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What to expect with SharePoint licensing for SharePoint 2016

Microsoft hasn't released the licensing details for SharePoint 2016, but there are a couple of areas where enterprises can expect additional expenses.

In recent years, the cloud has come to dominate the design of various business applications -- including enterprise...

content management systems, such as SharePoint -- but the reality is that many companies are still working on premises. They may have sensitive data or be subject to regulatory requirements. Others may not be ready to move all their data to the cloud because of SharePoint sprawl or customizations of their SharePoint architecture.

Many companies have undisciplined SharePoint estates -- often referred to as SharePoint sprawl -- and they lack understanding of the data that resides there or who owns it; this lethal combination makes content sprawl extremely difficult to migrate as is. Some companies may be unable to move to the cloud, because they have customized their SharePoint systems to such an extent that simple migration isn't possible. Still, others may be subject to requirements that prevent porting data to the cloud.

With SharePoint 2016 slated to hit general availability soon, some enterprises may be ready to move to the cloud, but others will likely migrate to SharePoint on premises in light of these kinds of constraints. Those planning a migration should note that potential hidden costs in SharePoint licensing may also be a reason to consider on-premises SharePoint.

As of the time of this writing, Microsoft has not yet released the official licensing requirements for SharePoint 2016. Even so, there are plenty of hints available online as to how SharePoint 2016 licensing may work.

Still, a good place to start is a review of the SharePoint 2013 licensing requirements. The exact licenses required for SharePoint 2013 vary, depending on the features you use, how you deploy SharePoint and where you run SharePoint.

For local SharePoint 2013 deployments, Microsoft uses a server or Client Access License (CAL) licensing model that is similar to that of Windows Server. This model requires that you have a SharePoint 2013 server license for each server on which SharePoint 2013 is running -- or, to be more technically precise, each running instance of SharePoint 2013. Additionally, a CAL is required for each user or device that accesses your SharePoint deployment.

In SharePoint 2013, CALs are classified as standard and enterprise. A standard CAL allows users to access core SharePoint capabilities, such as sites, communities, content and search. An enterprise CAL provides access to SharePoint's more advanced features, such as Access Services, InfoPath Services, Power View, PerformancePoint Services, Excel Services and Visio Services.

For those who prefer to use SharePoint online, the licensing model is much simpler and is subscription-based. SharePoint can be licensed individually or as a part of an Office 365 subscription.

So, what can we expect from SharePoint 2016 licensing? It seems unlikely that Microsoft will abandon the server or CAL licensing model. Microsoft has used this licensing model for decades across a wide variety of products, and there are no signs that the model is being phased out. Similarly, it is doubtful that Microsoft will be making any changes to the way that its cloud based subscriptions work, although it is possible that the subscription rate may change.

Hidden costs of SharePoint licensing

Even if these predictions bear out, licensing costs could change nonetheless because of the architectural differences between SharePoint 2016 and SharePoint 2013.

One such change involves the introduction of MinRoles, which enables administrators to limit a SharePoint server to a specific role -- front end, application, distributed cache, search and custom -- during the setup process for multiserver farm deployments. This is significant, because MinRoles installs exactly the components required to service the chosen role, nothing more.

Under Microsoft's current structure, one SharePoint Server and Windows Server license is required per deployment.

So, MinRoles can create a downside in terms of licensing. Since each MinRole is designed to perform a specific task, the limitation could require organizations to deploy additional SharePoint servers, thus increasing licensing costs. Other SharePoint features that can be broken out into individual servers could also expand licensing needs, but MinRoles appears to have the largest potential impact, so that's something to remember when crafting an architecture for a SharePoint 2016 deployment.   

Organizations may also incur some additional licensing costs related to changing operating system and database server requirements. SharePoint 2013 farms required either Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, or Windows Server 2012 and either SQL Server 2012 or SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1. Those who wished to perform a single server installation were able to use SQL Server Express.

SharePoint 2016 requires either Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Server 2016. Furthermore, you will need a 64-bit edition of either SQL Server 2014 -- SP1 or higher -- or SQL Server 2016. Unlike SharePoint 2013, single server installations cannot use SQL Server Express Edition. Those deployments will require either SQL Server 2014 SP1 or higher, or SQL Server 2016.

It remains to be seen how Microsoft will handle licensing for SharePoint 2016. Even so, those organizations  planning to make the transition will need to plan to license the required operating system and database servers, and should begin evaluating the number of SharePoint 2016 servers that may be required as a result of MinRoles  being introduced.

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