Licenses, Editions, and Updates for Windows Server

Users typically find themselves confronted with a great deal of variation when it comes to selecting which version of Server is appropriate for their company, and it is not always obvious how to select the most suitable alternative. Not only is there more than one version of the Windows Server operating system, but there are also a few distinct editions. Let’s compare the two of them and see what the differences are.

What edition of Windows Server do you have installed?

In the 1990s, during the time of Windows NT, each version of Windows Server was assigned a different number. This practice continued throughout the 2000s.

For instance, Windows NT had the digits 3.1, 3.51, and 4.0 at various points in its development.

However, beginning in the year 2000, Microsoft began appending the year the operating system was first released after the name. For example, Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, 2008 (which also had R2), 2012 (which also had R2), 2016 and 2019, etc.

New features and capabilities are added to the Microsoft Windows Server product with each new edition.

For instance, Hyper-V virtualization, Server Core, and BitLocker were introduced in Windows Server 2008, Windows containers and Nano Server were introduced in Windows Server 2016, and Windows Server 2019 brought with it Windows Admin Center, a new way to remotely administer server infrastructure, improvements to hyperconverged infrastructure, and deep support for the Linux subsystem. Windows Server 2019 also brought with it a new way to remotely administer server infrastructure, improvements to hyperconverged infrastructure, and deep support for the Linux subsystem.

What exactly does “end of support” mean?

As the old adage goes, nothing stays the same for good.

And at some point in the future, Microsoft will stop delivering patches for software that is considered old.

The date after which Microsoft will no longer issue updates for a given product is referred to as the product’s end of support date.

And after that date has passed, the obsolete version of the operating system will become an easy target for malicious software because it will no longer receive security upgrades and will, as a result, be susceptible to new exploits.

Operating systems created and distributed by Microsoft receive standard maintenance and updates for a period of at least ten years.

For instance, the extended support for the widely used Windows Server 2003, which was initially issued in April 2003, was discontinued in 2015.

Extended support for Windows Server 2008 R2 is scheduled to be discontinued in January 2020, but Windows Server 2012 R2 will continue to receive updates until at least October 2023.

Updates for the Server 2016 and 2019 versions are scheduled to be released in 2027 and 2029, respectively.

For this reason, enterprises shouldn’t utilize anything except the most recent version of Windows Server because it’s better for their security.

What exactly does “Windows Server Edition” stand for?

When you go to buy an automobile, you’ll have the option of selecting from a number of different versions of the same model’s trim.

A basic economic model, a luxury model with leather seats and a sunroof, and a sporty model with larger wheels and a more powerful engine are all examples of available variants.

To put it another way, each variant of the automobile has its own price point and collection of features to cater to distinct client demographics who have varying spending limits and preferences.

The same is true for different editions of Windows Server.

Each choice comes with a set of features that, depending on the size and price point of the business, are more or less suitable.

For instance, the number of people that one edition can support may vary depending on the other edition.

The many editions of Windows Server 2012 R2 and their respective differences

Let’s break down the various operating system editions using Windows Server 2012 R2 as an example so that you can have a better understanding of the differences between them:

Foundation is an all-purpose server operating system that performs exceptionally well on low-end computers.

The operating system only supports a single processor and up to 32 gigabytes of RAM total.

The Foundation edition of Windows Server, which is not available in Windows Server 2016, has a user cap of 15, making it appropriate for only very small businesses.

Foundation can only be obtained through original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), which means that it is typically pre-installed on personal computers sold by businesses such as Dell and HPE.
Essentials, which was originally known as SBS or Small Business Server, is a server solution that is simple to deploy and can support as many as 25 users and 50 devices, making it an excellent choice for use in small workplaces.
Essentials is compatible with more powerful , such as multiple processors and up to 64 gigabytes of RAM.
Because, in contrast to other editions of Windows Server, Windows Server Essentials comes pre-configured with roles like Active Directory, , File Services, IIS, and , this edition is ideally suited for businesses that have less developed information technology or IT staff with less experience.
The Standard places no limits on the number of users, but in contrast to the Foundation and Essentials packages, you will need to buy Client Licenses (CALs) independently, and the number you buy will be determined by how many people you need to be able to support.
Each Standard license covers two CPUs and can support a maximum of four terabytes of random access memory (RAM).
If you are interested in virtualization, this edition will allow you to use the Hyper-V hypervisor to run up to two virtual instances of the operating system on the same physical hardware (running additional virtual instances of Windows Server will incur additional costs), which makes the Standard edition suitable for a lightweight virtualized environment. If you are interested in virtualization, this edition will allow you to run up to two virtual instances of the operating system.
The Windows Server edition known as Datacenter is the most capable but also the most expensive.
There is one significant difference between the standard edition and the datacenter version of Windows Server 2012 R2: the latter is significantly more powerful.
When you have a Datacenter license, you are able to operate an unlimited number of virtual instances on a single machine with two processors by using Windows Server as the guest operating system.
This seemingly insignificant distinction has significant repercussions since it enables businesses to cut costs by running dozens of operating system instances on a single server.

Comparison of Windows Server 2016 and 2019 in terms of their respective differences
The Hyper-V hypervisor role is the only functionality supported by the free edition of Windows Server known as Hyper-V.
It serves as a hypervisor for your virtual environment, which is its primary function.
There is no graphical user interface that comes with it.
In point of fact, this is a minimal implementation of the Server Core protocol.
To enable the hypervisor, you will run the sconfig.cmd command from a workstation running Windows 10 that is connected to your network. After that, you will use Hyper-V Manager (which is included with RSAT) to manage the environment.
It is strongly suggested that you utilize this specific edition for your hypervisor so that licensing can remain organized and straightforward.
Essentials is an excellent option for small and medium-sized businesses as well as individuals who require fundamental server capability.
The Essentials setup process is the only significant difference between the Essentials and Standard graphical user interfaces.

Virtualization rights
There is a limit of one physical instance of Essentials that can be used as a Hyper-V host for the purpose of one virtual instance of Essentials.
In order to achieve compliance with the physical Essentials configuration, you will need to delete all roles from the instance save for the Hyper-V role.
Essentials can also be used for a single virtual instance on any other hypervisor, as it is compatible with all of them.

Licensing model
There is no charge for CALs; however, you are restricted to a maximum of 25 users and 50 devices connected to the server.

Essentials cannot use more than 64 gigabytes of random access memory (RAM) and two central processing units (CPUs) on the on which it is installed.

Standard – Ideal for any firm or individual who requires advanced functionality without being substantially virtualized. Suitable for use in environments that are heavily virtualized as well.

Virtualization rights With a regular license, Hyper-V allows you to run up to two or containers, or one physical instance, depending on your preference. If you are only going to use the Hyper-V role on a physical instance, you can utilize that instance as a Hyper-V host and then host two Hyper-V virtual machines on that host. This option is available even if you are only going to use the Hyper-V role. Running a virtual machine on top of a real instance while using the same license is not possible if you wish to use several roles on the physical instance.

License model based on the Core.

CALs are obligatory for any user or device that establishes a connection, either directly or indirectly, to the server.

For instance, if you are utilizing the server as a file server, you will need a CAL for each user account or computer account that accesses that file server on the network. This is because the server can only be accessed through the network.

Constraints imposed by the hardware
The standard allows for no more than 512 cores and a maximum of 24 terabytes of RAM.

A datacenter is the perfect solution for any firm that has implemented a significant amount of virtualization.

Any virtual machine that has the Datacenter version is able to run on any of your hosts if you purchase a license based on the number of cores those hosts have (run or potentially run after Vmotion).

At first look, the cost of this licence appears to be high; however, it enables the creation of an unlimited number of virtual machines that are administered by a data center on the hosts that are being examined.

This license is not difficult to work with if you have a modest number of hosts (and, thus, cores) but a big number of potential virtual machines.

Virtualization rights
There is no limit to the number of virtual machines or containers that Hyper-V can support.
As was just mentioned, the number of cores that your hosts possess will determine the type of licenses that you will need to purchase.
At this point, you are free to use any role you choose within any number of virtual machines that you run on the hosts.

License Model
On the basis of cores
When installing on a physical server that does not run virtual machines, you must take care to avoid inadvertently selecting this edition of the software.
CALs are necessary for any person or device in your environment that establishes a connection, either directly or indirectly, to a server.

Differences in licensing requirements for Windows Server 2016 and later versions

If you are utilizing a Standard or Datacenter license on Windows Server 2016 or later, there are certain major changes you need to be aware of. The costs for Windows Server 2012 R2, 2016, and 2019 have not changed, but the prices for these licenses have.

To begin, the licensing strategy for Windows Server 2016 has shifted from being sold per processor or socket to being sold per core. Historically, Windows Server licenses have been sold per processor or socket.

In Windows Server 2012, if you have a server that has two processors and 24 cores, you will only need to purchase one license, regardless of whether it is for the Standard or Datacenter tier.

When using Windows Server 2016, you will be required to purchase licenses for each of the machine’s 24 cores.

In spite of the fact that there are a number of restrictions, the situation might get quite complicated; nonetheless, if you have a server with 16 cores, the expenses will be comparable to one another.

On the other hand, operating system license could be more pricey for servers that have a higher core density.

In Windows Server 2016 and later versions, the regulations for virtualization have not changed despite the modification to the core license.

When you have licensed all of the cores on the server, the Standard Edition provides you with two licenses for the Windows Server Guest Operating System. The Datacenter Edition provides infinite licenses for this purpose.

Additionally, the feature set of Windows Server 2012 Standard and Windows Server 2012 Datacenter were identical.

However, the Datacenter edition of Windows Server 2016 is the only one that has some capabilities of Windows Server 2016, such as Storage Spaces Direct and protected virtual machines.

A comparison of the installation options for Windows Server 2016 and Windows Server 2019.

There is a selection of different installation choices available with both the Standard and Datacenter editions.

These settings determine which features will be accessible once the software has been installed, such as whether or not a graphical user interface and a group of services will be provided.

There are a variety of installation choices available, including the following:

Desktop Experience (with a graphical user interface), Core, and Nano.

Desktop Experience is the default installation method that the vast majority of users are accustomed to.

This configuration installs the vast majority of features and roles by default, including the graphical user interface (GUI) for the desktop.

You will obtain Server Manager, which grants you the ability to add or delete features and roles as needed.

People who are accustomed to working with graphical user interfaces will benefit from the fact that the system can be managed more easily on their end.

The disadvantage is that you will need to deal with additional software upgrades, system reboots, and open ports.

Learn more from Microsoft here .

The graphical user interface (GUI) and various roles that are installed by default under the Desktop Experience option are not available in the Server Core edition.

Due to the reduced amount of code that makes up the server core, it requires less and as a result has a smaller attack surface.

Additionally, there are less opportunities to work with upgrades, reboots, and open ports.

Servers that are used for infrastructure, such as Active Directory controllers and DNS servers, can benefit greatly from this option.

The audio support, built-in server configuration tools, and accessibility tools are not included in this edition.

This version does not include any extras.

It is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with command line administration as soon as possible.

You can read more about this on the Microsoft website.


The Nano operating system is only accessible as a containerized version of the operating system image beginning with Windows Server 2019.

It is intended to operate as a container within a container host, such as the Server Core that was described before in this paragraph.

You will need to use this version to compile containerized programs because they were developed for server operating systems. If you rely on these applications, you should use this version.

Nano can be deployed using the Standard or Datacenter editions, but you must have Software Assurance attached to your host server licensing. You can learn more about this on the Microsoft website.


Welcome to the world of DomainRooster, where roosters (and hens) rule the roost! We're a one-stop shop for all your entrepreneurial needs, bringing together domain names and website hosting, and all the tools you need to bring your ideas to life. With our help, you'll soar to new heights and hatch great success. Think of us as your trusty sidekick, always there to lend a wing and help you navigate the sometimes-complex world of domain names and web hosting. Our team of roosters are experts in their fields and are always on hand to answer any questions and provide guidance. So why wait? Sign up today and join the ranks of the world's greatest entrepreneurs. With DomainRooster, the sky's the limit! And remember, as the saying goes, "Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do." So don't be afraid to take that leap of faith - DomainRooster is here to help you reach for the stars. Caw on!