Active Directory® Licensing

Written by Greg Keller on January 26, 2017

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There are often a great deal of questions around Microsoft Active Directory® licensing.

Q:  Do you need to purchase a license for AD? If so, what does Active Directory cost?

Q:  What are CALs and why do I need to have them?

Q:  Do I need server and client licensing? Who needs licenses and who doesn’t?

Q:  If Active Directory can’t manage macOS and Linux devices and users, why do I need licenses for them?

Q:  What about when I need to have high-availability servers for AD and then what about my remote offices?

Yes, Microsoft Active Directory licensing is very confusing. Hopefully, we can shed some light on it for you below. Of course, you will want to contact Microsoft directly for their definitive answers as well as their latest pricing.

But first…

Do I have to get Licensing for Active Directory?

The short answer is, “No.”

The reason is that there are now great Active Directory alternatives for modern IT environments. If you are using MacOS or Linux devices, G Suite, Office 365, AWS, cloud applications, and more, there are Active Directory replacements that are better suited to heterogeneous environments and are more cost effective.

Complete Active Directory Licensing

Let’s outline what it takes to properly license Active Directory. There are two main components: Windows Server and Windows Server CALs. Each one of these has their own complications, which we’ll lay out below.

You should note that there is no line item for Active Directory. While you don’t purchase Active Directory, you do purchase Windows server which has Active Directory as a component. In fact, if you go to Microsoft’s site, you won’t find a web page that sells AD.

Windows Server

You will need to start with purchasing a Windows Server license. There are many different flavors of Windows Server licensing: Datacenter, Standard, and Essentials, among others.

These are then further delineated by whether you are on a per processor or per core pricing model.

If you are purchasing the 2016 version, you should note that it has a different pricing model than previous versions.

Windows Server CALs

You will also need something called Server CALs. These are misnamed “Client Access Licenses” on the server side. For every device and user accessing the server, you will need a license that allows you to do this.

Server CALs are priced separately from the Windows Server itself. This is where things get complicated. You can license by user or by device. You will need to determine which is advantageous to your organization.

It’s also necessary to find out if your version of Windows Server is licensed on a concurrent licensing model or by a total number of users/systems that access it.

Microsoft Enforces Active Directory Licensing Requirements

Microsoft Active Directory licensing gets complicated really fast. And they enforce their licensing rights. Many organizations that we know have been audited by Microsoft. Organizations that are not in compliance have faced consequences. Microsoft takes their licensing enforcement very seriously, so we’d encourage you to talk to Microsoft to make sure that you have everything properly licensed.

We haven’t talked about Active Directory in this licensing conversation because it is a sub-component of Windows Server. As long as you have licensed Windows Server properly, you are able to use Active Directory.

JumpCloud® Offers Simple & Cost-Effective Pricing  

After this complicated approach to licensing, now you may be wondering how an Active Directory alternative such as JumpCloud Directory Platform does their licensing. It’s actually quite simple.

Since the solution is a cloud identity management platform, it is easy to simplify the model. It is just priced on a per user, per month pricing model. If you commit to a larger number of users or an annual commitment, there are additional discounts available.

If you would like to learn more about Active Directory licensing, drop us a note. Also, give our IDaaS platform a try if you want an easier and more cost-effective pricing model. Finally, please be aware that your first 10 users and 10 devices are free.

Greg Keller

JumpCloud CTO, Greg Keller is a career product visionary and executive management leader. With over two decades of product management, product marketing, and operations experience ranging from startups to global organizations, Greg excels in successful go-to-market execution.

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