Microsoft Azure VMs often include Licensing built right in, but not everything

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Woody Walton

Since Microsoft Azure was released to the Open License program on August 1, 2014, we have seen a steady increase in activity through our distribution partners and certainly an increase in call volume concerning Microsoft Azure.

One of the more common questions we have been getting has been around the licensing implications as it relates to using Microsoft Azure VMs.  Licensing is somewhat different in a cloud world but has many similarities to the traditional “on premises” software licensing as well.  …and I should also note that in the hybrid world we now live in both types of licensing will intertwine and co-mingle for some time.

That said, lets look at the basics of Microsoft Azure VM licensing, a few key resources, and common scenarios you may find useful.  The bottom line I you need to be armed with accurate information to ensure you accurately quote and resell Microsoft Azure and associated Microsoft technologies and solutions.


RESOURCE ONE: Microsoft server software support for Microsoft Azure virtual machines KB

This KB Article states the following:

All Microsoft software that is installed in the Microsoft Azure virtual machine environment must be licensed correctly. By default, Microsoft Azure virtual machines include a license for using Windows Server in the Microsoft Azure environment. Certain Microsoft Azure virtual machine offerings may also include additional Microsoft software on a per-hour or evaluation basis. Licenses for other software must be obtained separately. For information about the Microsoft License Mobility program see Volume Licensing


So if you are specking out a quote for Azure YOU DO NOT NEED TO AQUIRE SEPARATE LICENSING for the Windows Server 2013 R2 OS within the VM as it is included in the per minute charge for the  Virtual Machine already.

RESOURCE TWO:  Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine Licensing FAQ

In the Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine Licensing FAQ it further states that Windows Server CALs are not needed for VMs running in Microsoft Azure:

Does a customer need Windows Server CALs to connect to a Windows Server image that is running in Azure Virtual Machines?

No. Windows Server CALs are not required for accessing Windows Server running in the Azure environment because the access rights are included in the per-minute charge for the Virtual Machines. Use of Windows Server on-premises (whether in a VHD or otherwise) requires obtaining a separate license and is subject to the normal licensing requirements for use of software on-premises.

So based on the above the Windows Servers are covered, but lets examine a few other points in the FAQ…

One of the more common scenarios for VMs is to runs apps.   If you intend to have users connect to the VMs via RDS, then understand that the per-minute charge for the Azure VM DOES NOT INCLUDE RIGHTS TO RDS, or offer an RDS CAL equivalent. Your customer has two options.

Can service providers build a cloud-based service on Azure using session-based hosting through RDS (Remote Desktop Services, formerly known as Terminal Services)?

Yes, service providers can offer hosted solutions through RDS running on Azure as long as they obtained RDS SALs (Subscriber Access Licenses) through a Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) reseller .

Can customers use RDS CALs (Client Access License) they own as part of their VL (Volume Licensing) agreement to access Windows Server instances running on Azure or other Service Provider environments?

Effective January 1, 2014, Volume Licensing customers who have active Software Assurance on their RDS User CALs are entitled to RDS CAL Extended Rights, which allow use of their RDS User CAL with Software Assurance against a Windows Server running on Azure or other service providers’ shared server environments. This RDS User CAL Software Assurance benefit allows each User to access RDS functionality only on one shared server environment (i.e. Azure or a third party server) in addition to access the respective on premise servers. To avail this benefit, please complete and submit the License Mobility Verification form to either Azure or an Authorized Mobility Partner where the hosted graphical user interface will be running. More details are available in Appendix 2 of the Software Assurance benefit section of the PUR (Product Use Rights).

Basically you can offer RDS for them via the SPLA model  (RDS SALs) mentioned above, or they can furnish their own licenses IF THEY HAVE SOFTWARE ASSURANCE!  License mobility is key in the hybrid world and you should endeavor to sell Software Assurance if you know your customer is planning on moving to cloud soon.  It can payoff in spades for certain solutions.

If we extend the discussion to SQL Server, you will see that it too is included in the cost per minute price of the VM in Azure.

How do I license SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines?

If you are an end-customer using SQL Server, you can:

  • Obtain a SQL image from the Azure VM gallery and pay the per-minute rate of SQL Server, or
  • Install or upload your own SQL Server image using the license mobility benefits under Software Assurance

If you are a Service Provider with a signed Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) using SQL Server, you can:

  • Obtain a SQL image from the Azure VM gallery and pay the per-minute rate of SQL Server, or
  • Install or upload your SQL Server Standard image with Subscriber Access License (SAL) reported via your SPLA

The table below summarizes the licensing options:


So as you start down the road to offering Microsoft Azure solutions to customers, please make certain you use this guidance to ensure your customers are licensed properly.  No sense losing a deal due to bidding too high when the licenses were included already.





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