Although Windows Server 2016 is only expected to be released in the second half of 2016, Microsoft executives have already announced some of the licensing and pricing changes for the next server OS release.
Licensing for Datacenter and Standard Edition moves from a Processor based license metric to a Core based license metric which aligns licensing for both private and public clouds to a more consistent metric of cores. This simplifies licensing across multi-cloud environments.
Licenses for servers with 8 cores or less per processor, will be priced the same as a Windows Server 2012 R2 two-processor license. Core licenses will sell in packs of 2. Each processor will need to be licensed with a minimum of 8 cores, which equals 4 two-core packs.
Each physical server, including servers with only 1 processor, will need to be licensed with a minimum of 16 cores, equal to 8 two-core packs. The 2-pack license model allows end users to gradually increase their licensing needs when additional processing power is required.
For servers with hyper-threading technology processors, licensing will remain as in previous versions. Only the physical core needs to be taken into account, as both Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 are licensed on physical cores, not virtual ones.
Windows Server Standard and Datacenter editions will continue to require Windows Server CALs (Client Access Licenses) for every user or device accessing a server. Exceptions are listed in PUR, the Products Use Rights document.
Some additional or advanced functionality will continue to require the purchase of a CAL license in addition to the Windows Server CAL, to access functionality such as Remote Desktop Services or Active Directory Rights Management Services.
For Windows Server editions that were not mentioned above (for example Windows Server Essentials), Microsoft is going to provide more information in Q1 of 2016.
At first glance, this simplification of the licensing model to a core based metric seems to be beneficial for both parties. The end user can easier understand their licensing requirements, and the vendor can easier determine usage in case of audits.
There is however an associated cost, at least in the case of more powerful machines that have 16 or more cores. Organizations with more powerful machines will see their price increasing in the range of 20% to 60% as the total processor-to-core ratio increases beyond 2 processors to 16 cores. The graph below puts this into perspective: