Using Windows Server 2012 Essentials with more than 25 users

Using Windows Server 2012 Essentials with more than 25 users

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[Today's post comes to us courtesy David Fabritius from Windows Server Marketing]

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is primarily designed as a first server solution for small businesses that need support for up to 25 user accounts and up to 50 devices. But even beyond the first server scenario, Essentials provides a number of unique, value-added features, such as Remote Web Access and automatic client computer backup, that many customers and partners want to have available in larger environments.

There are two scenarios in which Windows Server 2012 Essentials can be used in environments with more than 25 users, and we’ve blogged about the first scenario before (see Growing Beyond 25 Users with Windows Server 2012 Essentials). Small businesses that initially purchase Essentials and then later grow in size can purchase Windows Server 2012 Standard and do an in-place license transition of the server. This transition applies the Standard edition license and changes the Essentials “locks and limits,” such as the 25 user account limit, to those of Standard while retaining the value-added feature set—without having to re-install or migrate. Keep in mind that you will need Windows Server 2012 client access licenses (CALs) to access the instances of Windows Server 2012 Standard in your environment (the simplified licensing model for Essentials does not use or include any CALs as part of its product license). Also note that while there are no restrictions placed on the number of users/devices that can be added to a Windows Server 2012 Standard environment, there are maximum supportability limits for the specific Essentials features of 75 users (for example, when using the Dashboard for account management) and 75 devices (for example, when using client computer backup). The license transition also removes the Active Directory limitations so that you are able to establish trust relationships with other domains. Again from a supportability perspective for the value-added features, the Essentials server needs to remain the root of its forest and domain and retain all the FSMO roles.

The second scenario is new for Windows Server 2012 Essentials, but has been available in the Windows Server family for some time. The downgrade (sometimes referred to as “down edition”) rights for Windows Server 2012 Standard and Datacenter have been expanded to include the Essentials edition. This means that when you purchase, or receive as a Software Assurance (SA) grant, a Windows Server 2012 Standard license, you can choose to run Essentials as one of your two virtual instances—without having to purchase Essentials separately. Remember that Standard now allows virtual use rights for up to two instances. This provides you with the small business server experience in the first virtual instance and leaves the second instance available to run additional workloads, such as Exchange Server, SQL Server, Remote Desktop Services, SharePoint, and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

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This right is documented in the Windows Server 2012 Licensing FAQ (see Q15) as well as in the latest Microsoft Product List. Because this right was added during a late stage of the product release cycle, we were not able to update the EULA that is incorporated as part of the Windows Server 2012 products; however, this downgrade right is available to all customers in all available channels (except for SPLA), including volume licensing (VL), OEM, and retail (FPP). Keep in mind that the ability to run downgrade bits does not change the licensing or support terms in which you can use the product you purchased. So if you purchase Windows Server 2012 Standard, you will need Windows Server 2012 CALs even if you choose to downgrade an instance to run Windows Server 2012 Essentials.

When you purchase Windows Server 2012 Standard through volume licensing (VL), you can also download a copy of Windows Server 2012 Essentials and a product key from the VLSC. If you purchase an OEM or retail copy of Standard, you can download Essentials and obtain a product key to use during installation from the TechNet Eval Center, and then perform an in-place license transition by using your Standard product key, which gives you a fully licensed and supported instance.

Let’s look at some examples (all prices shown are Open no level estimated retail price in US dollars).

Scenario #1: Purchasing Windows Server 2012 Essentials to use with fewer than 25 users, and then later growing larger

You initially buy server hardware and Windows Server 2012 Essentials for your small business. Later, your business grows beyond the limits of Essentials, so you buy a copy of Windows Server 2012 Standard with the appropriate number of CALs and do an in-place license transition. When you perform the license transition, the Standard license is now also assigned to the server hardware. If the original purchase of Windows Server 2012 Essentials was an OEM license, it cannot be assigned to a new server, but retail and volume licenses can be reassigned to new hardware (limited to once every 90 days).

What to buy initially

Software

Windows Server 2012 Essentials

$501

CALs

N/A, no CALs included with purchase

$0

Hardware

Small to mid-range server

varies

How to transition - What incremental software/licenses to buy

Software

Windows Server 2012 Standard
(there is no “step-up” SKU or any special pricing/program)

$882

CALs

Windows Server 2012 CALs for each user/device
(no CALs are included with the Essentials license)

$30 per user/device

Hardware

N/A, you do an in-place transition using the same hardware

$0

Scenario #2: Purchasing Windows Server 2012 Standard, exercising downgrade rights, and performing an in-place license transition

You buy server hardware and Windows Server 2012 Standard with CALs for your business that has more than 25 users. You have decided that you want to run one of your instances as Windows Server 2012 Essentials, so you download the ISO image and the product key from the VLSC or the TechNet Eval Center. You install Windows Server 2012 Standard and the Hyper-V role on the physical (host) server, create a virtual machine, and install Essentials as a virtual instance. In order to remove the 25 user account limit, you perform the in-place license transition by using your Standard product key. You can also create a second virtual machine to support additional workloads.

What to buy initially

Software

Windows Server 2012 Standard

$882

CALs

Windows Server 2012 CALs for each user/device

$30 per user/device

Hardware

Mid-range server

varies

How to transition - What incremental software/licenses to buy

Software

N/A, covered by downgrade rights

$0

CALs

N/A

$0

Hardware

N/A

$0

In light of the downgrade and in-place transition rights, what is the best edition of Windows Server 2012 for small business customers?

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is an ideal fit for small businesses that:

  • are looking for a simple solution to deploy their first server;
  • have fewer than 25 users;
  • are interested in leveraging cloud-based applications and services; and
  • want to run on a low-cost hardware platform.

Small businesses with these characteristics represent a huge opportunity in the market today, one that Essentials was specifically designed to address.

Windows Server 2012 Standard provides a more robust infrastructure solution while still allowing you to deploy and use all the great value-added features of Essentials. It’s an ideal fit for businesses that:

  • have more sophisticated technology needs;
  • have, or soon expect to have, more than 25 users;
  • want to take advantage of Hyper-V Replica for disaster recovery; or
  • have a business need to run additional on-premises workloads such as messaging and/or line-of-business applications in their own isolated instances.

If you haven’t already, please download the Windows Server 2012 Essentials evaluation and give us feedback via the Windows Server 2012 Essentials forum. We’d love to hear from you!

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Comments
  • Too bad you can't get a real product key for WSE2012 if you aren't a VL customer. By using the in-place license transition method described you will lose the media streaming capabilities of WSE2012.

  • While not directly related related to this blog post, I'm hoping you may have a definitive answer to the following... Assume you purchase a physical server with Windows Server 2012 Essentials pre-installed. W2K12 Essentials has no virtualization rights and thus no virtual key is included. Could the pre-installed OEM copy of W2K12 Essentials be stripped off and then reinstalled on top of a hypervisor running on the same hardware?

  • This is interesting however if you had a customer that was 20ish users to falls into the Essentials server could you buy a Server 2012 license and downgrade to Essentials so that if the customer then grew over the 25 users you would just need to buy the CAL’s?

  • @Andreas you do get a real product key for Essentials if you purchase VL for Server 2012.  This post is only for OEM and retail where the keycode is not as easily available.

    @cmcfarling09 as long as you can get a keycode you can then install it in a virtual instance

    @ttc-Gareth the issue is if you installed full GUI Server 2012 you'd need 2012 server cals

  • Muktimehtani