A Guide to Microsoft Client Access Licenses (CALs); all you need to know 

A Microsoft Client Access License (CAL) is a license that gives an individual or device the right to access services offered by a Microsoft server product. It authorizes users and devices to use all features of the server software, including client access protocols, management features, and integration with other products in the server’s family. The primary benefit of using CALs is that they provide organizations with the flexibility to choose which users or devices have access to specific servers, allowing them to control costs while ensuring compliance with applicable software licensing requirements. 

When it comes to understanding the complexities of Microsoft Client Access Licenses (CALs), it can be overwhelming. A lot of questions like what is a CAL? When do you need one and when don’t you? What’s the difference between Core and Enterprise CAL Suite, may pop up. Answers to these questions and more will help your purchasing decision and this article will  throw more light and clarity on all you need to know. 

When is a Microsoft Client Access License (CAL) required? 

A Microsoft Client Access License (CAL) is required when a user or device needs license (permission) to access certain applications or files of a company, such as Windows Server, Exchange Server, System Center Configuration Manager, Lync Server and SharePoint Server.  

Additionally, many of Microsoft’s applications require a specific type of CAL in order to be used in conjunction with the server software. It is important for organizations to understand which type of CAL is required for each application in order to ensure that they are in compliance with Microsoft licensing requirements. 

The need for a Microsoft Client Access License (CAL) varies by server product. In some cases, a basic license will suffice, and additional CAL licenses may be necessary for users using certain server products remotely. These may be called Additive CALs and External Connector CALs. 

When are CALs not necessary? 

CALs or similar licenses are always necessary when seeking accesses, unless the server is accessed using another license server, the server software has a Web Workload or HPC Workload, or there is a physical OSE used solely for hosting or management of virtual OSEs. Merging connections or pools does not reduce the number of CAL licenses required. Therefore, you must always have the right and the right number of licenses. Thus, a CAL is required for each user or device accessing the server. 

CALs (Client Access Licenses) are also not necessary when;  

  • a user only needs to access resources on their local machine, such as applications and files stored on the hard drive.   
  •  a user has been given permission to access shared resources remotely without needing to access an actual server or workstation.   
  •  a user is accessing services provided by cloud providers, such as Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, Amazon Web Services, etc., then no CALs are required.  

What is the difference between Core and Enterprise CAL Suite? 

A CAL Suite is a single license that provides usage rights equivalent to multiple licenses. Both Core CAL Suite and Enterprise CAL Suite are part of Microsoft’s offerings and provide access to various server products and online services. Some of the access provided is for file sharing, print services, remote desktop services, identity management tools and virtualization rights.  

The difference is that Core CAL Suite provides access to the basic licenses for server products, while Enterprise CAL Suite adds advanced security features such as BitLocker encryption for data and identity protection tools like Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). The Enterprise suite also includes Azure Active Directory Premium which allows organizations to implement single sign-on capabilities across multiple applications both on-premises and in cloud environments.  

What are equivalent CAL licenses? 

Equivalent CAL licenses grant a user access rights to certain products, such as CAL suites online services. Equivalent CAL licenses provide access to server software running on licensing services or for managing Operating System Environments. As an illustration, an Office 365 Enterprise E1 license gives equivalent (equivalent) rights to SharePoint Server Standard CAL, Exchange Server Standard CAL, or Skype for Business Server Standard CAL. This also gives users access to On-Premises server software. This provides organizations with significant savings by eliminating the need for multiple licenses for each user or device. The license rights and obligations associated with Equivalent CAL licenses can be found in the Microsoft product terms. 

Do I need more than one CAL per user or device to access the server applications running on more than one server? 

Yes – if multiple servers are running different applications, then yes you would need separate licenses for each application running on those servers. For example, if you had two servers; one running Exchange 2016 and another running SharePoint 2016 then you would need two separate licenses – one Exchange 2016 license and one SharePoint 2016 license – per user or device accessing either of those applications. 

Can any CAL version be used to access the servers in the server network? 

No – depending on what version of Windows Server is being used, there may be compatibility issues between different versions of client access licenses where certain versions cannot be used with certain versions of Windows Server software.  

A client access license provides access to the same version or earlier versions of the server software. Older CAL versions can therefore not be used for a new version. Take Windows Server 2016 for example. Those who use this with a Windows Server 2016 CAL can use it for Windows Server 2012, but not for a version launched after 2016.  

Do users with a Core or Enterprise CAL Suite need to purchase a Windows Server device CAL for devices accessing the Windows server? 

Any user accessing server software must have a Microsoft Client Access License. This can be either a user CAL or a device CAL. Network devices, such as network printers or multifunction devices, can only be used by licensees (who have a user CAL). A device CAL provides access to corresponding versions of the server software or earlier versions of the server software running on the same device. 

Does a multi-function printer require a CAL? 

Yes – if a multifunction printer is being used as part of an organization’s network then it will require its own client access license in order for it to access any server products running on that network.    

Each multifunction printer that is connected to the server network, and can therefore communicate a job (using server software), must have a CAL. Users using the printer who have a user CAL can use this printer through their CAL. However, if users have a device CAL, then a CAL is also required for the printer. Incidentally, a CAL is a requirement for every network device, including a network scanner or network fax. If a device (for example a copier) does not connect to a network, no CAL is required for use. 

Can CALs be used to access the third party server? 

No – client access licenses can only be used with Microsoft server products; they cannot be used with third party server software.   

CALs can be used to access servers within your own company or organization. However, it is not possible to access the server of a company that is not affiliated with its own company (a third party). The rights and obligations are also included in the product conditions. In practice, this means that company A may grant access to employees of company B provided that both companies are owned by the same person who also purchased the CALs. The CALs purchased by company A then cover the use within company B. For shared ownership, Microsoft applies the rule that the owner of company A must have an interest of at least 50% or more in company B. 

Do CALs need to be purchased for Active Directory service accounts? 

A CAL is not necessary if there is no physical person who needs to access the server with such accounts. A CAL is required for each user or device used to access the server functionalities. Active Directory and a Mailbox do not require a CAL of their own. 

Do I need a CAL for my server? 

Selling licenses from a Client Access License (CAL) by Microsoft has been big business for Microsoft for years. It is assumed that more than one billion US dollars are involved on an annual basis. CAL licenses are a regular source of confusion among customers, resellers and Microsoft itself. 

Basically, every user within an organization or device that accesses Microsoft server software, directly or indirectly, requires at least one CAL. Microsoft currently has a number of different CALs that you should purchase when appropriate. So you have the Device CALs and User CALs. Of course you also have the Core CAL and the Enterprise Suite CAL. 

Depending on what you use, you sometimes need different types of CALs. For example, external users may also require a CAL in addition to internal users. 

Client Access Licenses in a Microsoft contract 

As you have read, a CAL is required to access a device. Microsoft makes good money off that. As an organization, you have almost no choice but to buy a CAL when you have a Microsoft environment. That is why it is also advisable to take a good look at your current and future situation. It is common to have too many or too few CALs.

The proper use of your CALs is often difficult because there are parties that have an interest in selling an unnecessarily large number of CALs, or a CAL that is actually not necessary for the environment.

This is partly because the rules of software licenses and Cloud services are a jungle for customers. In addition, customers often obtain advice from parties that also sell the licenses. Microsoft partners of course have financial agreements with Microsoft so that they can earn a lot of money from the sale of Microsoft products such as the CAL license.

Whether you include a CAL license in an Enterprise Agreement, MPSA or in an Open Value, it is always advisable to take a good look at what you need. The selling parties are motivated to sell and receive fees and rebates from Microsoft. This is mainly at the expense of customers.

Including a Core CAL in a traditional Enterprise Agreement can allow you to receive a discount from Microsoft. The discounts on on-premise licenses are getting less and less, but it’s worth having these conversations. In addition to discounts that you can get in an Enterprise Agreement, you can also ask your reseller for discounts in another Microsoft contract such as MPSA or Open Value. 

Buy smart and cheap Microsoft CAL and save 

Microsoft User CAL or Device CAL can be quite expensive if you have to buy this for all users or devices. Since 2012 it is possible to save up to 70% with second-hand licenses. Q-Advise is happy to help you get the best price for buying a used User CAL or Device CAL. Besides RDS CALs there are also Windows CALs, Exchange CALs SharePoint CALs for sale second hand. 

Before you purchase a second-hand CAL license understand your IT roadmap and the optimization opportunities first. Let Q-Advise as your independent software advisor help you to optimize and save on your Microsoft CAL purchase. Whether your purchase is a new license or second hand, we know how you can save.  

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