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What's the difference between Open License, CALs, and Cores?

Open License


Open License products are all fulfilled through Microsoft's Volume Licensing Center (VLC). The Microsoft Open License program is typically used for businesses containing hundreds of machines. However, due to the extensive benefits offered through Open Licensing, even home users are starting to join the Open License platform. Open License is always fulfilled as the newest version released and will provide downgrade rights to the two prior versions. Along with the downgrade rights, Open License will also allow you to move the license from one machine to another and provide re-installation rights. This is the only licensing type that will pass a Microsoft SAM Audit.

  • Perpetual license
  • Requires a minimum purchase of five (5) licenses OR a one-time $30 activation fee
  • Manage your keys via the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC)
  • Downgrade rights up to two (2) previous versions
  • Optional Software Assurance

OEM/OEI Licensing


This licensing type is beneficial when wanting to keep the cost down. As the OEM/OEI license is intended to live and die on the initial computer on which it is installed, any attempts to reinstall on the same computer or transfer the product will be left to Microsoft's discretion. This licensing type is not fulfilled through Microsoft's Volume Licensing Center. This is important to note as only products fulfilled through Microsoft's VLC will pass a Microsoft SAM Audit.

  • Perpetual license
  • Lives and dies on the computer on which it is installed
  • No minumum purchase amount
  • No downgrade rights
  • Will not pass a Microsoft SAM audit

How to license Microsoft Server Products


Depending on the product you are purchasing, you have the option to license based on either CALs or the number of cores in your server's processor. If you choose to license by CALs, Microsoft offers a device-based CAL (Device CAL) or a user-based CAL (User CAL) for purchase.

Note: Windows Server 2016 & newer requires ALL cores to be licensed with the minimum being 16. The Server will then also require the necessary amount of User or Device CALs.

1. CALs

User CALs: When licensing with a User CAL, you will need to purchase a User CAL for every user accessing the Server either directly or indirectly. When the user is licensed with a User CAL, they are then covered to access the Server through any device they choose. To be in full compliance with Microsoft, either a User CAL or Device CAL is required for every User or Device to be licensed that accesses the Server either directly or indirectly. If you are wanting to license Users accessing the Server with RDP Services, you will need (1) User CAL and (1) RDP User CAL. A User CAL will make more sense in an environment where there are more devices than users.

Device CALs: When licensing with a Device CAL, you will need to purchase a Device CAL for every Device accessing the Server either directly or indirectly. When the Device is licensed with a Device CAL, that Device is then covered to access the Server with any user. To be in full compliance with Microsoft, either a User CAL or Device CAL is required for every User or Device to be licensed that accesses the Server either directly or in directly. If you are wanting to license a Device accessing the Server with RDP Services, you will need (1) Device CAL and (1) RDP Device CAL. A Device CAL will make more sense in an environment where there are more users than devices.

2. Cores

When Licensing the newer models of Windows Server, Microsoft requires all physical cores to be licensed with the minimum being 16 cores. This means that if your physical server contains more than 16 cores, you would need to license the total number. If the physical server contains less than 16 cores, you would need to license the 16. In addition to licensing your Windows Server, each User would need a User CAL OR each Device would need a Device CAL.

  CAL Model

When licensing the SQL Server with the CAL model, you will need the SQL License and a User OR Device CAL per User or Device accessing the Server. This option makes more sense if you have no web facing application on the Server and the Users or Devices accessing the Server contain less than around 30 Users.

SQL User CAL: When licensing with a User CAL, you will need to purchase a User CAL for every user accessing the SQL Database either directly or indirectly. When the user is licensed with a User CAL, they are then covered to access the Server through any device they choose. To be in full compliance with Microsoft, either a User CAL or Device CAL is required for every User or Device to be licensed that accesses the Server either directly or indirectly.

SQL Device CAL: When licensing with a Device CAL, you will need to purchase a Device CAL for every Device accessing the SQL Database either directly or indirectly. When the Device is licensed with a Device CAL, that Device is then covered to access the Server with any user. To be in full compliance with Microsoft, either a User CAL or Device CAL is required for every User or Device to be licensed that accesses the Server either directly or indirectly.

  Core Model

When licensing your Server with SQL Cores, all cores in the Server must be licensed with the minimum being (4) Cores. For Example, if you have 8 Cores in your Server, all (8) Cores must be licensed. If you have (2) cores in your Server, you have to license (4) Cores due to Microsoft's minimum requirement. If you have a web facing application or are unable to count the number of users in your machine, you have to license with the Core model. If the Server is licensed with Cores, you do not need a User or Device CAL. This means, once the Server is fully licensed with the Core model, unlimited users may access the Server.

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