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Windows Server CALs vs. Per-Core Licensing: Choose Wisely

When it comes to licensing Windows Server, organizations often face the decision between two primary models: Client Access Licenses (CALs) and per-core licensing. Each approach has its own advantages and considerations. In this guide, we’ll help you understand the differences between Windows Server CALs and per-core licensing and assist you in choosing the right licensing model for your organization.

Table of Contents:

Understanding Windows Server CALs:

1. What are CALs?:

Client Access Licenses (CALs) are licenses that grant individual users or devices the right to access the Windows Server. There are User CALs (one per user) and Device CALs (one per device).

2. How They Work:

With CALs, you purchase a specific number of licenses based on the number of users or devices that will access the server. CALs are usually associated with a specific version of Windows Server.

3. Advantages of CALs:

  • Flexibility: CALs are ideal for organizations with varying user/device counts as they can be added or removed as needed
  • Compatibility: CALs are compatible with various Windows Server editions, making them versatile.

Exploring Per-Core Licensing:

1. What is Per-Core Licensing?:

Per-core licensing is based on the number of processor cores in the server where Windows Server is running. You need to purchase licenses for each core, with minimum core requirements per processor.

2. How It Works:

You calculate the total number of cores in your server and purchase the corresponding number of licenses. This model can be cost-effective for servers with a high core count.

3. Advantages of Per-Core Licensing:

  • Simplicity: Per-core licensing can simplify licensing management for servers with multiple cores.
  • Consistency: The same licensing model applies across all Windows Server editions.

Choosing the Right Licensing Model:

1. Evaluate Your Environment:

Consider the number of users or devices accessing the server and the server’s core count. This will help you determine which model aligns with your needs.

2. Budget Considerations:

Compare the upfront costs and ongoing expenses associated with each model. CALs may be cost-effective for smaller organizations, while per-core licensing might be economical for larger data centers.

3. Long-Term Planning:

Factor in your organization’s growth and future server needs. Choose a licensing model that accommodates scalability.

4. Consultation:

If you’re uncertain about the best licensing model, consult with Microsoft licensing experts or IT consultants who specialize in licensing.


Windows Server CALs and per-core licensing are both valid licensing models, each with its own strengths and applications. The choice between the two should align with your organization’s specific requirements, budget constraints, and long-term goals. By understanding the differences and considering your unique circumstances, you can make an informed decision and ensure proper licensing for your Windows Server environment.


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