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How do we license Windows Server on AWS?

Our enterprise has been wary of licensing issues, but we'd like to move Microsoft-based workloads to AWS. How can we migrate those workloads without violating licenses?

When it comes to running Microsoft workloads in the cloud, you may be surprised to learn that AWS includes support...

for Windows Server-based instances. In fact, there are a large number of instances running Windows Server on AWS; and it's not uncommon to see enterprise workloads like SharePoint, SQL Server, Exchange or Lync running on Amazon EC2. In some cases, developers can use existing Microsoft licenses on AWS.

Let's take a look at the current supported options for bringing your own Microsoft licenses into the AWS cloud.

Windows Server: When a developer spins up a Windows Server on AWS -- in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) -- he pays for the Windows Server license as part of the hourly rate for running the instance. The license is essentially bundled into the cost of the instance.

But there is a process for using an existing license for Windows Server on AWS. First, the developer needs to import his own Windows Server-based image into AWS. From there, the developer launches the Windows Servers, using his image, on EC2 Dedicated Hosts.

Running Windows Server on AWS via EC2 Dedicated Hosts allows IT teams to accurately track and report on instance and license usage. This is a standard practice, as Microsoft typically requires customers to track Windows Server license use against sockets and CPU cores on physical hardware. This configuration enables visibility into the underlying host hardware configuration to accurately track use.

Running Windows Server on AWS via EC2 Dedicated Hosts allows IT teams to accurately track and report on instance and license usage.

License Mobility: Microsoft offers a service benefit to Volume Licensing customers called License Mobility. This service allows a customer to run certain products covered by an active Software Assurance agreement on other certified hosting platforms. AWS is one of those authorized and certified platforms.

Most of Microsoft's enterprise products are on the License Mobility list, and products like SQL Server, Exchange, Lync and System Center can also run on AWS. You can view a complete list of eligible products in the AWS License Mobility documentation.

Microsoft Developer Network Licenses: Many Microsoft customers get licensing benefits from their Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscriptions. However, Microsoft does not allow the use of MSDN licenses on multi-tenant hosting platforms. By default, Amazon EC2 instances run in a multi-tenant fashion, so it's likely that VMs will be colocated on the same hardware with instances launched by another customer.

However, you can use existing MSDN licenses on AWS through EC2 Dedicated Hosts or EC2 Dedicated Instances. Both of these options allow developers to run instances on dedicated hardware, which gets them past the Microsoft's multi-tenant licensing limitation. The main difference between these options is that EC2 Dedicated Hosts gives the user more administrative control, along with visibility into the host resources, such as the number of sockets and CPU cores that are available.

If you don't have existing Microsoft licenses, there are still options. Like Windows Server, AWS has Amazon Machine Images that include various versions of SQL Server, including SQL Server Standard, Web and Express editions. Developers can even launch the enterprise editions of SQL Server and SharePoint Server from the AWS Marketplace.

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This was last published in May 2016

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