Windows Server 2016 has been the most anticipated Microsoft release this year. However, rather than focusing on the latest and greatest features being added to the new version of the operating system, a lot of anticipation has been around the major licensing model changes. With Microsoft announcing early in the year that Windows Server 2016 would be moving to a core-based model, it raised a lot of questions. How will this new model work exactly? How will it affect my organization’s data center plans moving forward? What is the recommended approach to these changes
To help understand how this new license model works, it’s best to compare it to the previous licensing model. Windows Server 2012 R2 required customers to license on a per-processor basis, with each license covering up to two processors. Similar to licensing by processor, the new core-based model will be based on the physical specs of your hardware while meeting a minimum of 16-cores per server and 8-cores per processor. It is important to note that even when using virtualized instances of Windows Server, you still will be licensing according to the total number of physical cores in the server, not by how many are assigned to a virtual instance.
A few things to note are that virtualization rights will remain the same, and pricing will not be changing for every customer. You will still be entitled to one physical operating system installation or the ability to have two installations if you are using virtualization. While this may be a major change in terms of purchasing licensing, Microsoft has noted that this does not necessarily mean a price change for every one of their customers. The minimum licensing requirements that Microsoft has put in place are going to be consistent with the price of a Windows Server 2012 R2 two processor license. This means if your server only needs to meet the minimum licensing requirement of 16 total core licenses, your price will be the same. The only change you need to anticipate is the switch from normally purchasing a two processor license over to purchasing 8 two-core packs.
So what about any new servers that you’ve purchased that have processors with higher core counts? Are you guaranteed to pay more moving forward? It’s a fair question to ask, and it does mean you will be required to pay more if you need to purchase new licenses. However, it’s important to understand how to best leverage your current investments in Software Assurance (SA) to avoid purchasing licenses you may not necessarily need. While SA on Windows Server 2012 R2 will give you New Version rights for the new product, it is also going to be extremely helpful when transitioning to the new license model. Current users who have their Windows Server 2012 R2 licenses with SA on servers with more than 16 cores are actually entitled to license grants from Microsoft to cover the gaps they may have when moving to Windows Server 2016. Moving forward after your license grant will mean larger SA renewal costs, but you will not be required to purchase the ‘shortages’ that were created in this new model.
Now that you’ve gotten a rundown on the basics, where do you go from here? What’s the best approach for this transition? The one major piece to note with this change is how to stay compliant. The most effective strategy is to be are aware of the minimums that Microsoft mandates when you make a purchase for your server. Another is to be aware of how virtualization can affect your strategy. If you are looking to virtualize – and freely and frequently move VMs between hosts – make sure you are licensing both hosts for the guest operating systems to accommodate. Take time to review your current purchases and active software assurance. If you are able to claim license grants through your SA, it’s an easy way to not pay twice for the additional licenses required for your servers. Also, get creative when planning your data center consolidations and understand how you can best leverage your core based licenses. Moving from three 16-core hosts to two 24-core hosts is a lot easier today with this new model than it was previously.