Licensing editions FAQ

Licensing editions

Choose from three primary editions of Windows Server, based on the size of your organization as well as virtualization and datacenter requirements:
  • Datacenter edition is ideal for highly virtualized and software-defined datacenter environments.
  • Standard edition is ideal for customers with low density or non-virtualized environments.
  • Essentials edition is a cloud-connected first server, ideal for small businesses with up to 25 users and 50 devices. Essentials is a good option for customers currently using the Foundation edition, whichh has been discontinued.

Edition overview

Edition Ideal for… Licensing model CAL requirements
Highly virtualized and software-defined datacenter environments
Per Core/CAL*
Windows Server CAL**

Physical or minimally virtualized environments

Per Core/CAL*
Windows Server CAL**
Small businesses with up to 25 users and 50 devices
Specialty Servers
(Server License)
No CAL required
*All physical cores on the server must be licensed, subject to a minimum of 8 core licenses per physical processor and a minimum of 16 core licenses per server.
**CALs are required for every user or device accessing a server. See the Product Terms for details.
Windows Server offers additional features in Standard and Datacenter editions. Features exclusive to the Windows Server Datacenter edition include Shielded Virtual Machines, software-defined networking, Storage Spaces Direct, and Storage Replica. Windows Server also includes features like unlimited Windows Server containers.


Datacenter Standard
Core functionality of Windows Server
Operating system environment (OSEs/Hyper-V containers)
Windows Server containers
Host Guardian Service

Storage Replica

Shielded Virtual Machines

Software-defined networking

*Standard edition permits use of one running instance of the server software in the physical OSE on the licensed server (in addition to two virtual OSEs), if the physical OSE is used solely to host and manage the virtual OSEs.


Note: For more information, visit the Windows Server pricing page.

Related resources

Windows Server website
Get details on how to evaluate, purchase, and deploy Windows Server.

Windows Server 2019 Licensing Datasheet
(PDF, 774 KB)

Azure Hybrid Benefit
Learn how to save on Windws Server VMs in Azure

Windows Server Licensing Guide
(PDF, 1.10 MB)
Download a detailed guide to licensing Windows Server 2016.