Following on the theme around licensing, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain, in detail, for anyone who doesn’t already know, how to license Windows Server Operations Systems in a Virtual Environment. Now, I’m not a licensing expert, but I’ve been through this enough times to understand it, and articulate it correctly, however, if something doesn’t make sense, add a comment! It’s important to note, that everything I discuss below, is relevant for Microsoft and non-Microsoft virtualisation environments.
So, let’s start…
Windows Server 2008 Standard
So, say we’ve bought a copy of Windows Server 2008 Standard, and we install it on the Physical box below.
If we’re not bothered about Virtualisation, this is a very simple licensing scenario indeed – all I’ve done is installed (and thus assigned) this Windows Server 2008 Standard license to this physical box. Easy peasy. From here, I could enable any of the roles of the OS, such as AD, DNS, DHCP etc, and have a great time doing it. If need be, I could downgrade this OS to a previous version of Windows Server (but I’m not going to go through this process today). There are a couple of very important things that we need to get out in the open early on here, as it’s relevant throughout this post.
- First important thing to note is, if I’ve bought this Windows Server 2008 OS on a piece of hardware, through an OEM channel, that license lives and dies with the hardware, so there’s no moving this license to another physical host.
- Second important thing to note is, if I’ve bought this license through a volume licensing program, and I want to re-assign this license to another physical host, I can do this, but, I can’t re-assign it again for another 90 days.
Now, as you know, Windows Server 2008 contains Hyper-V, so, if we enable this role, we can start running virtual machines on that particular host, but, what we do have to think about, is how we license those virtualised Windows Server guest OS’s running on that Windows Server 2008 Standard Host.
So, in this example on the left, we’ve decided to virtualise 1 guest server OS on our Windows Server 2008 Standard Host. We’ll say, for arguments sake, that this is a Windows Server guest OS. Now, with Windows Server 2008 Standard, I get 1 free running virtual instance on that particular host.
What that means is, when I assign a Windows Server 2008 Standard license to a physical box, I get the added benefit of not only being able to install the Windows Server 2008 OS on the physical hardware (and thus enable the Hyper-V Role), but I also get 1 free Windows Server guest OS, which can be Windows Server 2008 Standard or Downgraded
Read that last paragraph, then read it again to make sure you’ve got it.
I used a keyword in that paragraph. That keyword was ‘assign’. The reason I use the word ‘assign’ rather than ‘install’, is because this licensing is Virtualisation agnostic, which means I can ‘assign’ a Windows Server 2008 Standard license to a physical VMware ESX or Citrix XenServer (or A.N.Other!) host, and for free, run 1 instance of Windows Server 2008 Standard (or downgraded) in a VM on those platforms. If you want to run 2 instances of Windows Server Standard on those platforms, assign a 2nd Windows Server 2008 Standard license to that physical host, and that will give you another, and so on.
So, those bright sparks among you are going to say, well, if I not only assign the Windows Server 2008 Standard license to a physical host, but choose to install it on the physical host too (instead of A.N.Other Virtualisation platform), and then I create a Windows Server 2008 Standard (or downgraded) VM, am I not effectively getting 2 OS’s for the price of 1? Well, yes, and no.
The reason I say yes is, because you are getting 2 fully featured versions of Windows Server 2008 Standard – one for use on the actual physical host, and one for use in the VM. However, here’s the caveat. If you are using your maximum ‘free allowance’ of Windows Server VMs on a host (1 in this case), you must use the host machine to purely manage the virtual machines running on it, and nothing else.
So, in the example directly above, that physical box, with Windows Server 2008 Standard & Hyper-V running on it, can only be used to support the VM(s) above it, and not be providing other infrastructure features into the environment, such as Active Directory, Domain Controller, Web Server etc. It should be used purely for Hyper-V and managing the VMs running on it.
So, imagine this scenario:
In this scenario, we’re looking to run 3 Virtual Machines, which, for arguments sake, are Windows Server guests. To do this, using Windows Server 2008 Standard licensing, we’d assign 3 licenses to the physical box, which would not only give us the OS for the physical host, but the 3 guest OS’s we desire. If we wanted to move these VMs to another host, we’d have to reassign the Windows Server 2008 Standard licenses to the chosen host, however we wouldn’t be able to move it for another 90 days. Now, Windows Server 2008 Standard retails at about $999 I believe, so, this scenario will set us back just under $3000, and will go up by $999 for each guest Windows Server OS we want to consolidate. This pricing does not change whether you have 1 CPU, 2 CPUs or 4 CPUs in the physical box. So, a license of Windows Server 2008 Standard on a 1 CPU Dual Core System, is the same price as one on a Quad CPU Quad Core System.
If I was consolidating Linux guest’s onto this platform, perhaps open-source rather than commercial distributions, then the guest OS’s would effectively be free.
From a licensing perspective, using Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition is the least beneficial and flexible when compared with Enterprise and Datacenter editions when it comes to Virtualisation.
Windows Server 2008 Enterprise
So, hopefully you’ve got the gist from reading the bit above. Now, licensing Enterprise is very similar indeed, however, this time, instead of getting 1 free running instances, you receive 4 free running instances when you assign a Windows Server 2008 Enterprise license to a physical host.
So, in this scenario, we’ve simply assigned the Windows Server 2008 Enterprise license to the physical box, and we receive 4 free running instances of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise, or downgraded, in virtual machines. We could have 100 virtualised Windows Servers on this particular box, but the license gives you 4 free running instances at one time.
So, if you assign this license to an ESX or XenServer host – no problems, you receive 4 free running Windows Server instances. If you assign and install it, you’re getting a Hyper-V platform for free, and the 4 free running instances. Same rule as above applies – If you are using your maximum ‘free allowance’ of Windows Server VMs on a host (4 in this case), you must use the host machine to purely manage the virtual machines running on it, and nothing else.
This licensing is cumulative too, so if you want to assign 2 licenses of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise to the physical host, for 8 free running instances, just do it! Or assign 3 licenses for 12 free! It just keeps going, but remember, you can’t reassign Windows Server licenses from physical host to physical host more than once every 90 days. Another key area to be aware of is when you are using migration technologies, like Quick Migration on Hyper-V, VMotion on VMware’s platform, or XenMotion on the Citrix platform to name but a few. So, take this scenario:
In this example, we’ve assigned a Windows Server 2008 Enterprise license to both physical nodes, and we’re using our maximum 4 free running instances on both nodes. All is great :-)
We encounter a situation (Manual, DRS etc) where we need to migrate a virtual machine from one node to another. Technically, not a problem, however a move is going to put us out of compliance from a licensing perspective, because what we may find is that we’re running more than 4 guests on one of the nodes and less than 4 on the other. On the node that’s running less than it’s maximum of 4, there’s no problem. It’s just we’re incorrectly licensed on the node that’s now running more than 4.
One way to counter this, is to assign 2 Windows Server 2008 Enterprise licenses to each node, giving us a free allocation (or, breathing space) of 8 free running Windows Server VMs on each node. Whether we choose to use all 8 on each node is up to us, but if we do, we could get into a similar situation as we found before if we’re not careful. If it’s only a very temporary situation, i.e. you’ve moved all VMs onto physical host 2 for a short window whilst host 1 is patched, then you should be fine – Microsoft’s licensing is based on a trust model and understands the importance of temporary maintenance etc.
In the same way Windows Server 2008 Standard was licensed per box, so is Enterprise, so again, this pricing does not change whether you have 1 CPU, 2 CPUs or 4 CPUs in the physical box. So, a license of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise on a 1 CPU Dual Core System, is the same price as one on a Quad CPU Quad Core System. The retail price of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise is $3999, which, if you think about 4 free VMs per license, it works out at about $1000 per VM, so roughly the same price as Windows Server 2008 Standard, yet you get the Enterprise features like Clustering etc, inside the VMs.
Also remember, that any of these VMs can be downgraded to older Windows Server versions, such as 2003, or 2000. 2000 SP4 is the earliest supported version on Hyper-V, and runs great! :-)
Windows Server 2008 Datacenter
OK, so, we’re on the home straight here – just Datacenter edition to go! Stay with me!
Hopefully you understand what I’ve been talking about so far, because it’s very important when devising solutions based on Microsoft server technologies, regardless of the Virtualisation platform. I wouldn’t want to be a customer, who’s paid good money to embrace VMware’s technologies (for example), and been told incorrect information about Windows licenses running on those ESX hosts, which has resulted in the customer buying more licenses that necessary. Not good. It’s therefore critically important that both customers, and partners understand and can articulate this information.
So, what’s the deal with Datacenter edition, and is it too ‘big’ for my business? Well, let’s dip into a little history first – In previous versions of Windows Server, i.e. 2003, you could only buy Datacenter edition on hardware. There was no other channel, bar OEM, that organisations could get hold of Datacenter, so, in many cases, it would have been restricted to the larger organisations who were buying whopping hardware. That’s changed for 2008.
Update - As Mike rightly points out in the comments section "Windows Server 2003 Datacenter became available through normal channels in October 2006 - the same day these virtualization rights were introduced. You still get the rights with Windows Server 2003 and 2008 and can use the downgrade rights for earlier versions of the OS"
For the first time, Datacenter edition of Windows Server is available through regular Volume Licensing channels, so it’s instantly more mainstream and accessible for many more people, but, why would you want it? Well, if you take Windows Server 2008 Datacenter as an OS, it’s our most scalable version of the Windows Server 2008 versions, supporting the highest number of procs/cores, but feature wise, it’s pretty much the same as Enterprise. Where it changes massively, is when you bring in Virtualisation.
The Hyper-V bits themselves are identical to those in Enterprise, scaling up to 1TB RAM in the physical box, 24 cores with the latest Intel 6-core chips, 64GB RAM per VM etc etc. It’s the Virtualisation licensing that’s pretty darn different than Enterprise. Here’s the scenario:
Imagine we want to achieve a 16:1 consolidation ratio, so, 16 VMs (in this case, Windows Servers) running on 1 pretty powerful box. Seems pretty achievable I’d say, but what’s the most cost effective way of licensing it? Well, so far we have Standard edition, which gives us 1 free VM per assigned license, so we’d need 16 licenses @ $999 each, so we’re talking around $16k. We don’t have much flexibility using Standard edition, plus we can’t use any Failover Clustering, so we’re putting quite a few eggs in one basket here! What are the alternatives?
We have Enterprise edition, which, as I detailed above, provides 4 free running instances per assigned license, so, for 16 VMs, we’d need 4 Enterprise licenses assigned to this box. 4 Enterprise licenses @ $3999 per license weighs in at $16k, so pretty similar to Standard edition really, but with greater scalability and features under the hood. Final option? Datacenter Edition.
Now, first important point, Datacenter edition is licenses per physical processor, not per box, like Enterprise/Standard are. So, in our scenario, imagine the box on the left has 2 physical procs, each with quad cores.
So, in this case, we’d need to assign 2 Datacenter licenses to the box on the left, as it has 2 physical processors. Datacenter licenses go for $2999 per processor. That would mean that this scenario would cost us just under $6k. But what are we getting for our money? I haven’t mentioned any ‘free’ virtual machines yet….
Windows Server 2008 Datacenter Edition, when assigned to a host, allows an unlimited number of free running Windows Server guest OS’s on that host. So, for our scenario, where we want a 16:1 ratio, assigning 2 Datacenter licenses to that box (for a total of just under $6k) gives us what we need, and more. I could double, triple or even quadruple (and more!) the number of Windows Server Guest OS’s on that box, and still only ever pay $6k. This would only change if I upped the number of physical procs in the machine. So, $6k Datacenter, vs. $16k for Standard/Enterprise. Double the ratio to 32:1 and Datacenter is still $6k, but Enterprise & Standard are now coming in at around $32k – in fact, Standard would probably have hit it’s limit by that point, depending on how ‘big’ the VMs are (Standard edition supports 32GB RAM in the host).
The great thing to mention about Datacenter Edition (aside from the great Virtualisation licensing benefits!) is that it really eases the licensing headache around migration of virtual machines between hosts. If you have a 3 node cluster, each with Datacenter licenses assigned, it will never matter how many Windows Server VMs you’re running on each physical node. You can have 20 VMs on one, 10 on another, and 35 on another, and never have to worry about being incorrectly licensed from a Windows Server perspective. Excellent.
If these were the requirements of a project, on the top right, the first thing to note is, Standard Edition is pretty much out. It doesn’t have the clustering element to it, so it would have to be Windows Server 2008 Enterprise of Datacenter. I’m using Hyper-V as my virtualisation technology here, as I’m getting it as part of my license anyway, but if there was a requirement for a VMware or Citrix (or A.N.Other) deployment, then you’d factor those costs on top. So, Enterprise and Datacenter licensing assigned to the physical hosts will give me the features I need in terms high availability, and migration with minimal downtime.
So, do I choose Enterprise, or Datacenter for my licensing? Well, I think these results speak for themselves – I’d save $30k on these 3 nodes alone by using Datacenter. I could double my CPUs in each node too, up to 4 CPUs in each node, and it would still only come to $36k using Datacenter, so it would still be cheaper than Enterprise, and I get the added flexibility that Datacenter brings, plus, and this is a key point, future scale-up growth at no cost. I wouldn’t get this with Enterprise. For every 4 VMs I wanted to scale up, I’d be paying an extra $4k per license with Enterprise. Datacenter really is a compelling choice from a licensing, and a cost saving perspective.
Well, phew, we made it! Hopefully that’s made sense – if it hasn’t, that’s what the comment box is for on this post! Let me know! Hopefully this has given you clarity around licensing the different versions of Windows Server in virtual environments, and also some of the caveats you need to be aware of, like not being able to move OEM licenses around, or re-assigning licenses to hosts more than once every 90 days. You should also remember that the keyword is assign, not install. Microsoft would be naive to think that just because someone has bought Windows Server 2008 licenses, that they will always use Hyper-V as their virtualisation platform. Using the word ‘assign’, clears this up; simply assign a Windows Server license to a physical box, and you get the free VM rights. Whether you choose to utilise the added benefit of a free virtualisation layer in the form of Hyper-V on that system, is entirely up to you…
Yes, you would be legal to do this, so, you could P2V an OEM machine, then, take that new VM and run it on a hypervisor. You would need to license that VM with a new license (as the OEM one lived, and died with the old hardware), and this new license would need to be the equivalent or higher i.e. if you P2V'd an Enterprise license, you couldn't just buy a new Standard edition license.
So, in essence, you could:
- Get a host with 2 CPUs and buy 2 x CPU's worth of Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter.
- P2V 20 Physical OEM Servers
- Run those 20 VMs on the 2 CPU host
All you would have paid is for the Datacenter licensing for the 2 CPUs.
Activation is the tricky bit though, as you can't use a Volume License key (which you'd get with a Datacenter Volume License subscription) to activate an previously OEM workload. This chap http://blogs.catapultsystems.com/IT/archive/2009/08/06/p2v-lesson-learned-%E2%80%93-check-the-license-first.aspx has had some luck with getting over that though.
Hope that helps,
2003 R2 licenses also have the benefit, so, if you bought 2003 R2 a couple of years back on Volume License, and they are on physical hardware, you could infact buy some new hardware, install and configure Hyper-V, and then, assign your old 2003 R2 license to the box, and get the benefits of 4 free instances of Windows Server 2003 R2!
Hope that helps!
I have 2 Windows 2008 R2 Enterprise licenses.
I have Microsoft cluster with 2 nods. Every nod has domain controller role and hyper-v role.
How many Windows virtual machines can run on each node?
You would be licensed for 3 Windows Server VMs on each host, as you are using the Host OS for a 'role' (DC), so this consumes one of your 4 free.
A great post - the original and also all the subsequent posts. Resolved completely for me this particular licensing query
Happy to help Robin!
Great post very informative. I've got a situation with Datacentre 2008 that i'd like to ask your comments....
We have purchased 3x Dual CPU Physical Host servers to run as virtual host servers, with the purchase we recieved 3x ** OEM ** Windows 2008 Datacentre Edition.
We want to run a mix of Windows 2008 Standard and Windows 2008 Enterprise (and some old 2003) virtual machines between these 3 physical servers. Which we are permitted to do with the unlimited virtualisation rights...
The keys provided include Datacentre 2008 OEM, and a "Virtual" Key", which i presume is 2008 Datacentre to match the media provided for use inside virtual machines.
Windows 2003 isnt a problem, we can use our exisiting MOLP licence key and media...
But, we do not currently have any 2008 media or keys other than the Datacentre Edition media supplied with the OEM keys.
So, looking at our options we need to obtain the 'downgraded' media from the fulfilment website..
Now this is my problem, If we complete the fulfilment and obtain the media for 2008 Standard & 2008 Enterprise - We will be provided with 1 RETAIL licence key... would this licence key permit unlimited virtual activations? And would we be free to use this key as a base image to deploy all of our Virtual Machines?
I can just visualise having to speak to microsoft everytime we want to clone our base image as the activation will fail.....
i have done PTV of Windows Server 2003 OEM(DELL) on Hyper-v and getting prompt for activation. i got four free virtual instances for Enterprise Editions with Windows Server 2008 Enterprise. Can i use the one out of four free virtual instances to activate Windows Server 2003 OEM(DELL) ?
Using ESX and hoping to run 6 virtuak server. Can I just purchase 1 Windows 2008 Ent and 2 Windsows 2008 Standard to be compliant?
If you just have the one ESX host, and want to run 6 Virtual Windows Server OS's on that ESX host, then yes, 1 Ent and 2 Standard would allow you to do that, however, you wouldn't be able to move those VMs around (using say, VMotion) unless the host you were going to move them to, was also covered by equivalent licenses. So, what I'm saying there is, if you had an ESX Cluster of 2 hosts, and you assigned all your Windows licenses to one of the hosts, you're not actually supposed to run any of the VMs on host 2.
If I have a Windows Server 2003 DataCenter licenses for TWO 4-processor servers (Quad Core) for a total of 8 DataCenter licenses. We will be replacing the physical servers with new hardward.
Can I apply those licenses to FOUR 2-processor (6 core) servers that will replace the initial 2 physical servers? My replacement servers will still have a total of 8 processors but just spread across more physical hosts than I intiallly had when I purchase DataCenter? I assume I will NOT need to purchase additional DC licenses.
I think the answer is yes based on your explanation above but I wanted to verify.
Could you confirm whether the licenses that you currently have, WS2003 Datacenter, shipped with the hardware i.e. OEM, or are they volume licence?
Also, are they WS2003 R2?
If they are OEM, then you will need new licenses for your new hardware. This is due to the fact that OEM licenses live and die with the hardware they come on, so they can't be moved anywhere.
If you went with a volume license, you may be able to bring your licenses onto the new hardware, but whether you can or not will depend on the specifics and I would advise you to call Microsoft licensing in your local country to chat about this more.
If running ESX in 3 node cluster with 15 VM's each, can i assign 3xCPU Datacenter licences?
How many physical CPU's have you got in your 3 hosts? I'm assuming if you're runnning 15 VMs on each, you've got at least 2 CPUs in each node, so, you'd need a total of 6 CPU's of Datacenter.
I've been told that when you have w2k8 R2 Datacenter and run KMS Activation you are allowed to run windows 7 client machines without additional licenses?
Is this correct?