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, which is not available with Windows Server 2016.

Edition overview

Edition Ideal for… Licensing model CAL requirements
Datacenter Highly virtualized and software-defined datacenter environments Per Core/CAL*
Windows Server CAL**
Standard Low-density or non-virtualized environments Per Core/CAL*
Windows Server CAL**
Essentials 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 2016 offers additional features in Standard and Datacenter editions. Features exclusive to the Windows Server 2016 Datacenter edition include Shielded Virtual Machines, software-defined networking, Storage Spaces Direct, and Storage Replica. While no features from the Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard edition have been removed, we have added features like Nano Server and unlimited Windows Server containers to the Windows Server 2016 Standard edition.


Datacenter Standard
Core functionality of Windows Server
Operating system environment (OSEs/Hyper-V containers)
Windows Server containers
Host Guardian Service
Nano Server**
Storage features including Storage Spaces Direct and Storage Replica
Shielded Virtual Machines
Networking stack

*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.

**Software Assurance is required to deploy and operate Nano Server in production.
Note: For more information on features, visit the Windows Server 2016 product page.

Related links

Related resources

Learn how to save on Windows Server VMs in Azure.
Get details on how to evaluate, purchase, and deploy Windows Server 2016.
(PDF, 774 KB)
Read an overview of licensing information for Windows Server 2016.
(PDF, 1.10 MB)
Download a detailed guide to licensing Windows Server 2016.