows Server 2016, System Center 2016

New licensing details from Microsoft about its forthcoming Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 products reveal a switch from per-processor licensing to a per-core approach.

The details are included in two new Microsoft publications -- a licensing FAQ (PDF download) and a System Center 2016 licensing datasheet (PDF download). Wes Miller, an analyst with independent consultancy Directions on Microsoft, noted the publications last week via Twitter posts. Both products are still at the preview stage, so a description of licensing is surprising at this point.

The documents are noteworthy not just for providing licensing details, but also for clarifying Microsoft's roadmap plans a bit. For instance, the FAQ states that "the commercial general availability of Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 [is] expected in Q3 of calendar year 2016." The exact date wasn't specified, but the specific quarter mentioned is new information.

The main licensing change coming to Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 is that the license will be based on the amount of physical cores used to run the software. That's a switch from the previous per-processor approach. Microsoft literally means physical cores, so virtual cores aren't the basis.

Windows Server 2016 Licensing
Microsoft's FAQ claims that the company is just making its server product licensing more consistent across all product lines. However, Miller noted that Client Access Licenses (CALs) still will be required with Windows Server 2016 licensing, even though Microsoft doesn't have them for SQL Server per-core licensing. These CALs are known as Windows Server CALs, which are required for every user or device accessing the server.

Microsoft also will issue CAL charges for so-called "advanced functionality," such as using Remote Desktop Services or Active Directory Rights Management Services. However, that's not a change from the current Windows Server 2012 licensing, according to Miller.

"Basically, the client-side is unchanged," Miller explained via e-mail. "Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 have the same requirements. There are Windows Server CALs, and then there are a few special CALs like RDS and RMS. Windows Server 2016 just continues those same offerings."

Microsoft plans to sell Windows Server 2016 in "packs of two licenses." Each processor will require a minimum of eight cores. Each physical server will require a minimum of 16 cores. The FAQ includes the following diagram, suggesting that most of the licensing costs will be the same as the preceding product:

[Click on image for larger view.] Windows Server 2016 per-core licensing: Source: Microsoft FAQ (PDF).

Comments in a Spiceworks forum (signup required) expressed fears that the 16-core minimum for Windows Server 2016 licensing might increase costs for smaller IT shops. Miller said that's a "yes and no" kind of situation.

"The reality is that the price that was has been cut into 16ths," he wrote. "So it's the same price -- they [smaller shops] just don't get a discount -- which they would if they could only pay for 4 [cores]."

Windows Server 2016 will be available as Datacenter edition licensing or Standard edition licensing. Microsoft conceives of Standard licensing for "low to no virtualization scenarios," with coverage for just two virtual machines maximum. Datacenter licensing offers "unlimited virtualization."

The feature differences between the two Windows Server 2016 editions weren't explained in the FAQ. However, Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn provided a snapshot in this blog post, along with prices. The Datacenter edition will have these features over the Standard version:

  • Storage Spaces Direct
  • Storage Replica
  • Shielded Virtual Machines
  • Host Guardian Service
  • Network Fabric

Finn called it "stupid" for Microsoft to load the server's new storage features only in the Datacenter edition licensing and suggested that organizations might be able to reduce their costs by choosing to use noncommodity hardware solutions instead. He posted this "user voice" initiative to compel Microsoft to change its course.

Microsoft claims its licensing changes will support "hybrid cloud" moves, particularly via an "Azure benefit" that lets organization move their Windows server licenses with Software Assurance to the Azure cloud computing infrastructure. These organizations can "upload their Windows images to Azure and pay only the compute rates," according to the FAQ. Apparently, Microsoft is referring to the "license mobility" option that was mentioned at the end to this October Microsoft Azure blog post.

Under this licensing mobility scheme, if an organization has the Standard license with Software Assurance, then they can move it to Microsoft's cloud but they can't then reassign that license to another server. In contrast, the Datacenter edition permits "unlimited virtualization on premises."

Microsoft expects to start selling this Azure hybrid licensing benefit sometime in "Q1 2016," but it will become available for use when the Windows Server 2016 reaches general availability, likely in Q3. The FAQ states that more information on this license mobility capability will be coming later.

Nano Server, Microsoft's minimal footprint deployment option for Windows Server 2016, won't have any "unique or separate licensing," the FAQ explained.

System Center 2016 Licensing
System Center 2016 licensing isn't changing much from the last edition of the product, except that it will be core-based. There are two editions. The Standard edition license supports two operating system environments (OSEs), while Datacenter edition licensing has "unlimited" OSE support. Once again, Microsoft conceives of the Standard edition licensing as being associated with "nonvirtualized or lightly virtualized servers."

System Center 2016 requires Server Management Licenses. However, for "managed devices that run nonserver OSEs," Microsoft is requiring Client Management Licenses as well.

Organizations with existing Software Assurance coverage can upgrade to System Center 2016 without additional cost. However, they'll have to base the licensing on cores at the "end of the SA term," per Microsoft's datasheet. The work to inventory cores can be done using the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit. Alternatively, Microsoft plans to introduce a new product for that purpose called the "Microsoft Software Inventory Logging Aggregator."

System Center licensees with Software Assurance also will qualify for license mobility. It will let them use "OSEs running in public cloud infrastructure," per Microsoft's datasheet.


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