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Q: What are the versions of Windows Server 2012 and how do they differ?

A: Microsoft has simplified the licensing of Windows Server 2012. It no longer differentiates versions based on features. As with System Center 2012, licensing now reflects virtual rights and is based on processor counts:

  • Windows Server 2012 Datacenter - High density virtualization with unlimited number of virtual instances
  • Windows Server 2012 Standard - Low density or no virtualization; two virtual instance rights

Each license for Windows Server 2012 Datacenter and Standard covers two physical processors, which is the same as for System Center 2012. There are no feature differences between the Standard and Datacenter editions, which have the same features, memory and processor capabilities. This means the Standard edition has features such as Failover Clustering.

CALs will still be required to access Windows Server. This now gives a common license model across Windows Server, System Center, and ECI. Additionally, note the following about these editions of Windows Server 2012:

  • Windows Server 2012 Essentials - No virtual rights and up to 25 user accounts and 50 devices. Replaces Small Business Essentials. Some limitation on features, and supports up to two processors.
  • Windows Server 2012 Foundation - No virtual rights for up to 15 users. An OEM-only offering for single processor servers.

There is no HPC, Web, or Enterprise edition of Windows Server 2012.

There is also no price change for the Windows Server 2012 Datacenter license ($4,809); however, the price did increase 22 percent (new price is $882) for Standard.  This new price reflects an increase from one to two virtual instance rights, plus all the premium features that were previously available only in Enterprise edition.

In terms of license migration, for customers with Software Assurance the following applies:

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter     (2)   ->    (1)  Windows Server 2012 Datacenter (as each license now covers 2 processors)
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard       (1)   ->    (1)   Windows Server 2012 Standard
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise     (1)    ->    (2)   Windows Server 2012 Standard (as Enterprise had 4 virtual instance rights and Standard has 2)
  • Windows Web Server 2008 R2          (2)     ->     (1)    Windows Server 2012 Standard (Web Server edition is about half the price of Standard edition; most Web Server edition deployments are virtualized and Standard gives 2 virtual instance rights, so no drop in instances)
  • Windows HPC Server 2008 R2         (1)     ->     (1)     Windows Server 2012 Standard (the HPC pack enhancement will be a free download for Windows Server 2012)

Remember that multiple licenses can be applied (stacked) to a single server to give the virtual rights you need. For example, if a physical server with two processors needed four virtual instances, then assign that server two Windows Server 2012 Standard licenses.

If six virtual instances were needed, it could be assigned three Windows Server 2012 Standard licenses. Remember that Standard edition doesn't give the mobility for the virtual instances, but Datacenter edition has unlimited virtual instance rights. A step up from Standard to Datacenter will be available.

The public announcement can be found at the Windows Server 2012 editions website  along with a licensing FAQ its download site and an overview paper also at the download site. 

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