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What You Need to Know About Licensing for Windows Server 2012

What’s the Difference between Standard and Datacenter Editions?

In part one of our three-part look into Windows Server 2012, we took a deep dive into the new licensing options. Today, we’re going to closely examine what really sets the two licensing options—Standard or Datacenter—apart.

Enterprise IT leaders contemplating their enterprise’s journey to Windows Server 2012 are likely to set aside extra hours to assess the use cases for licensing the Standard or Datacenter editions. Many of them will recall the time they had to spend wrestling with choosing among previous Windows Server editions in all their variety. Windows Server 2008, for example, came in Datacenter, Enterprise, and Standard editions, each with its own licensing structure (per processor vs. per server), virtualization instance counts, and highly disparate feature sets.

The good news is that this time around, setting course—at least at the big-picture level—should be a bit of an easier process. Why? In a departure from its past approach to Windows Server licensing and features, Microsoft has created the Windows Server Standard and Datacenter 2012 editions that, in most respects, are two peas in a pod.

That starts with the fact that they share a common and simplified license structure, with each software license covering up to two physical processors on a single server and requirements for a server CAL (client access license) for every user or device accessing the server. Both Standard and Datacenter editions support up to 640 processors to take on those heavy back-end database and computing loads, and up to 4 terabytes of memory. Product features go hand-in-hand for both editions of the data center- and cloud-optimized OS, too, from a complete virtualization platform to greater integrated security and software control to enabling highly scalable, resilient and efficient storage, and many more goodies.

All that said, there is one important difference between Standard and Datacenter. While you needn’t concern yourself with questions about which is the best Server edition as far as processor or memory support requirements go, you do need to consider how you are—and how you will be—virtualizing your environments.

Virtualization rights for the Standard edition cover up to two virtual instances of Windows Server on the host per two-processor license, while Datacenter supports unlimited virtual instances. In this way, Microsoft is coordinating its Server 2012 enterprise offerings with its System Center 2012 technology for managing data center resources, private clouds and client devices. System Center 2012 Standard and Datacenter editions share the same licensing construct—that is, support for two virtual instances in the former case and unlimited virtual instances in the latter—as Windows Server 2012 Standard and Datacenter versions.

So, basically, the main choice comes down to picking Standard for low-density or non-virtualized environments, or Datacenter to suit high-density virtualization needs (as we briefly discussed in our previous blog, Windows Server 2003 Isn’t Broke: So Why Fix It?).

It’s important to note that there’s no mixing and matching of the two editions on the same server, though, so you do need to be sure up front that you’ll be able to stand by your decision going forward, whether you’ve determined that a server will use the Standard edition for limited virtualization requirements, or the Datacenter edition because you’ll be using it as part of a cluster and leveraging Live Migration or vMotion capabilities.

The relative simplicity of the licensing choices this time around no doubt will leave you breathing a sigh of relief, as it should. Even so, doing licensing right requires developing a licensing strategy in line with the path the enterprise itself is taking. Stay tuned for our next blog, where we’ll provide some insight on developing a licensing strategy for Windows Server 2012 that will work for the direction in which your business is headed.

With the end of support date for Windows Server 2003 fast approaching, there's never been a better time to plan your data center transformation. Our experts have designed this helpful tool to get you started on the right upgrade path for your unique environment, applications, and workloads.

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