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Windows Server Editions Comparison

Windows Server Editions Comparison

How to decide between the Essentials, Standard and Datacenter Editions of Windows Server

Microsoft Windows Server is a well-known enterprise-class server operating system designed to suit businesses of all sizes. It is available in several editions, but the technicalities in the product descriptions may sound frustrating for non-professionals. If you are not tech-savvy or don’t have a trusted IT expert in your company, selecting and buying the right Windows Server edition can be a daunting task.

Don’t worry! This blog post has you covered. Here, we will overview the Windows Server editions and summarise the differences between Windows Server Essentials, Windows Server Standard and Windows Server Datacenter in simple terms. After reading this piece, you will be more confident in making an informed (and savvy) decision.

What is the difference between Windows Server editions?

The main editions of Windows Server are called Essentials, Standard and Datacenter. Their names hint about their user intent and primary customer group. Let's compare the features of these editions more closely now.

If you want to learn more about volume licensing options for businesses, read LicenceDeals Info Corner articles "Volume Licensing: Your Key To Business Optimisation" and "How Can Microsoft Open Licence Program Help Your Business?".

Windows Server Essentials

Microsoft’s Essentials edition is developed with small businesses in mind offering flexibility at a lower price. It is to be used by up to 25 users or 50 devices. Windows Server Essentials is a straightforward, user-friendly edition that includes all the essential features to run a small business network. It does not require buying CALs (Client Access Licenses), making it an affordable option for small companies.

“Essentials” key points:

  1. Tailored to meet the needs of micro-organisations. Supports only up to 25 users or 50 devices
  2. The licensing is per server, meaning you should purchase a licence for each physical or virtual server running the software.
  3. It does not require purchasing CALs separately, as the package already includes a set amount.
  4. Includes the most basic features such as server backup, remote access, and file and print sharing; also supports integration with Microsoft 365 for some cloud-based services.
  5. Limited to running only one server. It does not support virtualisation

Windows Server Standard

That is the most popular edition of Windows Server. Although suitable for businesses of all sizes, it is mainly for small to medium-sized companies that require minimal virtualisation. The Standard edition includes all the Essentials functionalities and some extra features. It allows you to run two virtual machines, making it a cost-effective option for businesses requiring some virtualisation level.

“Standard” overview:

  1. Best for small-to-medium-sized companies that operate in physical or minimally virtualised environments
  2. From the 2016 version onwards, the licence is core-based, meaning you must cover each physical core on the CPUs of the server. The licensing of the 2012 R2 version is CPU-based and must cover all physical processors on the server.
  3. You need CALs for the users or/and devices to access the operating system
  4. Includes all the features of Essentials edition plus additional features such as Active Directory, Group Policy, Failover Clustering, Network Load Balancing (NLB) and Remote Desktop Services
  5. Allows you to run two virtual machines or operating server environments (OSE) as well as one Hyper-V host with the same license
  6. In the 2022 and 2019 versions, the Standard edition supports a limited Storage Replica feature (one partnership and one resource group with a single volume of 2TB)

Windows Server Datacenter

Microsoft’s Datacenter is the most powerful edition of Windows Server and is appropriate for businesses that require high levels of virtualisation and scalability. It includes all the features of the Essentials and Standard editions plus additional features such as Storage Spaces Direct and Software-defined Networking. With Datacenter, you can run an infinite number of virtual machines, which is ideal for businesses that require highly virtualised environments.

“Datacenter” outline:

  1. Perfect for large enterprises with extensive IT infrastructure running large-scale virtualised environments
  2. Like the Standard edition, the licence is core-based from the 2016 version onwards and CPU-based for earlier versions.
  3. You also need CALs for access.
  4. Contains the most extensive set of features among all editions, including exclusive Datacenter features like Storage Spaces Direct, Software-defined Networking, Network Controller, Host Guardian Hyper-V Support and Shielded Virtual Machines (some of these available only in the latest Datacenter versions)
  5. Allows you to run an unlimited number of virtual machines or OSEs as well as one Hyper-V host per licence
  6. Supports full Storage Replica feature for complete disaster recovery and Storage Quality of Service (QoS) for better storage management

Which Windows Server edition should I use?

This operating system by Microsoft provides extensive administrative control over company networks, data storage and applications, and shared services for many users. Editions of Windows Server offer a diverse feature set designed to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes.

What is our recommendation? Evaluate your business needs carefully to get the edition that best suits your requirements. Consider the company size, the virtualisation level of your IT environment, your budget and if you have other technical requirements.

If you are in a micro organisation with a tight budget needing basic server features, go for Essentials. Choose Standard if your company is small to medium-sized and requires additional functionality and some virtualisation. If you work for a large enterprise with extensive virtualised IT infrastructure, the Datacenter edition is the right for you.

If you are looking for the most cost-effective, customisable and scalable software licensing solution, you can check the advantages of Certified Pre-Owned Software at our CPO website section.

Still have questions? Contact us for more expert advice!

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