Posey's Tips & Tricks

TechNet and Windows Server 2012 Licensing Changes

Brien runs through some of the issues he's run into with Redmond's updated licensing policies.

Over the last couple of weeks I have run into several surprising situations with regard to some changes that Microsoft has made to its licensing policies. That being the case, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about some of these changes in hopes that my readers might not be caught by surprise.

The licensing change that I encountered was with regard to TechNet. Before I explain what has changed, I need to give you a little bit of background about my situation. I am a freelance technology author. I make a living writing articles and books, and speaking about technology (among other things). As you can imagine, I set up lab machines on almost a daily basis so that I can work through the various procedures that I write about. I like to be sure that the procedures that I give my readers have been tested and that the procedures have a good chance of working when someone else tries them.

For over a decade I have used software that is available from TechNet to build lab machines. I generally set up the necessary lab machines, work through whatever procedure I am writing about, and then blow away the machines when I am done. Because Microsoft provides a limited number product keys for each piece of software that is available through TechNet, individual product keys tend to get used over and over again. In fact, I have one Windows 7 product key that I'm sure has been activated hundreds of times over the last couple of years.

Imagine my surprise last week when I set up a lab server and attempted to activate Windows 7, only to have the activation rejected. Undeterred, I decided to logon to TechNet and claim another product key. This was when things really got weird. TechNet indicated that I had claimed one of the zero keys and also displays a message indicating that additional product keys are no longer available for the product.

After doing a bit of research I learned that Microsoft had made some changes to TechNet in order to fight a growing problem of software counterfeiting. One of the changes that they made was to remove consumer editions of Windows from TechNet. The product that I had been trying to license was Windows 7 Ultimate, which is presumably a consumer-grade product. The only editions of Windows 7 for which product keys were still available were Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Professional.

Microsoft also made a few other noteworthy changes to TechNet. For starters, it decreased the number of product keys that can be claimed for a given product to a maximum of three keys. Another change that was made was that the license now indicates that you are no longer allowed to use software that was downloaded from TechNet if you allow your TechNet subscription to expire.

TechNet is not the only product for which Microsoft has been revising their licensing policies. I also recently discovered that Windows Server 2012 is licensed differently from Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

I am currently writing a book on Hyper-V 3.0, and one of the chapters in the book deals with performing upgrades on existing Hyper-V deployments. In preparation for writing this chapter I installed Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition onto a lab server, added the Hyper-V role, and set up a bunch of virtual machines. Because I was in the very early stages of developing content for the book I had not yet looked at the licensing for Windows Server 2012. However, I soon discovered that Microsoft had thrown me a curve ball.

In creating Windows Server 2012, Microsoft decided to simplify their licensing policy. In doing so, they completely get away with Windows Server Enterprise Addition. Windows Server 2012 is only available in Standard Edition and Datacenter Edition. Because I was writing a chapter on upgrades, I tried to install Windows Server 2012 Datacenter Edition over top of Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition. The software would not allow me to perform the upgrade. I was only able to upgrade to Standard Edition.

In case you're wondering, the biggest difference between Standard Edition and Datacenter Edition is the license provision for virtual machines. Standard Edition is only license for two virtual machines. If you need more virtual machines than that then you will have to either purchase a Datacenter Edition license or combine multiple Standard Edition licenses (with one license be needed for every two virtual machines).

Another change that Microsoft has made to their licensing model is that Windows Server 2012 is licensed on a per-processor basis. In case you're wondering though, a single Standard Edition license will cover up to two physical processors.

Personally, I don't really view any of these changes as being all that bothersome (at least for my situation). Even so, I have to admit that these changes did catch me by surprise. I wanted to be sure and pass them along as a way of trying to help others who might not be aware of the licensing changes.


About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Nov 5, 2012

Well, I hope Microsoft will get where it's headed... I had an issue with my TechNet subscription last year as one day I tried to log on to my account to get the serial numbers to activate my freshly build Exchange 2010 lab only to find out that my subscription has "expired"... Wait, expired? I just renewed for another year, how come? Then after a numerous emails and phone calls to their tech support I've found out that they "suspect" me of software piracy... nice, isn't it? Well, to make the long story short, they did restore my access to my account in the end, but I obviously let it expire... And I recommended Zimbra instead of Exchange to my customer and switched to Red Hat and CentOS whenever possible, vSphere and KVM instead of Hyper-V, Mac OS X instead of Windows and so on... Good luck, dear Microsoft, I love you too ;)

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 Paul MN

This is very common for Microsoft. They forget about the developers that helped them get to where they are today. I too am an independent contractor and I pay the hefty MSDN subscription so I can make sure I am up on all the latest MS technologies (so I can essentially help them sell more product.) Yet then they go and do these licensing changes to help prevent piracy, but forgot how it may affect others. I long for the early days when MS actually embraced developers. :)

Wed, Oct 10, 2012 JP VA

Out of curiosity, is this information reflecting the changes to TechNet subscriptions published anywhere? I could find no such reference to these new limits. The best I could find was here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/ms772427.aspx#qanda Quote "What changes did Microsoft implement to TechNet Subscriptions in July 2012?
On July 16, Microsoft made changes to TechNet Subscriptions to better reflect the intent of the program – aiding IT professionals in evaluating current Microsoft software—and to help protect the integrity of the subscription from unsupported use. As part of this change, we:

Reduced the length and complexity of the User Agreement.
Made Microsoft software use and other subscription benefits available only during the 12 month subscription period.
Updated the list of products available for evaluation by:
Removing redundant or multiple instances of products. For instance: The full Office suite will be available for download, but not standalone Office products such as Outlook, Publisher, etc.
Removing products that are not intended for use in an IT professional managed business environment. For instance: Windows XP Home Edition.
Removing products that are no longer covered by extended support through the Microsoft Support Lifecycle.
Standardized the 24hr product key claim limit across all programs and benefit levels at ten (10).
To review the terms of use, please refer to the Microsoft TechNet Subscription agreement that applies based on your acceptance date:

Prior to July 16 2012: TechNet Subscriber Agreement - Prior to July 16, 2012
On/After July 16 2012: Current TechNet Subscriber Agreement
Please provide feedback and share other comments via TechNet Site Feedback. If you require assistance with software evaluations as a result of these changes, please contact customer service."

Wed, Oct 10, 2012 Don UK

There is a change in Windows 8 and Server 2012 licensing as well. In Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 you could install and run for (at least) 30 days without even entering a product key - great for the scenario you describe where you want a clean install to test something and then blow it away. The new OSes insist on a key at installation and automatically activate without any choice. Will this limit the number of times you can do this?

Sun, Oct 7, 2012 LinuxMint Canada

For home use I dual-boot Windows XP and Linux. I have no desire to purchase any further versions of Windows for my personal use. However, since I have decided to change careers, I enrolled in a Comptia A+ Certification course. As such, I want to get hands on practice with Vista, 7, 8, etc.. I began learning about Technet tonight and I'm very disappointed with the changes Microsoft has made. I see that they removed Home versions of their OS because *apparently* computer techs will never work on those. I suppose that's not a deal breaker though. What really annoys me though is that they remove access to the "Ultimate" versions of their OS. I think I ought to be able to use and learn about BitLocker because I'm sure businesses are very concerned about encrypting their data. I'm not sure why home users would pay extra for the Ultimate version just for that purpose.

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 Darren CT

And don't forget to mention the CAL requirements as well!

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 James Byers Houston TX

The changes to the TechNet subscription caught me by surprise, too. If I ever got a notification, I don't remember it. I tried to upgrade my subscription to a higher level, but apparently that can only be done when a subscription is about to expire and needs to be renewed. I set up virtual SharePoint farms for my development at a large Oil & Gas company here in Houston, not for production use. Guess I'll have to switch to Google Apps.

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