Organizations licensing SharePoint Server 2013 for internal use can now deploy SharePoint-based Internet-facing sites less expensively than was possible under the SharePoint 2010 license model. By abolishing the need for Internet-specific licenses, specifically SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites, Microsoft has reduced the cost of licensing external user access to a SharePoint-based public or extranet site by 50% or more. However, organizations planning to license and use SharePoint 2013 only for Internet-facing sites (without any internal sites) must be mindful of how they use the product or they may unintentionally create license compliance issues and generate expenses for themselves.

Most organizations deploying SharePoint use the product to construct intranet sites, accessible to internal users only. However, some organizations have used SharePoint to create Internet-facing sites accessible to others outside their organization, such as suppliers or customers. Among other things, this enables the organization to use a single platform for both the intranet and Internet-facing sites and leverage its SharePoint development and management expertise on all of them. If a SharePoint-based site is Internet-facing, both internal users (employees and on-site contractors) and external users (everyone else) must be licensed for access, and in some scenarios the particular licensing requirements differ. (See the chart "SharePoint Licensing: 2010 Versus 2013".)

SharePoint 2010 Rule: Special Licenses for External Users

Customers who made Web sites based on SharePoint Server 2010 available to external users had two licensing options. The first option was for customers to purchase a SharePoint Server 2010 license (US$4,926) for each server instance and Client Access Licenses (CALs) for all the external users or users' devices (All prices listed are Open NL suggested reseller prices and represent the highest price a U.S. customer would pay when purchasing through volume licensing.) However, identifying all external users or devices requiring CALs posed challenges, and the cost of CALs when deploying to a very large number of external users could be prohibitive.

Microsoft thus offered a second option for licensing external users: Purchase a special server-side license, called SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites (FIS), for each server. The SharePoint FIS license included both the right to run a single instance of the SharePoint software on a server and the right for an unlimited number of external users to access the server. In multiserver deployments licensed using SharePoint Server FIS server licenses, all SharePoint servers that directly or indirectly provide content to external users required a FIS license, including SharePoint front-end servers and application servers as well as indexing servers and servers used for content staging. The licenses came in two editions, Standard (US$11,793) and Enterprise (US$41,392), with the former allowing SharePoint Standard CAL capabilities only and the latter enabling both Standard and Enterprise CAL capabilities.

In most cases, SharePoint Server 2010 FIS server licenses also covered access by employees. The one caveat was that the Internet-facing site couldn't host any content that was for internal use only (in other words, exclusive to employees). If it did, then the site also had to be licensed as if it were an intranet site on the corporate network. This meant that the customer had to acquire and apply two licenses, both a SharePoint Server 2010 server license and a SharePoint Server 2010 FIS (Standard or Enterprise) license to each running instance of the server software. Further, employees required SharePoint Server 2010 Standard CALs (US$95 per user or device) and possibly Enterprise CALs (US$83 per user or device) as well.

SharePoint 2013 Rule: No Extra Costs for External Users

With SharePoint Server 2013, external user access imposes no additional licensing burden. Beyond purchasing a SharePoint Server 2013 license (US$6,798) for each running instance of the software, no other SharePoint-related licenses are needed to cover external users accessing an Internet-facing site. Furthermore, internal (employee) users accessing the site are also covered by the SharePoint Server 2013 server-side licenses if the site is "publicly available to users over the Internet" as per SharePoint 2013's Product Use Rights. Otherwise, employee clients accessing the site require SharePoint Server 2013 CALs.

However, SharePoint Server 2013 also imposes some new costs compared to SharePoint Server 2010 if a SharePoint Server site is deployed using virtualization, because license reassignment rules changed with SharePoint Server 2013. When running SharePoint within virtual machines (VMs), VMs can move frequently between physical hosts—often without operator intervention—for load balancing, high availability, and other purposes. SharePoint Server licenses are assigned to a physical server, and each physical server needs enough licenses for the maximum number of VMs it could ever run. The least expensive way to meet this requirement is to reassign licenses to follow the movement of the VMs. The reassignment rights necessary for frequent movement of SharePoint VMs were included with both the SharePoint Server 2010 license and the SharePoint Server 2010 FIS license. With SharePoint Server 2013, in contrast, the equivalent reassignment rights require Software Assurance (SA) coverage. SA is a subscription that can be added to a license for product upgrade rights and other benefits. The annual cost of SA is 25% of the underlying SharePoint Server 2013 license price, or approximately US$1,700 per year.

Change Favors Organizations Who Use SharePoint Internally

The licensing cost and risk associated with deploying Internet-facing sites using SharePoint 2013 is largely dependent on whether or not an organization is already licensed for SharePoint 2013 internally.

Already Licensed for Internal Use of SharePoint 2013

Organizations that already own SharePoint Server 2013 CALs for their employees (or employees' devices) do not have to be concerned with whether or not the Internet-facing site qualifies as "publicly available." With SharePoint Server 2013, licensing requirements for each server hosting the Internet-facing site are substantially less expensive than before. For example, a SharePoint Server 2013 server license today costs less than one sixth what a SharePoint Server 2010 FIS Enterprise edition license used to cost.

Not Licensed for Internal Use of SharePoint 2013

If an organization does not already own SharePoint 2013 CALs for their employees or employees' devices, building Internet-facing sites on SharePoint Server 2013 will potentially be expensive if this site does not qualify as publicly available. If the site is not publicly available, the organization needs a CAL for any employee who accesses the site. Unless the organization has logs or other technical means to show that the site is accessed by a limited set of employees, the organization will have to buy CALs for all its employees. Accessing publicly available sites, in contrast, doesn't trigger a SharePoint 2013 CAL requirement for employees, and the required server-side licenses are much less expensive than with SharePoint 2010.

This raises the question of which sites qualify as publicly available. No Microsoft licensing legal document—in particular, the Product Use Rights or the Product List—explicitly defines the term. According to a Microsoft licensing presentation at the Nov. 2012 SharePoint conference, SharePoint Server 2013 Internet-facing sites qualify as publicly available if all content is available to everyone without registration or authentication. This would apply to many government-sponsored sites, for example. Conversely, according to this presentation, if a subset of a site's content is exclusive to the organization's employees, or if the site is used to selectively share information with others outside of the organization, such as suppliers and partners, the site does not qualify as publicly available. However, there are numerous gray areas in between these extremes. Given the ambiguity, customers must weigh the risk that they could be obligated to purchase CALs for employees at some future point if Microsoft—directly or through a third-party performing a licensing compliance check on behalf of Microsoft—interprets the term differently than they expected.

One possible workaround to the uncertainty over the definition of publicly available would be to outsource the site to a SharePoint hosting partner who licenses SharePoint Server 2013 under a Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA). SPLA is the licensing program Microsoft uses for partners providing online hosting and management services with Microsoft products. Under SPLA, the partner can license SharePoint Server 2013 (and its prerequisite OS, Windows Server) for any type of site, publicly available or not, under a licensing model that allows client access for both internal users and external users.


The SharePoint 2013 licensing presentation given by Microsoft at the Nov. 2012 SharePoint Conference is available at The video is approximately 80 minutes long.

SharePoint Server 2010 licensing is explained in the Sept. 2010 Licensing Outline, "Licensing SharePoint Server 2010."

Changes to reassignment rights for SharePoint Server 2013 server licenses are discussed in more detail in "Virtualized Servers More Likely to Need SA" on page 17 of the Nov. 2012 Update.

Windows Server 2012 licensing rules for Internet-facing sites are covered in "Windows Server 2012 Licensed for Web" on page 18 of the Nov. 2012 Update. Rules for Windows Server 2008 R2 are covered in the Nov. 2009 Licensing Outline, "Windows Server 2008 R2 Packaging, Licensing, Pricing."

License grants for customers with Software Assurance on SharePoint Server 2010 FIS licenses is covered in the Dec. 2012 or more recent Product List, available from

Licensing of SQL Server, a prerequisite for SharePoint, is covered in "SQL Server 2012 Adopts Per-Core Licensing Model" on page 16 in the Apr. 2012 Update and in the Nov. 2010 Licensing Outline, "Licensing SQL Server 2008 R2."

The main portal for Microsoft's SPLA program is