Microsoft announces four Windows Server 2012 editions: What you need to know

Scott Lowe explains Microsoft's new licensing for the four editions of Windows Server 2012. Here is what you need to know about upgrading and choosing the right edition.

For years, as Microsoft has released new versions of Windows Server, the world has waited with anticipation while Redmond attempted to figure out the exact mix of editions that it would sell to various customer segments. This fragmentation of the Windows Server line has been the butt of jokes and the stuff of confusion as customers attempted to make the best possible economic decision for their organizations while, at the same time, making sure that their needs would be met with whatever edition was selected.

How times change!

This week, Microsoft announced that Windows Server 2012 would be released in just four editions — Datacenter, Standard, Essentials, and Foundation. Note that the previously popular Enterprise edition is one of the editions that didn't make the 2012 cut.

Each edition brings something different to the table and it's going to be easier than ever for organizations to pick the best edition to suit its needs. Here's a look at the four editions:

Edition Intent Major feature Licensing Clients List price
Datacenter Highly virtualized environments Unlimited virtual instance rights Processor x 2 Per CAL $4,809 per 2 procs
Standard Little virtualization, low density Two virtual instances Processor x 2 Per CAL $882

per 2 procs

Essentials Small business Simple administration, no virtualization rights Per Server 25 accounts $425
Foundation Entry level, economy server General purpose server, no virtualization rights Per Server 15 accounts OEM only

It's important to note that, for the Standard and Datacenter editions, the pricing is based on per two processors, not per processor. Since most servers today are dual processor servers, this licensing strategy makes sense. However, if you do decide to buy single processor servers, understand that you can't split licenses between servers. You will need to buy two of the dual processor licenses.

On the flip side, if you have an eight processor server, you will need to buy four of the dual processor licenses to cover all eight processors.

You might note that there are no major feature columns listed as there were in older versions of Windows Server. For example, in the past, if you wanted failover clustering, you needed to go with either the Enterprise or Data Center editions of Windows Server. With Windows Server, the only difference between Standard and Datacenter revolves around virtualization rights. Otherwise, both editions have the same exact feature sets and include:

  • Windows Server Failover Clustering
  • BranchCache Hosted Cache Server
  • Active Directory Federated Services
  • Additional Active Directory Certificate Services capabilities
  • Distributed File Services (support for more than 1 DFS root)
  • DFS-R Cross-File Replication

Note that you still need to obtain separate licenses to take advantage of Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and Active Directory Rights Management Service (ADRMS).

You should also take note that there are no more hardware limitation differences between Standard and Datacenter. Standard is no longer limited to 32 GB of RAM, nor is it limited to 4 CPUs. Of course, if you go beyond 2 CPUs, you will need to buy additional processor licenses.

Upgrade license trade in

If you're a Software Assurance subscriber, and you're planning to upgrade your licenses to Windows Server 2012, you have a number of items to take into consideration. Further, if you're concerned that you're now running an edition of Windows Server 2008 R2 or below that no longer has a corresponding edition in Windows Server 2012, don't worry. Microsoft has made the following entitlements available in Windows Server 2012.

Old edition 2012 Edition Information and License Disposition SA req'd?
Datacenter Datacenter Convert every two 2008 R2 DC licenses into one dual processor 2012 license.


Enterprise Standard Replaced by Standard with all former Enterprise features now included in Standard.  You can convert each existing 2008 R2 Enterprise license into two 2012 Standard licenses.


Standard Standard Convert each 2008 R2 Standard license into one 2012 Standard licenses


Web (no SA) See notes No direct replacement, but web workloads running on any Windows Server 2012 edition receive a "CAL waiver."


Web (SA) Standard Those with SA are entitled to receive a Standard Edition replacement and can still run the existing workloads on the 2008 Web server.


HPC editions Standard No direct replacement, but Microsoft will be making freely available the HPC Pack 2012 that works with Standard or Datacenter, HPC workloads also receive a "CAL waiver."  Existing HPC edition users will also receive a Windows Server 2012 Standard license.


Small Business Server 2011 Essentials Essentials Small Business Server has been fully discontinued.  You will receive one Windows Server 2012 Essentials license.


Small Business Server 2011 Standard Standard + Exchange Small Business Server has been fully discontinued.  You will receive one Windows Server 2012 Standard edition license and one Exchange Server Standard 2010 license.


Windows Small Business Server 2011 Premium Add-on Standard + SQL Server Small Business Server has been fully discontinued. You will receive one Windows Server 2012 Standard edition license and one SQL Server 2012 Standard edition license



Once the transition to Windows Server 2012 is complete, organizations will be able to simplify their Windows edition strategy in favor of far fewer options. Personally, I believe that Microsoft has taken a great step forward by simplifying their editions structures and that they are being relatively generous with regard to the opportunity for organizations to move away from now-discontinued editions to current ones.

What do you think? Do you think that Microsoft has made a bold move forward or do you think they've blown it?


Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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