If your IT department needs to overhaul and centralize the organization’s management and monitoring capabilities, you might consider adopting Microsoft’s line of System Center licensing. Microsoft has added eminent flexibility to System Center licensing but, unfortunately, with that flexibility comes significant complexity.

To help IT pros make sense of the convoluted System Center licensing, I put together this guide of general information. But before you commit to anything, I strongly encourage you to work with your reseller’s Microsoft licensing specialist.

Terminology and notes

  • Operating System Environment (OSE): An OSE can be physical or virtual. For example, suppose you have a Hyper-V server running nine Windows virtual machines; in this instance, you would have a total of 10 OSEs — one physical and nine virtual. In many cases, Microsoft has transitioned from per device licensing to per OSE licensing.
  • Management License (ML): A management license is required for each managed system, regardless of System Center product. There are different classes of MLs for each product, and the classes are described below. An ML is often required for each OSE you intend to manage.

All of the pricing in this article is list pricing.

The descriptions listed here are from Microsoft’s licensing pages and include the details and the benefits of each item, such as individual MLs and server licenses.

Individual product licensing

Here is a brief overview of the System Center products I’ll discuss in this article. This is not intended to be a full product brief, but rather to serve as a reminder for each product’s purpose.

System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 R2/R3

SCCM is a client-focused tool that provides centralized administration of software updates, software deployments, and more. SCCM requires at least two licenses to be compliant.

SCCM server license

First, you need a server license; for this, there are two options:

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

SCCM management license

SCCM has three client management license options: Client ML, Standard ML, and Enterprise ML. License cost is per managed user or OSE depending on the licensing program under which the product is obtained, except with the client ML, which can be on a per-device or a per-user basis. SCCM Client MLs are included in the Core CAL offerings of Microsoft’s various license agreements, so check with your Microsoft licensing reseller before you buy.

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

System Center Operations Manager 2007 (SCOM)

SCOM is an infrastructure- and server-focused tool that provides powerful monitoring services.

SCOM server license

As is the case with SCCM, servers running the SCOM software must be licensed.

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

SCOM management license

SCOM has three management licenses (Client ML, Standard Server ML, Enterprise Server ML) that are licensed on a per user or per OSE basis. The following table from Microsoft outlines the various capabilities of the SCOM management licenses. Remember, the Client ML is for clients running desktop workloads, while the Standard and Enterprise MLs are server focused.

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2010

DPM, Microsoft’s answer to the data protection question, provides full backup services to servers as well as other Microsoft products such as Exchange and SharePoint. Unlike SCCM and SCOM, DPM does not have a server-side license requirement; instead, each DPM management license includes rights to stand up a DPM server.

The table below shows you full details from Microsoft regarding each DPM ML. In simplest terms, Microsoft says:

  • to use the Client ML to back up desktops.
  • to use the Server Standard ML to back up operating system and files only; this ML also provides for bare metal recovery.
  • if you want to back up applications such as SQL, Exchange, or SharePoint, you need the Server Enterprise ML.
Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008

SCVMM provides centralized virtual machine management capabilities and is licensed like DPM: server and client are (sort of) licensed together. SCVMM comes in two overall editions: an Enterprise License and a Workgroup Edition. The Workgroup Edition can manage up to five physical hosts with no additional licensing required. Beyond five hosts, you need the Enterprise license for a host. An unlimited number of OSEs can be managed on each host.

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Note: I have not been able to figure out the $40 Client License on Microsoft’s licensing page for SCVMM. If you use SCVMM in your organization and know what this client ML is for, mention it in the discussion, and I’ll update this section with credit to you.

System Center Service Manager (SCSM) 2010

SCSM, the newest entry in the System Center line, is a help desk ticketing system that tightly integrates with other System Center products to help automate IT service management. SCSM has server and client licensing requirements.

SCSM server license

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

SCSM client license

Any OSE monitored or managed under SCSM requires a management license of some kind. SCSM includes client and server management licenses as described below.

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Suite licensing

You can see that licensing System Center by itself would get quite expensive pretty fast. In many cases, organizations are already using other Microsoft products and have Microsoft enterprise licensing agreements; many of these agreements include some or all of the MLs that are needed to use System Center products. Because there are too many different licensing agreements to detail here, I focus on two suite-based licensing methods that Microsoft makes available for System Center management: server management and client licensing.

Server management suites

There are two server management suites available and each one supports the use of Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, Data Protection Manager, Service Manager, and Virtual Machine Manager. The System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise (SMSE) suite is licensed per physical host, while the System Center Server Management Suite Datacenter (SMSD) edition is licensed on a per host processor basis with a two processor minimum quantity. With SMSE, you are able to manage up to four virtual OSEs plus the host OSE. With SMSD, once you license the host processors, you’re allowed to manage an unlimited number of OSEs; if you plan to go “all in” on System Center, this is probably your best bet.

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Client licensing suite

With the server side covered in the SMSE or SMSD, Microsoft also makes available a client licensing suite that bundles all of the client MLs for the various products into one purchase.

Table source: Microsoft. (Click the image to enlarge.)


System Center licensing can be quite complex, especially as you add multiple server products to the mix. If you’re going to make extensive use of the System Center line, seriously consider using the suites because this will save your IT department a lot of money.

Keep up with Scott Lowe’s posts on TechRepublic

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