Will Hardware Scalability Change Microsoft Virtualisation Licensing?

One of the nice things about virtualising Microsoft software (on any platform) is that you can save money.  Licensing like Windows Datacenter, SMSD, SQL Datacenter, or ECI all give you various bundles to license the host and all running virtual machines on that host. 

Two years ago, you might have said that you’d save a tidy sum on licensing over a 2 or 3 year contract.  Now, we have servers where the sweet spot is 16 cores of processor and 192 GB of RAM.  Think about that; that’s up to 32 vCPUs of SQL (pending assessment, using the 2:1 ratio for SQL) Server VMs.  Licensing one two pCPUs could license all those VMs with per-processor licensing, dispensing with the need to count CALs!

In it’s just getting crazier.  The HP DL980 G7 has 64 pCPU cores.  That’s 128 up to vCPUs that you could license for SQL (using the 2:1 ratio for SQL).  And I just read about a SGI machine with 2048 pCPU cores and 16TB of RAM.  That sort of hardware scalability is surely just around the corner from normal B2B. 

And let’s not forget that CPUs are growing in core counts.  AMD have led the way with 12 core pCPUs.  Each of those gives you up to 24 SQL vCPUs.  Surely we’re going to see 16 core or 24 core CPUs in the near future.

Will Microsoft continue to license their software based on sockets, while others (IBM and Oracle) count cores?  Microsoft will lose money as CPUs grow in capacity.  That’s for certain.  I was told last week that VMware have shifted their licensing model away from per host licensing, acknowledging that hosts can have huge workloads.  They’re allegedly moving into a per-VM pricing structure.  Will Microsoft be far behind?

I have no idea what the future holds.  But some things seem certain to me.  Microsoft licensing never stays still for very long.  Microsoft licensing is a maze of complexity that even the experts argue over.  Microsoft will lose revenue as host/CPU capacities continue to grow unless they make a change.  And Microsoft is not in the business of losing money.

4 thoughts on “Will Hardware Scalability Change Microsoft Virtualisation Licensing?”

    1. Hi Peter,

      I was told that a change was definitely on the way – but I have no dealings with VMware so I cannot comment any further.

    2. Hi Aidan,

      Does this mean that if you have per-CPU licensing for SQL, it doesn’t matter if you run it in VM or on a physical box? Let’s say, if we have 2 QuadCores on the physical box and a SQL installed on it, we’ll need to pay 2 licenses. How many licenses should we buy for a VM on the same host (physical box) with 4 vCPUs? Two or four?



      1. Hi Ivailo,

        On that physical machine (not virtualised) you would need two per proc licenses. As a 4 vCPU VM on that same hardware, 1 per proc licenses would license that VM because it never can use more than 1 physical proc. That’s what we were told. I would check with your reseller to ensure that you can buy just 1 per-proc license. Some products like Windows Datacenter and System Center Management Suite force you to buy at least 2 per proc licenses per host.

        I work for a licensing specialist company – but I always tell people that I am a techie and they should talk to our licensing people for the legal stuff.


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