Microsoft & Virtual Licensing

Microsoft and virtual licensing is definitely a hot topic at the minute. In particular an article written by Paul DeGroot from Direction on Microsoft keeps being re-tweeted on Twitter by all manner of people. Personally, I think people are being a little short-sighted and thus not being quite fair to Microsoft-or the people they’re advising.

Reading this article by Bridget Botelho over at, the crux of it seems to be that Microsoft licensing

 “defeats the purpose of building a dynamic data center”

due to the rules around re-assigning Windows server licences. True, if you’re using Windows Server Std or even Enterprise licences, licence re-assignment has the potential to cause a few issues. However, the example used is of a datacenter…and MS have a product called “Windows Server DataCenter”-which is aimed at customer running a “proper” datacenter. The example DeGroot uses is:

"You might want to run an automated data center with rules like ‘Move a VM when the CPU hits 90%,’ but that move may violate the 90-day rule…”

What’s the problem?

Example A:

Say you are licensed for 3 VM’s on server A and 2 VM’s on server B. The above rule could potentially leave you with 2 VM’s on server A and 4 VM’s on server B. If you’re licensed with Windows Server Std-that would leave you incorrectly licensed.

Example B:

Say you are licensed for 3 VM’s on server A and 4 VM’s on server B. The above rule could potentially leave you with 2 VM’s on server A and 5 VM’s on server B. If you’re licensed with Windows Server Enterprise-that would leave you incorrectly licensed.

However, Windows Server Datacenter gives you unlimited virtual licensing rights-rendering the above examples moot.

Check out this great video explanation:

Other analysts join in:

Chris Wolf from Burton Group said at this year’s VMWorld that “one of the most important changes Microsoft needs to make is to remove the mobility restrictions associated with Standard Edition Windows Server OS licenses”. He goes on to say

“Most enterprises wind up purchasing Datacenter edition licenses as part of a virtualization project…”

and he says this as though it is a bad thing! He only seems to be looking at the upfront costs and basing it on the assumption that there are no benefits associated with Datacenter licensing other than being able to move VM’s around; in my experience that isn’t true.

If a customer were to use Standard licences to cover every VM in their datacenter, It would also slow down expansion as each time you need to deploy a new VM-what do you need to do…that’s right, go and order a new licence.

You urgently need to provision a new server to cope with extra load etc but you haven’t got a spare licence-the proper thing to do is wait until a licence has been ordered from your reseller and then deploy the VM. What will actually happen is that the VM will get deployed anyway and the licence will get ordered after the fact…leaving the company non-compliant but “hey-it’s only for 24 hours” will be the mentality.

Then, once people become familiar with that “process” they may well not bother reporting the new deployment as, let’s be fair, most techies aren’t up on the licensing rules and so might not even realise there’s anything to report. On top of that maybe people will simply forget to mention it or the Asset management guy is on holiday so they’ll tell him when he’s back…but a fortnight’s a long time and it never gets done.

Even with Software Asset Management monitoring is place, it will be a job to keep track of it and may well still lead to non-compliance.

Alternatively, you can purchase Datacenter edition and use as many VM’s as your servers can handle. These days ease of management, and thus a reduction in management costs, is a huge focus for most companies so while Datacenter is more expensive that Std (or Enterprise) it gives cost savings in many other areas.

Wolf also said:

“The leap to licensing per VM instead of per physical machines is going to take a lot of pressure on the company," Wolf said. "But keep holding them to the fire, because it is working."

To me it would seem that licensing per VM would be more expensive, more complicated and more fraught with potential pitfalls. I’d be interested to see what you think on this subject…

Technical Differences:

Also, on a slight side note, Windows Server Datacenter is much more technically suited to that environment with features such as:

  • Hot Add Processors
  • Hot Replace Memory
  • 64 X64 sockets (against 8 for Ent)

when compared to Enterprise and:

Failover cluster nodes

  • Cross File Replication
  • 2TB X64 RAM (against 32GB)
  • 64 X64 sockets (against 4)

when compared to Std.

See more comparisons here.

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