vMotion Permissions (and Denials) in Microsoft Licensing

Microsoft licensing continues to evolve as Microsoft reacts to the rise in virtualization.  Things seem to be leveling out, but every so often I run across something new. For example, a few months ago the issue of vMotion permission was raised when I was in a meeting with a client.  This led me to investigate the following question:

At the licensing level, do you have permission to move a virtual instance of a Microsoft server product from one physical host to another?

It is natural to think that the license would just move with the virtual machine, but that is not always the case.  I discovered that the answer depends on (a) what kind of product it is, (b) how many licenses you have, and (c) whether or not you have SA. Here is a summary of how this issue affects some common server products …

Windows Server 2012

Question:

At the licensing level, do you have permission to move a virtual instance of Windows Server 2012 from one physical host to another?

Answer:

If both hosts have enough licenses assigned to them, then YES.

If one host does not have enough licenses assigned to it, then NO.

If you move a virtual instance of Windows Server from one physical host to another, then the receiving host must already have a license that can cover the virtual instance.  The license does not travel with virtual machine. Instead, the license is tied to the physical machine. This is true whether or not that license is covered with SA. In the illustration below (taken from a Microsoft licensing brief found here) both physical machines have a license of Windows Server 2012, so the virtual machine can travel freely between the two hosts.

vmotion

The trick is that you must make sure the receiving server has enough licenses to cover the number of VMs it is hosting: if you only have one Windows Server Standard license assigned to that machine, then it can only host up to two VMs of Windows Server. If a third VM gets moved there, then you are out of compliance. (For more information on this, see my previous post on virtualization rights with Windows Server here.)

Summary:

Windows Server 2012 (either with or without SA): License is anchored to the physical box.

A VM can only move to a box that is already covered with enough licenses.

Exchange 2013, Lync 2013, SharePoint 2013, & SQL 2012

Question:

At the licensing level, do you have permission to move a virtual instance of Exchange Server 2013, Lync Server 2013, SharePoint Server 2013, or SQL Server 2012 from one physical host to another?

Answer:

If both hosts have enough licenses assigned to them, then YES.

If only one host is licensed for Exchange/Lync/SharePoint/SQL and you do not have Software Assurance, then NO.

If only one host is licensed for Exchange/Lync/SharePoint/SQL and you do have Software Assurance, then YES.

If you do not have SA, then when you move a virtual instance of Exchange/Lync/SharePoint/SQL from one physical host to another the receiving host must already have a license to cover the virtual instance. The license does not travel with the virtual machine. Instead, the license is tied to the physical machine. For example, see the illustration above where the customer owns 2 licenses of Exchange and therefore is able to move the VM from one host to the other. (You’ve got to love the “real life” scenarios that Microsoft comes up with sometimes. Everybody owns two licenses of Exchange for just such an occasion, right?)

If you have SA, then when you move a virtual instance of Exchange/Lync/SharePoint/SQL from one physical host to another the receiving host does not need a license to cover the virtual instance. The license does travel with virtual machine. This is one of the benefits you receive when you purchase SA for Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, or SQL.

Summary:

Exchange Server 2013 without SA:

Lync Server 2013 without SA:

SharePoint 2013 without SA:

SQL Server 2012 without SA:

License is anchored to the physical box.

A VM can only move to a box that is already covered with enough licenses.

Exchange Server 2013 with SA:

Lync Server 2013 with SA:

SharePoint 2013 with SA:

SQL Server 2012 with SA:

License moves with the VM within the server farm.

The Moral of the Story

So if you are using virtualization in a server farm, you may need to configure your management software to restrict where the VMs move so that you stay in compliance. A couple of examples …

  • You don’t want your virtual management software moving five Windows Server VMs to a single host when that host is only licensed to run 2 VMs. This would place you out of compliance with Microsoft.
  • If you don’t have SA on your Exchange Server, you will need to restrict that VM to a single physical host. (You are allowed to reassign a license once every 90 days, so if you needed to move it once then you could, but you couldn’t move it again for 3 months.)

Here is another takeaway: This is good information to keep in mind when you are trying to decide whether or not to get SA.  Repeat after me: “SA is not just version upgrades.” Most of the time, SA gives you additional use rights for that product. And if you are virtualized, the vMotion rights included with SA could help you take full advantage of your server farm and save you some headaches along the way.

This material  is based on information from Microsoft available here, and here.

But unless you need something to help you fall asleep tonight, my advice would be to take my word for it.

Microsoft licensing can be confusing, but Mirazon is here to help.  If you would like to talk to a licensing specialist about you particular situation, please give Mirazon a call at 877.552.0404 or send us an email.