Terminal Server Licensing Explained...

Terminal Server Licensing Explained...

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I am going to start off the technical topics with a fairly light yet very confusing topic- once it’s explained though it’s very simple.

Terminal Server Licensing is probably among the easiest for us to troubleshoot, however, there are so many different scenarios it gets confusing FAST!

The story on Terminal Server Licensing changes dramatically from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003.  Here I’d like to see if I can explain the Server 2003 scenarios.  If you have specific questions about 2000 just ask!

A client access licensed is issued to every type of client that will access the Windows Server 2003 Terminal Server, here is a link to the legal part of this if you need it (here I am sticking to the technical facts):


This includes Windows Server 2003 client connections, Windows XP (all versions), Thin clients etc.

The other big change is there are now two types of licenses: Per User and Per Device. Built-in Licenses still exist so that the Windows Server 2003 Terminal Server Licensing Server can support/ issue licenses to Windows 2000 Terminal Servers.



This type of license is not managed right now.  What this means is when you have your terminal server configured in a PER USER Licensing mode in Terminal Server Configuration console the Terminal Server must be able to discover an activated terminal server license server.  As long as it can do that a user will never be denied a connection to the terminal server based on licensing.  You will never see the number of available licenses decremented in the Terminal Server Licensing snap in either.



When the Windows Server 2003 Terminal Server is configured to use PER DEVICE license mode it will behave just like Windows 2000 used to.  A computer will connect to the terminal server and get a temporary license, then connect again and get a permanent license.  This license will expire at 90 days.  Some point before it expires it will renew, if the client doesn’t connect in the time period before the license expires the license will go back into the available pool of licenses the Terminal Server Licensing console.



This type of license still exists on Windows Server 2003 for backward compatibility for Windows 2000 Terminal Servers.

Here is an excellent resource for additional information regarding terminal server licensing and how you can troubleshoot many issues related to licensing such as license server discovery, only temporary licensing being issued etc.:


With all that being said- one last important piece of advice- When to call the Licensing Activation Team (also known as the Clearinghouse) and when to call support.


Basically- if you need to activate licenses, change the type of activation, reactivate a license server or license pack, or to reclaim lost licenses before their expiration date that all has to be done through the clearinghouse.   They can be contacted via:

• In the United States, call (800) 426-9400 or visit the Microsoft Licensing Program Reseller Web site.

 • In Canada, call the Microsoft Resource Centre at (877) 568-2495.

 • If you are outside the United States or Canada, please review the Worldwide Microsoft Licensing Web sites or contact your local Microsoft subsidiary on the Microsoft Worldwide Home Web site. ]


When you get errors in the event logs about not being able to find the license server, in the license manager snap-in, or on the client workstation machines trying to connect to the terminal server  that is when you follow the link above if that doesn’t work you may need support J

This just begins to scratch the surface- more posts later on this topic but if you are having terminal server licensing problems be sure to go to this link before you get too frustrated J



  • The problem that a lot of us face is having to call Clearing house to re-claim license before expiry date. This is an unnecessary overheard for Microsoft customer.

    From time to time, we will have computer re-imaged or some computer which need temporary access to terminal service take up the license for 90 days. This resulted in reduced number of license available for use even thought the workstation mention earlier no longer need to use the license anymore.

    It will be good if Microsoft can change the license mechanism to as follow:

    - provide the option for server administrator to re-claim or revoke a terminal server license

    - license should return to the license pool on each disconnection of terminal service connection

    - computer will have to connect to terminal server to obtain license on start of each connection

  • Has the bug that prevented Terminal Server to find a Terminal Services Licensing Server in a different site finally fixed in w2k8?

  • Hi all,

    To each point:

    aicchong - As a shareholder here, I have to agree. I'd love to see the Clearinghouse/License Renewal process get a lot more streamlined and usable. We don't charge for TSL cases here simply because we admit that the support system shouldn't cost anything due to these issues. We've fought this battle on customer behalf many times, and... we lost.

    ylotana - We'll have to wait and see. There were a number of changes made to the TSL code in Windows Server 2008, and more remain to be done before it ships. Once we hit a release candidate we'll be able to speak to that better. Hopefully we simply post 'all pain removed'. :-)


  • Earlier, we told you about the new Group Policy admin templates available for download . Many thanks