Demystified! Windows Server 2016 licensing and servicing options

Microsoft has always prided itself on innovation and evolution, and the trend is continuing with Windows Server 2016. The server, now in its fifth technical preview, has undergone significant changes as the company tries to streamline the software and make it more user-oriented and future-proof.

Among the latest developments, the most interesting one seems to be a shift in the licensing and servicing models. Gone are the old rules, and a slew of new ones take their place. You have to get the latest edition of Windows Server 2016 for these rules to apply to you.

Even if you prefer to deploy an older version, the latest rules will apply, so it’s a good idea for you to update your understanding about them. Let’s take a look at what they are and what they mean.

Licensing based on core count

Windows Server 2016

Technology has progressed to an extent that it’s now possible for you to buy a Xeon processor that features 24 cores. What this means in the context of servers is that Microsoft was losing money on larger consumers. To combat the issue, Microsoft has switched to per-core licensing. Every Windows Server 2016 copy will license up to two physical processor cores. This means that you’ve got to license every physical core in the host or server. That’s not all.

The tech giant has set a minimum purchase requirement for each physical server. You’re now required to license at least two processors with eight cores for every server. Overall, 16 cores need to be licensed, even if you’re going to work with one quad-core processor. So, for the processors that have 24 cores, 12 copies of Windows Server 2016 are mandatory to license it either as a host or as a server.

It’s easy to see why many users think that Microsoft’s trying to squeeze more cash out of them. Are they the IRS or what? However, the reality is that the company has lowered the per-server cost so that the minimum purchase in the new Windows Server 2016 edition costs you the same as a single copy of Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter edition.

Thus, even when you’re licensing a small server with a small processor, you won’t have to deal with increased server costs. The only inconvenience you might face is the logistics of the purchase, which have become somewhat complicated. However, that’s a small price to pay when you look at the bigger picture, and no, we are not talking about a larger flat-screen TV size!


Hosts are licensed by customers to cover the maximum number of possible Windows Server virtual machines that can run on that host. In the iteration of Windows Server 2016, the rules remain almost the same, at least when it comes to the advantages you get from the Datacenter editions. The only change is in the Standard edition, and that too is simply minor.

You no longer enjoy access to two virtual operating system environments (VOSE) for every Standard that’s assigned to a host. Rather, you get access to two VOSEs for every fully licensed host. This indicates that for the first time in a long time there’s going to be some real differences between the Standard and Datacenter editions, which is what users have clamored for all along.

Nano Server option

Continuing the trend of meeting customer expectations, Microsoft’s Windows Server 2016 features a headless Nano Server installation option. It can be deployed using either edition of Windows Server 2016, but in order to be supported during production, one requires Software Assurance attached to the licensing of the physical server. No, you do not need rubber cement to attach these two together. Not necessary!

Servicing options explained

Servicing in this context doesn’t mean how long your warranty lasts. Rather, it indicates just how fast you’ll receive the features being released by Microsoft, and install them. Microsoft is in the habit of releasing updates via different branches, like previews, long-term servicing branch, current branch, and current branch for business. On the other hand, Windows Server 2016 focuses on cloud-based services.

This is due to Microsoft’s belief that customers desire cloud agility, which means that they’ll get access to feature improvements as soon as they’re available. This will not only help customers become more competitive, but also enable them to experience innovation without delay.

Alternative choices

Licensing Based on Core Count

There are lots of organizations that cannot, either because of regulations or logistically, support the rapid change of pace in terms of Microsoft’s licensing. The company realizes this, and so has set up two service branches for Windows Server 2016, irrespective of the duration of technical support available.

  • Current Branch for Business (CBB)

    This is meant for customers who operate heavily at the cloud level. Microsoft is poised to provide updates twice or three times in the span of a year.

  • Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB)

    Though it’s not been specified explicitly by Microsoft, it can be assumed that service updates are not going to remain available.

Any updates offered by CBB are not going to be installed automatically; manual installation will be necessary. The System Center will most probably be in charge of deployment automation. However, the problem lies in the fact that you aren’t able to fall more than two releases behind the pace set by Microsoft owing to the way CBB is going to support the upgradation pace.

Installation trends

Virtual operating system environments

Windows Server 2016 will have three separate options for installation — Server with Desktop Experience, Nano Server, and Server Core. You might be wondering if installation options matter when it comes to servicing. But they actually do, especially now that your choice of installation is going to be a driving force in regards to the servicing model you get in the end.

You might pick a Nano Server, and then work in the CBB. On the other hand, if you press the key for Server Core or GUI (Graphical User Interface) instead, you might get LTSB. In the case of Nano Server, during production, Software Assurance is necessary as this kind of servicing provides fresh features and functionality.

Now that you have a more well-rounded idea about Microsoft’s new licensing and servicing options for Windows Server 2016, you can form an opinion about it. There are many new things to consider, especially in terms of features and accessibility. Microsoft seems to be concentrating more on evolving the earlier standards to fit the new generation, and whether users respond to them the way they’re intended to remains to be seen.


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