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CAL-culating Client Access Licensing


Your organization just launched a Microsoft SQL Server and now you can finally get the data you need when and where you need it. With all the excitement that mountains of data naturally brings, you rush to the nearest terminal and attempt to access the new server only to be crushed by denial due to insufficient CAL licensing. What?!? What is a CAL? Why do you need one if you have already purchased the software/operating system? This article will simplify the often unknown licensing method of Client Access Licenses.


Basically a Client Access License, or CAL, is Microsoft's way of allowing for public versions of their proprietary software/operating systems to be controlled. In our interconnected world we have grown accustom to having our technology being always available and accessible, so we created networks and online instances to increase that access. Microsoft has come up with three main types of licenses that go along with this desire to access our applications in any and every way imaginable. Basically they will allow you to authorize a person or device to access the application, or in applicable instances allow hardware to host it. Here are the three main types of licenses:

  • User CAL - Authorizes a single individual user access to the software/OS from any number of devices so long as only one device is connected at a time. This is much like a web app would have a login that is unique to an individual.
  • Device CAL - This license type gives authorization to one specific computer to be able to access the desired product regardless of the user. This could be thought of like using a public library computer with a connection to a database, it doesn't matter what library patron is using the computer they have access to that data only when on the libraries computer.
  • Processor License - A Processor License includes access for an unlimited number of users to connect from either inside the local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN) or outside the firewall. You do not need to purchase additional server licenses, CALs, or Internet Connector Licenses when you acquire Processor Licenses. If utilizing Processor licenses, one processor license must be purchased for each physical processor.

Doesn't seem overly complicated right? Microsoft has several pages answering questions and giving examples of instances when a certain type of license is needed. Microsoft has even set up a page answering these questions because they come up so often with users, it can be found here. Some of the questions include:


  • Does my Multi-function Printer need a CAL? Do my servers need a CAL?
  • Do my external users need a CAL?
  • Do I need a CAL when my Windows Server is used to run a web server?
  • Can I use my CALs to access someone else’s server?

Understanding the types of licenses is only part of the struggle, another part is knowing the volume of licenses that you need to operate. Being under licensed can lead to costly SAM audits. This is where Microsoft audits users operating on their software and attempts to verify that the correct number of licenses have been purchased. If someone is found out of compliance Microsoft will require them to purchase the additional license and they may be subject to other penalties. My Choice Software has created a tool to help customers calculate how many CALs they need in order to stay compliant with their CAL-culator.

It is also important to note that CALs are version and functionally specific, meaning that you need to match a SQL 2014 CAL to a SQL 2014 server. Later versions may also work but not earlier ones, and Open License CALs can be purchased with downgrade rights. Downgrade rights means that the purchase of a recent version also includes the download and use of previous versions of the product. Read more about Open License Products here.

Exchnage CAL Sharepoint CAL Windows Server CAL SQL User CAL 2012 SQL Device CAL 2016 Understanding how Client Access Licensing works is important both functionally and financially. Being under or over licensed can have unforeseen immediate and future costs associated with them so it is important to understand what products fulfill your organization's needs. Using tools like CAL-culators or even making a call to authorized sellers of CALs and software is well worth the time and effort when navigating licensing.

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