Can Windows Server Standard Really Only Run 2 Hyper-V VMs?

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Can Windows Server Standard Really Only Run 2 Hyper-V VMs?

Q. Can Windows Server Standard Edition really only run 2 Hyper-V virtual machines?

A. No. Standard Edition can run just as many virtual machines as Datacenter Edition.

I see and field this particular question quite frequently. A misunderstanding of licensing terminology and a lot of tribal knowledge has created an image of an artificial limitation with standard edition. The two editions have licensing differences. Their Hyper-V related functional differences:

Otherwise, the two editions share functionality.

The True Limitation

The correct statement behind the misconception: a physical host with the minimum Windows Standard Edition license can operate two virtualized instances of Windows Server Standard Edition, as long as the physically-installed instance only operates the virtual machines. That’s a lot to say. But, anything less does not tell the complete story. Despite that, people try anyway. Unfortunately, they shorten it all the way down to, “you can only run two virtual machines,” which is not true.

Virtual Machines Versus Instances

First part: a “virtual machine” and an “operating system instance” are not the same thing. When you use Hyper-V Manager or Failover Cluster Manager or PowerShell to create a new virtual machine, that’s a VM. That empty, non-functional thing that you just built. Hyper-V has a hard limit of 1,024 running virtual machines. I have no idea how many total VMs it will allow. Realistically, you will run out of hardware resources long before you hit any of the stated limits. Up to this point, everything applies equally to Windows Server Standard Edition and Windows Server Datacenter Edition (and Hyper-V Server, as well).

The previous paragraph refers to functional limits. The misstatement that got us here sources from licensing limits. Licenses are legal things. You give money to Microsoft, they allow you to run their product. For this discussion, their operating system products concern us. The licenses in question allow us to run instances of Windows Server. Each distinct, active Windows kernel requires sufficient licensing.

Explaining the “Two”

The “two” is the most truthful part of the misconception. One Windows Server Standard Edition license pack allows for two virtualized instances of Windows Server. You need a certain number of license packs to reach a minimum level (see our eBook on the subject for more information). As a quick synopsis, the minimum license purchase applies to a single host and grants:

  • One physically-installed instance of Windows Server Standard Edition
  • Two virtualized instances of Windows Server Standard Edition

This does not explain everything — only enough to get through this article. Read the linked eBook for more details. Consult your license reseller. Insufficient licensing can cost you a great deal in fines. Take this seriously and talk to trained counsel.

What if I Need More Than Two Virtual Machines on Windows Server Standard Edition?

If you need to run three or more virtual instances of Windows Server, then you buy more licenses for the host. Each time you satisfy the licensing requirements, you have the legal right to run another two Windows Server Standard instances. Due to the per-core licensing model introduced with Windows Server 2016, the minimums vary based on the total number of cores in a system. See the previously-linked eBook for more information.

What About Other Operating Systems?

If you need to run Linux or BSD instances, then you run them (some distributions do have paid licensing requirements; the distribution manufacturer makes the rules). Linux and BSD instances do not count against the Windows Server instances in any way. If you need to run instances of desktop Windows, then you need one Windows license per instance at the very leastI do not like to discuss licensing desktop Windows as it has complications and nuances. Definitely consult a licensing expert about those situations. In any case, the two virtualized instances granted by a Windows Server Standard license can only apply to Windows Server Standard.

What About Datacenter Edition?

Mostly, people choose Datacenter Edition for the features. If you need Storage Spaces Direct, then only Datacenter Edition can help you. However, Datacenter Edition allows for an unlimited number of running Windows Server instances. If you run enough on a single host, then the cost for Windows Server Standard eventually meets or exceeds the cost of Datacenter Edition. The exact point depends on the discounts you qualify for. You can expect to break even somewhere around ten to twelve virtual instances.

What About Failover Clustering?

Both Standard and Datacenter Edition can participate as full members in a failover cluster. Each physical host must have sufficient licenses to operate the maximum number of virtual machines it might ever run simultaneously. Consult with your license reseller for more information.

Windows Server Backup

If you run or manage virtual environments that have one or more physical machines or legacy servers that have not been virtualised you can now use Altaro Physical Server Backup to protect these physical machines and keep them safe. Altaro Physical Server Backup is a windows server backup freeware solution created to satisfy this need, with the added bonus that it’s free. Back up the physical servers on your network through this P2V solution and benefit from a fast and easy recovery should they be impacted by a disaster.

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13 thoughts on "Can Windows Server Standard Really Only Run 2 Hyper-V VMs?"

  • Craig says:

    Excellent answer to the question. I may have missed this in your answer but here goes. I want to move 5 VM’s from Server 2012r2 to Server 2019. If I license all the server cores on the server 2019 can I move the 5 VM’s without needing to pay for the VM’s again.

    Thank you,

    • Eric Siron says:

      Don’t think of it as a move, and that should help.
      If you want to run 5 Windows Server Standard VMs on a physical system, then it needs to have the appropriate core licensing. That’s the only thing that you need to prepare for.

  • Luciano says:

    Hi. About your comment “Two virtualized instances of Windows Server Standard Edition” do you know if apply only if your Hypervisor are Hyper-V? I spoke with Microsoft last year about one licensing problem. They told me that. If your Hypervisor are Vmware, the 2×1 don’t apply. Are this correct in your knowledge?

    • Eric Siron says:

      The hypervisor is irrelevant. Your Windows Server Standard license allows you to run 2x virtualized instances on licensed processors and 1x physical instance on the machine, but you are not required to use the physical instance or both of the virtual instances. You just can’t have more without buying additional licenses. So, if you have VMware, the 1x physical instance goes unused. You still have both of the virtual instances available, though.

  • Elias says:

    Hi. I have a host with VMWare and I want to virtualize 2 VMs. Consult, with 1 Windows Server 2019 standard license I can license the 2 VMs.
    Thanks in advance.

  • Frank E says:

    Do I have to license all cores if I don’t intend to use them? Like, lets say I have a server with one CPU and 16 cores. I only have enough need to use 8 core. Do I still have to license the other 8?

  • Mark Allen says:

    I have two physical servers. One is going to run Windows 2019 Standard. The second is going to run Hyper-V studio. As I understand it, the 2 virtual instances have to run on the same physical machine that is licensed. Therefore I cannot run the two virtual instances on the Hyper-V studio machine – is that correct? I will have to buy another license of Windows 2019 Standard?

  • Ochana Safar says:

    Hi,
    If i have a physical Hyper V server with 2012 R2 Standard Edition as operating system, Can i have different Server Edition as Guest VM, like Datacenter edition? Or can i only use standard edition as server guest VM?

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