Today, Microsoft published the FAQ (dated December 2015)  for Windows Server 2016’s licensing. It is still early days and I have seen no official prices yet, but this document gives you an idea of what is coming. However, as this is still early and it has not RTMed yet, all of this is clearly subject to change so this blog post is based on what is known today. There are some important changes you should be aware of, and this is where my excitement for some of what is in the platform meets the reality of our customers at SQLHA.

Windows Server 2016 Will Have Different Features Per SKU

For the first time since Windows Server 2008 R2, there will be a difference in the feature sets. In Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, both Standard and Datacenter had the same stuff; the real difference was virtualization licensing. With Windows Server 2016, there will be a few differences, notably Storage Spaces Direct (S2D – a really cool feature I’ve demoed a few times with SQL Server) and as they put it, “an Azure-inspired networking stack.” This isn’t all doom and gloom; the basics are still in Standard, it just looks like the high end stuff, much like In-Memory (i.e. Hekaton) in SQL Server, is in Datacenter. While to me it is a bit disappointing they are diverging a little, I’m glad they are not seemingly hobbling Standard. The reality is that the use case for things like S2D will not be for everyone, so in a way, it makes sense to push it to Datacenter for now. Those higher end features generally require more expertise and cost to get running, so many smaller shops with limited time, budget, and resources would be hard pressed to take advantage of them out of the gate if I’m being honest.

Say Hello to Core-based Licensing for Windows Server

This is the one that may annoy most folks. Like SQL Server, Windows Server 2016 licensing will be core-based, including the Core Infrastructure Suite SKU. Historically, Windows pricing has been MUCH lower than SQL Server, and no prices have been announced. So before anyone has a conniption, let’s see what the core pricing will be based on the chart shown on page 2, there are cases where the cost may be the same as it is today.

Having said that, there are a few things that you should start thinking about.

  • Some what is behind this change has to do with hybrid scenarios. The (Public) Cloud is a big part of licensing, so Microsoft had to address it in the in-box scenario at some point. For example, in October of this year, Microsoft allowed those with Software Assurance to start using their own Windows images in Azure and paying the standard compute rates, so this move aligns with that. Whether you agree or like that is a different story, but it makes sense. For more information on Windows Server license mobility with SA for Azure, see the official blog post here, and it will go into effect on Q1 of 2016 (calendar, not fiscal, year).
  • Core-based licensing is based on physical cores. So if I’m interpreting that correctly, you do not pay extra if hyperthreading is enabled.
  • The core-based licensing is slated to start coming into effect in Q3 of 2016, and this is the first document that points to the general availability of Windows Server which looks to be in the July – September timeframe. That should surprise no one, given Ignite is at the end of September of 2016.
  • Core licenses will be sold in two-packs. Every physical processor will need a minimum of eight core licenses, or four packs. The math here is simple: even if you have a six-core box, you’re going to have to pay for eight. What does this mean? Stop buying processors with less than eight cores as you will be wasting money.
  • Standard Edition allows for two VMs with licensing ; Datacenter, as it has in the past, allows for unlimited VMs assuming all processor cores are licensed.
  • You still need CALs for users and devices accessing servers.
  • Nested virtualization (I’ll be posting a blog on this in a few days) is covered with Datacenter.

Musings and a Call to Action

I’m not surprised by this move. Like SQL Server did with SQL Server 2012, they are aligning to how things are really purchased and deployed both on premises and in the cloud. As with SQL Server 2012, we had a great ride for a long time with processor-based licensing. Again, it’s important to keep in mind that historically Windows Server has not been SQL Server, so the costs will most likely be reasonable. But this will change the way we use and configure servers both on premises for physical and virtualization (regardless of whether or not it is part of a private cloud) and up in the public cloud if you’re bringing your own licenses.

Like I said, this is not doom and gloom. Rome is not burning yet and it may not for many customers depending on how things shake out. When we help our customers design, plan, and implement their architectures, a big part of it is maximizing their investments – and licensing is a huge component. So if you’re looking for help with a new project (on premises – physical or virtual, hybrid, or public cloud) where this may come into play at some point, or you’re looking to assess how this may impact your current deployments and want to minimize the impact of this announcement, contact us today. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive.

I’m curious as to your thoughts about this big change in Windows Server 2016. Will this drive you away from deploying Windows-based solutions, and as part of that, SQL Server? Is this a net-net of no change for you? Will it limit how much you deploy? Weigh in below.