Report by: Rob Horwitz

Posted: September 21, 2009

Licensing of Windows Server 2008 R2, which is available through multiple channels as of Oct. 2009, remains generally consistent with its predecessor, Windows Server 2008, and client licenses for Windows Server 2008 grant access to R2 instances. Licensing models, product usage rules (such as how many OS instances can be run without extra charge under virtualization), the number of editions and differences between them, and product pricing remain almost identical. The upshot: customers already licensed for Windows Server 2008 can upgrade their servers incrementally, at modest and predictable cost, without triggering the expense of purchasing new CALs for all their users.

No New CALs Required

Use of Windows Server by an organization's employees or contractors is licensed with up to three different Client Access Licenses (CALs):

  • A Windows Server CAL to license client access to common services such as file and print
  • A Remote Desktop Services (RDS) CAL (formerly Terminal Services CAL) to license various remote application execution scenarios
  • An Active Directory Rights Management Services (RMS) CAL to license use of Microsoft's system for locking Office documents and e-mail to prevent casual or inadvertent disclosure to unauthorized users.

These CALs can be assigned to each user or to each client access device, and the CAL prices range from US$30 to US$81 in the Open Business program, which represents the highest price a business customer would pay through a volume purchasing program.

External Connectors (ECs) offer an alternative to CALs for licensing users other than employees (such as business partners), and Windows Server has three corresponding EC licenses (e.g., one each for common services, rights management, and remote execution) that permit an unlimited number of nonemployees to access a single physical server.

Because ECs are substitutes for a theoretically unlimited number of CALs, they are usually more costly than the server licenses themselves. As of July 2009, the Open Business price for the Windows Server EC for basic server functions was US$2,019, the RDS EC was US$8,080, and the RMS EC was US$18,226.

Consistent with the precedent set with Windows Server 2003 R2, which shipped in Dec. 2005, Windows Server 2008 R2 does not require new CALs. The "old" CALs and ECs for Windows Server 2008 server access, RDS, and RMS remain for sale and license client access to Windows Server 2008 R2. This makes upgrading to Windows Server 2008 R2 very economical, since CALs and ECs typically represent 70% or more of the license cost of Microsoft server products.

Prices for the Windows Server 2008 CAL and RMS CAL (as well as the respective ECs) are unchanged, but prices for RDS CALs and ECs will rise by 5% at the end of the 2009. The company is also changing the name and other features of the remote execution component. (For more details, see "Terminal Services Licensing Changes".)

Same Set of Editions

Windows Server 2008 R2 is offered in six different editions, as was Windows Server 2008, and customers with Software Assurance coverage active as of Sept. 1, 2009, are entitled to upgrade to the latest version of the edition they previously purchased. All editions of R2 are 64-bit only, in contrast to Windows Server 2008, which offered both 32-bit and 64-bit media. Also, 180-day evaluation copies of Windows Server 2008 R2 editions cannot be converted in-place to production use with the purchase of a product license—a reinstall is required, which was not the case with Windows Server 2008.

Virtualization and other usage rights remain the same as Server 2008, as do the prices for server licenses. Feature set differences across the editions are the same with one major exception: BranchCache is fully supported in Enterprise and Datacenter editions only. New to Windows Server 2008 R2, BranchCache caches frequently requested files in the local branch office to reduce WAN traffic and improve response time (albeit for Windows 7 branch users only—users of Vista and Windows XP PCs do not benefit). BranchCache's hosted cache mode, which caches content on a server located within the branch, requires Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise or Datacenter edition on the branch server.

(For more information about the features, usage rights, licensing models, and prices associated with the various editions, see the chart "Windows Server 2008 R2 Edition Comparison".)


The Windows Server licensing portal page is located at

Windows Server 2008 licensing, packaging, and pricing is discussed in detail in "Licensing Windows Server" on page 3 of the Oct. 2008 Update.

Windows Server 2008 R2 technical improvements are covered in "R2 Improves Active Directory Administration", "Terminal Services Renamed and Updated" on page 3 of the Sept. 2009 Update, "File Classification Aids File Management" on page 7 of the Aug. 2009 Update, "Hyper-V R2 Gains Live Migration" on page 3 of the July 2009 Update, "Windows Enhances Power Management" on page 3 of the June 2009 Update, and "PowerShell Version 2.0 Update" on page 3 of the Mar. 2009 Update. BranchCache is explained in "Windows 7 Integrates with Windows Server 2008 R2" on page 3 of the Apr. 2009 Update.

Detailed comparisons of Windows Server 2008 R2 editions are available via links on

Report by: Rob Horwitz

Posted: September 21, 2009