- by Andrew, "Shoot First", Levin
Microsoft does a great job at making licensing its products very confusing. From the surface it seems pretty straightforward, OEM is from the hardware manufacturer, retail keys are purchased individually and MAK and KMS keys are for volume licensing. However, any IT administrator can tell you that it is not that straightforward. The reason for this is because dozens of scenarios exist which complicate the management of the keys and activations within your environment. Factors such as the size of your company, new PC purchases, upgrades, downgrades and hardware replacement cycles all contribute to making license key management a meticulous process. Below is a quick description of the type of keys which you will encounter.
OEM – OEM keys are tied to a computer’s BIOS and motherboard. Support for OEM operating systems generally does not come from Microsoft, but from the hardware manufacturer. OEM keys are also not legally transferable to any other computer.
Retail – Retail keys come with versions of the OS that you purchase outright. Retail keys are transferrable to another machine, but can legally only be installed on one PC at a time.
KMS – Key Management Service keys are a volume license solution which uses a host and client model for activation. The KMS host holds a single key which all of your client PCs will contact for activation, every 180 days. The KMS client OS will go into a reduced functionality mode if activation is not processed after a 210 day interval. This makes the availability of the KMS host critical to the environment. A KMS scenario is useful if you have machines that are not connected to the Internet, as well as for maintaining a single location for the management of all your activations.
MAK – Multiple Activation Keys are another type of volume licensing that is recommended for environments with fewer than 25 computers. MAKs are purchased as a single key, with a specific number of activations. If additional activations are required, you must purchase either another MAK, or additional activations for your current MAK.
So, for instance, let’s say your organization has 100 existing PCs and a Windows 7 rollout project is on the horizon. You decide to replace 50 of the PCs and just upgrade the remaining 50 from XP to Windows 7. Now, the 50 PCs you just purchased for replacement come with a Windows 7 license from the manufacturer. You already have a KMS infrastructure in place, so, do you want to purchase additional KMS activations to easily maintain all the license keys, or keep the OEM keys on the 50 machines and manage them individually? The ease of management alone may not justify the cost for additional KMS activations, so what happens when the new PCs get replaced? Now you have a new key to manage since the OEM key goes with the machine. What if you have to throw 25 Windows XP downgrades into the mix? What will they be licensed under and how do you want to track those keys? What if you have a department of MAK licensed machines that are being decommissioned and what to reclaim then reuse that license?
This is just a quick example of some of the questions that arise, and even though a bit convoluted, answers for each do exist. However, this scenario can get very ugly if you extrapolate it to say, 3000 PCs, with 10 separate hardware replacement cycles and 3 different OS versions. Many organizations out there mix and match different configurations (with what they acquire and with what they have on hand) to simply try and maintain compliance. But when audit time rolls around it becomes a very cumbersome process to try and elicit the proper documentation to prove compliance. Therefore, the moral of the story is to plan early and keep as little variability as possible. Trigon can be a huge asset within this planning, so be sure to contact us to help you along with the process.