Understanding Licensing for Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and the Windows Server Essentials Experience role

Understanding Licensing for Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and the Windows Server Essentials Experience role

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

In this article, I’ll explain a licensing change that has been made to Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials as well as some related licensing topics when using the new Windows Server Essentials Experience role with the Standard and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2012 R2.

The Hyper-V role and Hyper-V Manager console are now included with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials! The server licensing rights have been expanded, allowing you to install an instance of Essentials on your physical server to run the Hyper-V role (with none of the other roles and features of the Essentials Experience installed), and a second instance of Essentials as a virtual machine (VM) on that same server with all the Essentials Experience roles and features. Previous versions of Windows Server Essentials (and Windows Small Business Server before that), made it necessary to obtain a hypervisor separately, such as the Microsoft Hyper-V Server, but that is no longer required. In addition, we are working with our OEM partners to help them offer server hardware pre-installed and pre-configured with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials running as a virtual machine.

A related licensing question that is often asked when virtual instances of Windows Server are used is around license assignment, especially in the case where you are using either the Live Migration or Hyper‑V Replica feature to move VMs from one Hyper-V host to another. The most fundamental thing to keep in mind is that Windows Server licenses are assigned to physical servers, not to virtual machines. So when a VM is moved, the Windows Server license assigned to the source server does not move and is not reassigned. With that in mind, the destination server must be licensed appropriately to run the VM that you moved to it—as well as any VMs it was previously running. For example, if you purchase a server from your favorite OEM that is preinstalled with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials running as a VM, there is no problem with migrating that VM to another server that is running Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard as long as the destination server is not already running all of its allowed virtual instances. For more information about how to license virtualized environments, see this Licensing Brief.

Next I’d like to discuss a few licensing implications for the new Windows Server Essentials Experience role, which is now an option available in the Standard and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2012 R2 (it is turned on by default in Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials). The first implication is around downgrade rights from the Standard edition to the Essentials edition, which was introduced with Windows Server 2012. While this option remains available, if you are only interested in gaining access to the value-add feature set of Essentials, you no longer need to downgrade but can simply turn on the Essentials Experience role.

Finally, it is important to note that turning on the Essentials Experience role does not change the licensing terms for the edition that you purchased in any way. The most common question is around using the Remote Web Access feature of the Essentials Experience role. Because this feature makes use of the Remote Desktop Gateway role service of Remote Desktop Services (RDS), an RDS client access license (CAL) is required for each user who is using this feature with the Standard and Datacenter editions. However, for the Essentials edition, as with previous versions, the use of Remote Web Access does not require an RDS CAL. For more information, see this Licensing Brief.

If you have any additional questions or comments about Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials or the Windows Server Essentials Experience role, please join us in our support forum.

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  • Just a point of clarification for everyone reading the above.  The expanding virtualization rights in the Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials product are exclusive to a single guest VM of Essentials.  No additional guest VMs, or the ability to run other operating systems as guests, are permitted.

    Jason Anderson

    GPM - Windows Server Essentials team

  • Jason, I assume you can run another (second) VM guest on Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials if you purchase the licensing, say to run Exchange?  I'm not clear what's the purpose of running Essentials as the only VM guest on the physical server otherwise.

  • This does not actually make sense to me. (The licensing implications).  Previously, the argument was (in the sbs / essentials world), RDS cals were only required if you tried to use the RDS gateway directly instead of the RWW portal.


    So this is really no functional change from having a RDS gateway site.  So what you are telling me is that it is better to ad a Windows Storage Server to the domain in order to access a RWW portal without having to purchase RDS cals?

  • "No additional guest VMs, or the ability to run other operating systems as guests, are permitted."

    So running Hyper-V Core gives you more rights then running Essentials as the HV for Essentials?

    "No Additional Guest OS's" translates to not even running Linux in a VM?

  • You claim "For example, if you purchase a server from your favorite OEM that is preinstalled with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials running as a VM, there is no problem with migrating that VM to another server that is running Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard as long as the destination server is not already running all of its allowed virtual instances." however this is incorrect.  OEM Server software cannot be moved to another hardware platform *UNLESS* Software Assurance has been applied to it within 90 days of the OEM License purchase.

    What you claim is true for both Open License and OEM when SA has been applied within 90 days (OK, and Select, but we're talking SMB here) but is not true for a regular OEM with no SA applied to it.  Of course, if you have documentation that supports your claim that I have overlooked (and the link you provided has no mention of OEM at all), then I will accept this change to OEM Licensing to allow mobility of any virtual guests. :)

    The catch with the RDS CALs being needed for RWA on a 2K12 R2 Std + Essentials Experience Role is definitely worth mentioning (as you did) as many people will not realise that until the MS Licensing Police catch up with them and then generate them a rather large/unexpected Invoice! :)

  • Hi Jason,

    you are giving an example for replica or live migration with 2012 R2 Standard licensed. Pricey!

    What IF I want to keep a replica of the Essentials on a second hardware - no other VMs. May I simply purchase a second Essentials license and run on it Hyper-V so that the VM replicates and is ready to start when the first HW crashes?

  • thanks

  • What's wrong Microsoft? Reading this I am allowed to install a virtual Server 2012 R2 Essentials on top of a physical Server 2012 R2 Essentials with roles removed. Now my server is shut down by Microsoft's damn "Server Infrastructure Licensing Service" because of "non-compliance" with licensing! Get this stupid thing fixed! You are stopping our business!

  • Come on Jason, please clarify your point in response to the question posed by pperry803.

    Can you really only run one Essentials VM on an "Essentials" Hyper-V server and no other VMs even if we have licenses for them e.g. 2012 Standard? If so is this "physically" or notionally restricted? Surely the Hyper-V instance in this case is basically the same Hyper-V instance that would be installed with 2012 Standard i.e. is just Server 2012 running a Hyper-V role only. In that case the only value I can see in this is being able to move/run the Essentials VM to another server running Hyper-V should the hardware fail. But then Hilton raises the point about OEM licenses which also has not been answered and would suggest that an OEM Essentials VM can only run on the original hardware hence the VM could never be moved! So what would be the point of running Essentials as a VM with these restrictions?

    Let's say we install a server with "Essentials" Hyper-V and an Essentials VM. Then later we decide we need another server so buy a Standard license. Would we then need to reinstall the server putting on Standard running the Hyper-V role then put the Essentials VM back on and then create a Standard VM? The end result is the same - a physical server running Hyper-V and two VMs!

  • I have written a how-to on my blog regarding the installation of a virtual Windows Server 2012 R2 (VM) on top of a physical Windows Server 2012 R2 (without roles, running as a Hyper-V host):



  • Hi,

    Per a couple of other comments above, I question the initial clarification by Jason regarding the restriction on VMs, i.e. "No additional guest VMs, or the ability to run other operating systems as guests, are permitted".

    Having researched, this same advice does appear elsewhere in blogs, forums etc. However, there doesn't seem to be any equivalent clarification in licensing documents or the PUR. The simple statement there seems to be that Win 2012 R2 Essentials is a 1 POSE + 1 VOSE license (as opposed to 1 + 2 for Standard) and that only the Essentials edition is permitted as the 1 VOSE (yep, agreed, we can't put a Standard VOSE on top and magically have it covered by an Essentials license). The July 2014 PUR specifically references servicing virtual operating system environments (plural), and there is absolutely no reference to just one guest VM.

    And why would Microsoft do this? So I want to add additional legitimate licenses to run a couple of workstation VMs, and MS actually don't want me to spend that money and get the convenience of a neat configuration for what I need?

    OK, whatever the final truth is I concede! What would be very helpful is a definitive statement from MS, and absolute crystal clarity about this in licensing and product use documentation. As it seems such a wacky restriction, some explanation of the rationale would also be helpful to restore sanity. Thanks. JT

  • As pperry803, Adam-RegisIT and Justin Terry have already asked, could you please clarify this statement made by Jason M Anderson.

    I am in complete agreement with Justin Terry. W2012E R2 is a 1 POSE + 1 VOSE license product, and I can't find anything in the license documentation that indicates any limitations on number of other VMs, as long as each guest OS is properly licensed.

  • Jason,

    Respectfully, as the "GPM- Windows Server Essentials team": Would it be possible for you to pull your head out of your ass, and then help your team members do the same, at least for a few minutes?

    Ignoring the almost useless licensing terms and usual PUR ambiguity (now, as usual, only made more confusing by "official" blog posts in different forums) for virtualizing this product, you (MS) have (as usual) managed to make actual deployment an adventure in absurdity.

    Once the 2012 R2 Essentials GUEST is installed on the 2012 R2 Essentials HOST (all Essentials services removed), the silsvc.exe process decides that the combination of the two constitutes an unlicensed scenario and shuts the hrdare down every 7 days. Of course, this is not documented anywhere and there is no official workaround or deployment procedure...

    Its not like you had to INVENT server 2012! All your team had to do was build some wizards, write some documentation and do some real world testing. Burned again by "SBS"... It is my fault for thinking that things would improve....

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  • Sorry for a stupid question but how it says "another instance of essentials can be installed on hyper-v with all essentials features installed". Does that mean I can use the same product key and can it be done the other way around, with hyper-v install without essentials features?