Windows Server 2016 per-core licensing

Snow PreSales Consultant Robert Stellinga, explores the difficulties faced by organizations when it comes to licensing Windows Server products and what the move to core licensing could mean to Microsoft’s customers. Microsoft has announced that Windows Server 2016, due in the third quarter of 2016, will move from a per-processor to a per-core licensing model.

As part of our ongoing review of our content to ensure it is up-to-date, this blog has been updated on 10/18/2016.

Snow PreSales Consultant Robert Stellinga, explores the difficulties faced by organizations when it comes to licensing Windows Server products and what the move to core licensing could mean to Microsoft’s customers. Microsoft has announced that Windows Server 2016, due in the third quarter of 2016, will move from a per-processor to a per-core licensing model.

This change poses a number of key questions: What does this mean for the end-user? How will this impact your Windows Server license estate? And of course, how can an effective Software Asset Management program help you manage this and make sure you stay in control of your software and licensing?


Apart from new technical features (such as Windows Server containers, Nano Server technology, Cloud/Azure optimized server and storage) and potential pricing changes coming to the next Windows Server operating system, one of the most noticeable changes will be the move from per-processor licensing to per-core licensing. This will relate to Windows Server 2016 Standard and Datacenter Editions.

Microsoft is making this change to align with the licensing of private and public cloud and to simplify licensing across multi-cloud environments. Core-based licensing provides a consistent licensing metric regardless of the environment where the solution is deployed (on-premise or in a cloud). The change in licensing model will also align Windows Server licensing with the per-core licensing already offered for SQL Server, BizTalk and Azure. Personally, I think that Windows Server licensing will become more complex and that in the long-term, customers spend will increase as hardware vendors squeeze more cores into their processors.


The Windows Server 2016 licensing structure for Standard and Datacenter Editions will be a Cores + CAL licensing model. It is important to stress that you still need Windows Server CALs for every user or device that will be accessing a server. The licensing of Windows Server 2016 Standard and Datacenter Editions will be based on “physical” cores.

Windows Per Core License Model Key Points

Licensing Implications Procurement Implications Contractual Implications
To license a physical server, all physical cores must be licensed per server. Core licenses will be sold in packs of two. If you have active Software Assurance on your existing Windows Server processor licenses, you can upgrade to Windows Server 2016 at no additional cost.
A minimum of eight core licenses is required for each physical processor in the server. If you have existing Microsoft licensing agreements (Enterprise Agreement or Server and Cloud Enrollment), you will be able to continue to purchase processor licenses through the end of the term of their agreement. A Windows Server two-processor license with active Software Assurance will be exchanged for a minimum of eight two-core pack licenses.
A minimum of 16 cores is required to license servers with only one processor.    
If a processor is disabled, the cores on that processor do not need to be licensed (please keep in mind the minimum license requirement that always applies).    
Windows Standard Edition will license up to two Virtual Machines when all of the physical cores on the server are licensed, whereas the Windows Datacenter Edition grants for unlimited virtualization.    
Every user and/or device accessing a Windows Server Standard or Datacenter edition requires a Windows Server CAL.    



One of the key ways in which you can actively manage and update your Windows Server licenses is to fully understand your current Windows Server environment (deployment) and what your entitlement is. I used to be a Microsoft auditor, so I have experienced first-hand the struggles that organizations face in managing Windows Server Licenses. The main issues are around the difference in licensing methods between physical and virtual servers, license mobility rights, clusters and hybrid solutions.

How would an organization identify the optimal license type for each of those environments? Here are my top tips for understanding and managing an ELP (Effective License Position) for Windows Server:

Be able to differentiate between physical and virtual machines and have data relating to the hardware information of the physical devices. There are a number of reports that can be created in Snow License Manager that can help gather and analyze the required data. 

In this scenario, one of the most useful reports is Physical and virtual servers per datacenter (which can be found under the category “Report” > Datacenter” and then by choosing this report). 

The output from the report will then look something like this: 

Upgrade process

Customers that purchased processor licenses with Software Assurance (SA) can upgrade to Windows Server 2016 at end of the SA term. Processor licenses will then be exchanged for core licenses and customers have the option to renew their SA on those core licenses. 

In order to take advantage of this, customers are required to provide a time/date stamped inventory of hardware on which Windows Server is installed. From the information that Microsoft have released, it suggests that it will be a conversion rate of 1 processor license for every 8 core licenses. From a pure technical perspective, it would be a smart move to update to Server 2016, especially for those customers out there that are already using Microsoft Cloud services like Azure.

The line between the on-premises servers vs the cloud based servers is getting thinner. New cloud-inspired technologies will be a part of the Windows 2016 server.

Key benefits:

From a licensing perspective customer will have no option but to start buying Server 2016 core licensing, once it’s on the market. The customers that have an active Enterprise Agreement can still buy the old “Processor” licenses until their contract is up for renewal.


If an organization has a sophisticated and mature SAM function in place, the likelihood is that they have a SAM technology implemented within the environment. Obviously, there is no such thing as a silver bullet solution, but with the right blend of technology, people and processes an organization can manage their software estate very effectively. Snow License Manager and the Virtualization Management Option provide users with a huge range of data and insights into what the Windows Server environment looks like in both the physical and virtual environments within a user’s estate. Having a tool that provides such valuable information is a huge benefit to any organization and any SAM function.

This allows informed decision making and a ‘front foot’ mentality that enables organizations to be in control of any renewals. The datasets that I would recommend investing time in understanding would be the following; – Physical cores in each processor – Physical server hardware information – License entitlement – Usage stats.

What is in use and where. Having the above data-sets which are provided by Snow License Manager enables users to essentially optimize their Windows Server license position which could result in cost avoidance and cost savings. With Snow License Manager and Virtualization Management Option, customers have the ability to conduct a self-inventory to achieve a time and date stamp of every inventoried hardware on which Windows Server is installed, which is required for the upgrade process. 

Without a SAM solution, this would be a complex process of counting cores to make sure you get all the cores you are entitled to, but if you don’t do this properly, you may overspend or face a bill if Microsoft decides to audit. The positive aspect for existing Snow Software users is that the tools are already available for the management of licenses based on a core. From the moment that they start purchasing Windows Server 2016 the new license metric and license information can easily be added into Snow License Manager and then assigned to the servers in the estate.

Are you ready to upgrade?

Snow Software is helping its customers understand their total hardware and software estate and offers the possibility to fully manage all software contracts and licenses, and assign license rights to company-owned assets. The combination of these two areas (hardware asset management and software asset management) will help you to make the correct decisions when switching to Windows Server 2016. We have published a guide on How to Upgrade to Windows Server 2016, which you can read here.

Upgrading to Windows Server 2016 will be a challenge, so let Snow Software assist you with the self-inventory and give you the exact data you need to successfully upgrade your Windows Sever Environment.

Our license experts are always on hand to help you manage your Windows Server estate.

Speak to one of our Licensing Experts today to learn more.