Get Fast Answers to Top Microsoft Licensing FAQs

This short article features video answers to top Microsoft licensing challenges like MSDN, Windows Server vs. Datacenter, SQL Server, and Microsoft cloud migration.

Microsoft is one of your organization’s most essential IT vendors. From Azure to Office 365 to SQL Server, Microsoft products provide enterprise-wide server installations and business-critical applications.

But keeping up with Microsoft licensing is a huge challenge. You need to plan strategically for infrastructure changes and software purchases to keep your Microsoft costs in check – especially as you migrate to the cloud.

We recently asked our Software Asset Management customers to share their most pressing Microsoft licensing questions. This short article gives you Microsoft licensing advice for the Top 4 Microsoft licensing topics our SAM team received.


1. Visual Studio in Mixed Virtual Environments (MSDN)

Visual Studio (formerly MSDN) subscriptions are awesome. They give you access to a massive library of Microsoft software for development and test purposes. If you are a subscriber, you get these benefits and many more on your non-production machines.

But when we get into mixed virtual environments, things aren’t quite as simple. Mixed virtual environments (clusters with a mix of production and non-production virtual machines) present a risk to your Visual Studio subscriber benefits because you can run into issues of having to license your non-production virtual machines because they run in the same environment as production ones.

This kind of virtual architecture can affect other vendors like Oracle and IBM too. But it’s important to remember that this challenge is an architecture issue. The IT groups provisioning these environments are often not necessarily thinking about software license management when building clusters. As Software Asset Management professionals, you need to be involved in infrastructure planning to keep non-production and production environments separate. Doing so helps you reap all the benefits of your Visual Studio subscriptions.


2. Windows Server Standard vs. Datacenter

Windows Server comes in two main flavors: Standard, and the more expensive, Datacenter.

But these aren’t just editions you buy for licensing purposes; they can be installed as well. While you can use your Datacenter to license your Standard installations, the inverse is not true.

So why would you want to license a Standard Windows Server with the significantly more expensive Datacenter? It all comes down to the subtle distinction between licensing rules for these two editions in virtual environments.

While Datacenter allows you to run an unlimited number of virtual machines on each host, the Standard edition only allows you to run two before you need to license the physical host again. This means you’re likely to reach a tipping point in which continuing to stack Standard licenses as you add more and more virtual machines is not cost effective compared to licensing with Datacenter.

So, is there a magic number where Datacenter becomes the cheaper option? This all depends on the pricing you’ve negotiated with Microsoft for your Windows Server Standard and Datacenter licenses. Generally speaking, you’re going to start to realize a cost savings for using your Datacenter licenses in that cluster somewhere around your 16th Windows Server virtual machine is where.

The takeaway here is that Standard licenses should be reserved for your physical server, and minimally virtualized environments and Datacenter should be reserved for your highly virtualized environments.


3. SQL Server Software Assurance Benefits

Unlike Windows Server, SQL Server has a unique benefit when you maintain Software Assurance on your licenses. No matter the situation with Windows Server in virtual environments, you have to license the physical hosts because virtual machines may move from host to host. However, using Software Assurance on SQL Server allows for “License Mobility” which means that when those VMs move around you only need to license the VM.

This is a massive benefit because virtual machines often have fewer cores to count than their physical host counterparts. If you don’t have Software Assurance, you need to license all the physical hosts unless you can pin the virtual machine to a single host which may not be an ideal configuration.

This benefit isn’t always optimal however, as highly virtualized environments may be cheaper licensed on the physical hosts. But in my experience, this is not common. In an ideal situation, you’re maintaining Software Assurance on your entire SQL Server estate for these benefits, as well as the added benefits of being eligible for new metrics should they change again (anyone remember the 2012 CPU to Core conversion?).


4. Microsoft Cloud Migration

Our final and hottest topic, Microsoft cloud migration, is no surprise. You’d be hard pressed to find an organization that hasn’t identified a business driver for moving services to the cloud and off-premises in order to capture perceived future savings compared to maintaining on-prem.

What we often see is the excitement to jump into the cloud leaves customers forgetting about adjustments that need to be made on-premises after the fact. Moving services or workloads to the cloud means there are redundant services on-prem if you don’t remember to adjust and turn them off! It’s also not as simple as a one to one swap. Resources required in terms of Cores, CPUs, etc. may have been different when running on-prem compared to what you need in the cloud.

Failure to properly plan your Microsoft cloud migration could mean your cloud services are not right sized – and this will cost you money. So, what does this mean for Microsoft? You’ve probably already transitioned a decent number of workloads to the cloud, and there is a good chance as a SAM manager you weren’t consulted when your organization chose a cloud provider.

Although Microsoft prefers you use Azure to take care of all your cloud needs, a multi-cloud service provider approach is optimal. Not tying yourself to one cloud provider gives your organization agility and ensures a negotiating advantage at your next contract renewal by not having all your eggs in one basket. If you have the opportunity, using Azure where it makes sense and diversifying with other cloud service providers for other services gives you the most flexibility.


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