Windows Server® (WS) 2012 will be available in two general purpose editions: Standard and Datacenter. These editions will have the same technical capabilities and be licensed by the same paired-processor model. The only differences between the editions will be virtualization use rights and license price. Even with the elimination of the Enterprise edition, many organizations may have slightly lower licensing costs. Client Access Licenses (CALs) and reassignment rights remain largely unchanged, and the addition of even one WS 2012 server in an organization could trigger the need for new CALs throughout the organization.
In the past, technical features were a key differentiator between server editions. For example, WS 2008 R2 Standard edition could only use up to 32GB of RAM and up to four processors. WS 2008 R2 Datacenter could use up to 2TB of RAM and 64 processors. WS 2008 R2 Standard edition did not include the Windows Server cluster feature for failing over applications and services across servers.
WS 2012 Standard and Datacenter editions each allow an organization to utilize all Windows Server features. The main difference in the editions concerns use rights for virtualization (explained below).
Three Editions Eliminated
WS 2012 will not offer the following editions, which were present in WS 2008 R2:
Licensing Model Changes
As with previous versions of Windows Server, licensing WS 2012 Standard and Datacenter editions still generally requires licenses for servers as well as for the client users or devices that access servers. But how editions are licensed for each server is changing.
Server Licenses Cover Two Physical Processors
Each WS 2012 Standard and Datacenter server license covers two physical processors. For example, a server with four processors must have two WS 2012 Standard or Datacenter edition licenses. The number of processor cores in a physical processor has no impact on licensing rules or costs, in contrast to the rules for the recently released SQL Server 2012. This is a change from WS 2008 R2, where a single Standard edition license covers a server with up to four processors, an Enterprise edition license covers up to eight processors (in both cases reflecting technical limits of the product), and a WS 2008 R2 Datacenter license covers a single processor only. Microsoft indicates that most of the installed base of WS 2008 R2 servers has one or two processors.
Regardless which edition is chosen, an organization must buy sufficient licenses to cover all processors in a server—no processor can be left in an unlicensed state. Licenses are sold in pairs, and a license pair cannot be split across physical servers.
The new WS 2012 licensing model is consistent with the licensing model for System Center 2012, Microsoft's management tools for managing Windows servers and server applications, and the latest model for the Enrollment for Core Infrastructure (ECI). The ECI is an Enterprise Agreement enrollment that licenses servers for the Windows Server OS with management by System Center products.
Virtualization Usage Rights Change for Standard
WS 2012 Standard includes the right to run up to two VMs per license. This is a change from WS 2008 R2 Standard, which only allowed running a single VM. (The discontinued Enterprise edition allowed up to four VMs). WS 2012 Standard licenses may be stacked to accommodate more VMs. For example, if a server has two processors and the organization wants to run eight VMs simultaneously on this server, the organization may assign the server four WS Standard 2012 licenses.
As with WS 2008 R2, WS 2012 Datacenter includes unlimited virtualization rights, meaning a server licensed for Datacenter may run as many VMs as the hardware can support.
Many organizations purchase a license for a current version of Windows Server and then exercise downgrade rights to deploy a previous version, typically because a critical application is not yet supported on the current version. Not only does Windows Server offer version downgrade rights but it also includes "down-edition" rights as well. (Not all Microsoft products offer down-edition rights.) Customers who purchase WS 2012 Datacenter may downgrade to any previous version of Datacenter, Enterprise, or Standard edition. For example, an organization may license a server for WS 2012 Datacenter but run WS 2012 Standard in VMs.
Customers who purchase WS 2012 Standard may downgrade to any previous version of Enterprise or Standard. This ability to use older versions of Enterprise will be useful for organizations that need to continue to expand their existing WS 2008 R2 Enterprise deployments.
Some Licensing Rules Unchanged
As previously stated, the rules regarding CALs remain mostly unchanged:
The trickiest aspect of the CAL requirement has to do with when the new CALs come into play. As was the case with WS 2008, deployment of the first server with WS 2012 in the organization could obligate the organization to roll out new CALs organization-wide, because any employee or employee device that accesses the server will require a CAL for WS 2012. (In contrast, deploying WS 2008 R2 in place of WS 2008 did not require new CALs because in the past Microsoft has not issued new CALs for R2 versions of Windows Server.) Microsoft says this should not be an issue for many organizations because it is common to have SA on Windows Server CALs (typically by purchasing and maintaining SA on the Core or Enterprise CAL Suite, both of which include the Windows Server CAL).
License Reassignment Unchanged
The rules for reassigning licenses are unchanged. Windows Server licenses purchased through Volume Licensing may not be reassigned from one server to another within 90 days of the last assignment, except in the event of permanent server hardware failure. The attachment of SA to the server license does not change the reassignment count-down clock.
Although SA includes license mobility that allows customers to move Microsoft server-based applications into off-premises hosted data centers, it is important to keep in mind that customers cannot reassign a Windows Server license to a hoster's server that's being used in a multitenant scenario. Instead, use of Windows Server on hosters' servers must be licensed by the Service Provider under existing Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) rules.