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

[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.