Blog Archive

Visual Studio 2013 Licensing

Visual Studio 2013 was released in October 2013 and remains Microsoft’s flagship application development suite. As there is so much more to VS 2013 than just a set of development tools, the licensing can be a little daunting. A good guide can be downloaded here and I’ll try to summarise the main points and products in this post.

What’s the Difference between Visual Studio and MSDN?

Visual Studio (VS) came into play in the mid-nineties when it brought together development tools such as Visual Basic, Visual C++ and Visual FoxPro (whom I had the pleasure of working for many years ago). Visual Studio has since grown in capability much like the Office suite but it remains at its core a development application. The Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) is a subscription programme that builds on VS and extends it to include access to Microsoft products (current and previous), technical support, training, forums, developer access to Azure and Office 365 and much more.

How do you buy Visual Studio?

There are free offerings of Visual Studio components (Express Editions) which generally offer a subset of the higher editions. There are also two MSDN subscriptions that don’t include Visual Studio but are a good fit for individuals involved in the development and test process without needing the VS Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

The recommended way for organisations to licence Visual Studio is through an MSDN subscription. The options range from Professional to Premium to Ultimate, each increasing in capability. The Test Professional edition is a specialist IDE designed for software testers and it will not support development. A comparison chart can be found here.

MSDN Options


Each of the four MSDN Subscriptions above are available through all the VL programmes (Open, EES, EA, etc.) as well as full packaged product (FPP) and online through Microsoft. Buying Visual Studio Professional as a standalone is available through Select Plus, Open, FPP or online and is an option if the user doesn’t need access to development platforms (Windows, SQL Server, etc.) or the other benefits of MSDN.

We covered Server and Cloud Enrolment (SCE) in a previous blog but it’s worth having a re-read because it offers discounted licences of Visual Studio for organisations that can commit to a minimum 20 Licences of any combination of VS Ultimate with MSDN and VS Premium with MSDN.

Renewing MSDN subscriptions is far cheaper than the initial purchase because you are only paying for the software assurance (SA) component and it is possible to step-up or step-down between MSDN subscription levels. Typically, MSDN subscriptions through volume licensing will be coterminous with the existing VL agreement.


What do I need to licence?

Both Visual Studio and MSDN are licenced per user. The user can then install, run, design, develop and test their programs on any number of devices. These can be at work, home, clients’ sites or dedicated hosted hardware. The big restriction with the software obtained through MSDN is that it cannot be used for production use. In other words you can’t get Windows Server 2012 through MSDN and use it for the company infrastructure server; only for developing and testing. There are always exceptions and one is that users licenced for MSDN with Visual Studio Premium or Ultimate get a licence of Office Professional Plus 2013 for production use on one device (see below from the PUR).

MSDN Office Rights


There are a couple of gotchas: even if you have a technician who simply installs the MSDN software for the development team, they will require an appropriate MSDN subscription. Despite the fact they’re not doing any development or testing, they are installing the MSDN software (this is counted as using it) and must be licensed. If they are installing production licences as opposed to the MSDN licences, they wouldn’t need a subscription.

And the second gotcha, just to reinforce the non-production use limitation: with the MSDN subscription you can download the Windows client OS. But if you use it on a machine for anything other than development and testing (e.g. playing games or using Office) then you’re breaking the licence and you should be using a production licence of Windows client instead.

There are circumstances including demonstration and user-acceptance testing, where the software can be used by non-MSDN subscribers.

Other components that require licensing are the Team Foundation Server if you have a team of developers collaborating; the CALs for Team Collaboration Server; and Visual Studio 2013 has a new release management tool which can automate deployments to other servers – these servers need to be licenced with a Visual Studio Deployment licence (either standard or datacentre) and are licenced in the same way as System Center server management licences.


Visual Studio Team Foundation Server

Team Foundation Server supports the whole lifecycle of the software development process including version control, reporting and project management and is licenced in a server + CAL model. The good news is one server licence and one user CAL are included with Ultimate, Premium, Test Professional and Professional level MSDN subscriptions. Team Foundation Server and CALs can also be purchased standalone through volume licencing or retail channels.
VS Team Foundation Studio

Visual Studio Online

The cloud version of Team Foundation Server was named Team Foundation Services and that has now become Visual Studio Online; a complete application lifecycle management tool integrated with Windows Azure and available from any web browser. Sounds good but how is it licenced?

The clue was ‘integrated with Windows Azure’ because Azure is the billing platform for VS Online. There is a limited amount of free VS Online use with the basic plan (5 users and up to 60 build minutes per month which is actual computing time required to run your build) but after that an Azure subscription is required. You can think of VS Online more akin to Office 365 however because it’s software as a service (SaaS); you don’t need to be concerned with Azure storage, databases, VMs, etc. since VS Online is a finished service.

The plan options are shown below. For the MSDN subscribers we’ve been talking about, there’s no charge; they get free access to Visual Studio Online.

Visual Studio Online


As you can imagine, there’s a lot more detail to licensing Visual Studio 2013 and there are likely to be changes early in 2014 so please listen into our monthly licensing spotlight calls where we cover this and other topics (you can view archived calls here).


SQL Server 2012 Licensing

Just when you think Microsoft licensing is straightforward and you’ve got a pretty good grasp on it, along comes SQL Server which has historically been the exception to the licensing rules.  However with SQL Server 2012 Microsoft has done a great deal of simplification so it’s easy to understand the basics.  You’re going to approach licensing differently depending on whether you’re deploying SQL Server in a physical or virtual environment.

SQL Server Licensing in a physical environment.

SQL Server is available is three main editions; Standard, Business intelligence and Enterprise.  The Enterprise edition is licensed per core (no CALs required), Business Intelligence is licensed per server and client access licence (CALs) and the Standard edition can be licensed using either method.  This is summarised below.



Before I present a little flowchart which might make you decision easier, let me clarify a few things about per-core licensing.  We are talking per-core here and not per-physical processor, unlike Windows Server 2012.  Currently SQL Server 2012 and BizTalk Server 2013 are the only Microsoft products licensed per-core.

To find out the appropriate number of cores you need to licence, simply count the number of cores in each physical processor in the physical server.  Software partitioning doesn’t reduce the number of cores you need to licence. Once you have that you need to remember three things:

1. You need a minimum of four core licences per processor.  So if you have a dual-core, dual-processor machine you would need to count that server as a dual, four-core processor and purchase licences for eight cores, despite only having four cores in total.

2. SQL Server 2012 core licences are sold in packs of two: each SKU covers two processors.  So in our example above we would purchase four SQL Core licence SKUs to cover eight cores.

3. Certain AMD processors need to have a multiplication factor of 0.75 applied to the core count.  See this link for the processors in question and what to do.

For server and CAL, SQL Server works in the same way as any other Microsoft server + CAL product.  Licence the server(s), determine the number of unique users and/or devices accessing the SQL Server and purchase the appropriate number and type of CALs.  SQL 2012 CALs will allow access to all previous versions of SQL Server.  Also you don’t require a separate CAL for every SQL Server; a SQL Server 2012 CAL allows access to all the SQL Servers within the organisation.

A simple way of determining the edition and licensing of SQL Server 2012 is below.



SQL Server Licensing in a virtual environment.

Regular readers of the licensing blog will be saying “I bet this has something to do with Software Assurance (SA)”.  Well, you’re partly correct.  I’m going to assume you’re running Windows Server 2012 Datacenter edition on these boxes just for simplicity and I haven’t included details of the VOSE OS.

For SQL Server Standard and Business Intelligence editions you can licence individual virtual machines (VMs) using the server + CAL model.  Simply purchase one server license for each VM running SQL Server software, regardless of the number of virtual processors allocated to the VM. Then purchase the appropriate number of CALs.

For example, a customer who wants to deploy the Business Intelligence edition running in six VOSEs, each allocated with four virtual cores, would need to assign six SQL Server 2012 Business Intelligence server licences to that server, plus the CALs to allow access.

For SQL Server Standard and Enterprise editions you can licence individual VMs using the per-core model.  Similar to physical OSEs, all virtual cores supporting virtual OSEs that are running instances of SQL Server 2012 must be licensed.  Customers must purchase a core license for each virtual core (aka virtual processor, virtual CPU, virtual thread) allocated to the VOSE.  Again, you are subject to the four core minimum, this time per VOSE. For licencing purposes, a virtual core maps to a hardware thread.  When licensing individual VMs, core factors (i.e. the AMD processor 0.75 factor) do not apply.

Two examples are shown below for clarification: SQL Server core licences required for a single VOSE on a dual, four-core processor server and for two VOSEs.





With the SQL Server 2012 Enterprise edition (note: not Standard edition), if you licence all the physical cores on the server, you can run an unlimited number of instances of SQL Server, physically or virtually as long as the number of OSEs with SQL doesn’t exceed the number of licensed cores.  For example, a four processor server with four cores per processor provides sixteen physical cores.  If you licence all sixteen cores, you can run SQL Server in up to sixteen VOSEs (or the physical OS and 15 VOSEs), regardless of the number of virtual cores allocated to each VM.  What if you want to run more than 16 VOSEs in this case?  Well, you are permitted to assign additional core licenses to the server; this is known as licence stacking.

Here’s where Software Assurance comes into play.  Licence all the physical cores with SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition and software assurance and your licence rights are expanded to allow any number of instances of the software to run in any number of OSEs (physical or virtual).  This SA benefit enables customers to deploy an unlimited number of VMs to handle dynamic workloads and fully utilize hardware computing capacity.  As with most SA benefits, this licence right ends if SA coverage on the SQL core licences expires.

Licensing for maximum virtualization can be an ideal solution if you’re looking to deploy SQL Server private-cloud scenarios with high VM density, Hyper-threading is being used so you’re looking at a lot of virtual cores to licence, or you’re using dynamic provisioning and de-provisioning of VM resources and you don’t want the headache of worrying about adjusting the licence count.  As you can see in the diagram below this can be very cost-effective.



We run a regular licensing spotlight call on behalf of Microsoft where we cover this and other topics in more detail.  Please join us for the next call and you can view archived calls here.

What am I getting with Office 365?

Office 365 is a brand.  But Microsoft has a challenge to overcome by using that name.  Their challenge is that the Office name is so synonymous with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and so on that customers and resellers can get confused with what Office 365 actually is.

In a nutshell Office 365 is either the Office suite of client applications (Word, etc.) or online cloud services such as Exchange, SharePoint and Lync or both of those.

Below is a table containing most of the commercial Office 365 options (aka plans) you can buy along with a summary of whether that plan includes cloud services and the Office client.  A high-level list of what’s included can be found on



The best place to determine the detailed feature demarcation between those plans is via the Office 365 Service Descriptions on TechNet.



Licensing is straightforward with Office 365. Whatever Office 365 plan you have, the licence is per-user. This is a big difference from on premise Office which remains per-device. If you have Exchange, Lync or SharePoint on premise you can choose to licence access to these on a per-device or per-user basis or even to mix and match but the Office 365 cloud services are only per-user.

Why is this? One of the principles of cloud computing is anywhere access and typically the user will travel more than the device. I want to access my services at home, at work, at the airport, around my mum’s house. One in five men have participated in a conference call whilst on the toilet (according to research on It makes sense to licence the user because they can access from any device. I can email from any device, IM and join a video-conference from any device (that supports Lync), get to my files and sites and business intelligence in SharePoint from any device. And if the Office 365 plan includes the Office client, then that can be locally installed on up to 5 devices concurrently and these can be a mix of Windows, Mac, corporate machine or personally-owned PCs.

One other important aspect to Office 365 licensing is the concept of a USL or User Subscription licence. Most Microsoft server software requires a Client Access Licence (CAL) to enable access to the software’s features. Windows Server, Exchange Server, Lync Server and SharePoint Server all require CALs. Office 365 is no exception but we call a CAL a USL because you only subscribe to online services, they’re not perpetual unlike CALs which you don’t need to buy again every year. The monthly, per-user cost of Office 365 includes all the USLs you need however the Enterprise Office 365 plans also include an implicit CAL whereas Midsize Business and Small Business plans do not.

Why is this important? If you have a hybrid infrastructure with some on premise Exchange, Lync or SharePoint servers then your users will need CALs to access those as well as USLs to access their Office 365 services. Having implicit access rights granted within the USL means you do not need to maintain CALS for those users who are covered by an Office 365 plan (one which includes cloud services). This is detailed in the Product Use Rights document for each of the on-premises servers, an example of which is the Exchange Server 2013 Standard requirements below showing that an Office 365 E1, E3 or E4 USL is fine for access but doesn’t list Midsize or Small Business USLs.



In summary, Office 365 is a big beast which can encompass the Office client suite, cloud services or both depending on which Office 365 plan you have. Each plan differs in individual features but is broadly licensed the same way; per-user. A bonus of subscribing to the Enterprise plans that include cloud services is they allow the licenced user access to on premise Exchange, Lync and SharePoint servers without needing a separate CAL.