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Guide to System Center Products and Licensing

Learn about the available products in the Microsoft System Center family and the licensing requirements.

The products in System Center family help manage applications and services across physical, virtual, and cloud information technology (IT) infrastructures.

You can use this guide to find the Microsoft System Center software and licenses appropriate for your organization's needs.

The System Center Family

System Center is a set of management server components and licenses for endpoints (servers and clients) that are being managed.

System Center management licenses (MLs) give you the right to install and run the management server components. Server MLs are available as bundled suites that include rights to all or some subset of System Center components. Individual System Center server components are not available. Client MLs are available individually.

All of the System Center products include SQL Server technology. Microsoft's licensing terms for these products allow you to run one instance of the SQL Server technology in one physical or virtual operating system environment (OSE) on one server, but only to support the System Center software. SQL Server client access licenses are not required for that use.

System Center Components

For detailed information on implementing these components, see Microsoft's resources for deploying and supporting System Center.

  • Configuration Manager provides software deployment, distribution, update management, and configuration monitoring throughout an IT infrastructure. Configuration Manager automates many tasks associated with software deployment and maintenance while enforcing the organization's software configuration policies and standards.
  • Data Protection Manager (DPM) enables disk-based data protection and recovery for file and application servers in an Active Directory domain. DPM backs up client systems, server file systems, Exchange databases, SharePoint data, and SQL databases on a continuous basis, allowing an organization to recover a single lost or corrupted file or restore an entire system.
  • Endpoint Protection is used with Configuration Manager to provide a single infrastructure for client management and security, including malware detection. It gives administrators a central location for creating and applying all client-related policies.
  • Operations Manager monitors the health of IT services across datacenter and cloud infrastructures. Operations Manager can provide IT departments with reports at defined intervals as well as alerts when immediate attention is necessary. Operations Manager can be used to monitor performance of both server and client applications. Management packs — the sets of instructions that Operations Manager uses to monitor specific applications — are available for most current Microsoft server applications and operating systems, as well as many from third parties.
  • Orchestrator is a workflow management tool for automating the creation, monitoring, and deployment of IT resources. Orchestrator integrates with Microsoft and non-Microsoft products, allowing administrators to connect different systems without any knowledge of scripting or programming languages.
  • Service Manager facilitates implementing and automating IT service management (ITSM) best practices across an organization. Service Manager can provide IT departments with processes for incident and problem resolution, change control, and asset life cycle management.
  • Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) is a server application for administration and management of Microsoft and VMware virtual machine guests and virtual machine hosts. It provides network administrators real-time views of resource allocation and allows rapid reconfiguration.

Management Licenses

To use System Center software, you need the appropriate server MLs for the servers being managed or monitored and client MLs for all the end users or devices being managed.

System Center Server Management License Suites

Server MLs are required for managed devices that run server OSEs. Server MLs are available through Standard and Datacenter license suites. The primary difference between the two is the number of virtual instances of the server software you are allowed to manage. Both of these license suites offer server MLs and software for all of the System Center components.

System Center 2016 Standard allows the management of up to two OSEs per license.

System Center 2016 Datacenter allows the management of an unlimited number of OSEs per license.

With System Center 2016, server MLs are core-based. Previous versions of System Center have also been transitioned to this licensing model.

  • Both editions require a minimum of 8 core licenses for each physical processor and a minimum of 16 core licenses for each server.
  • The products offered by TechSoup Canada provide two core licenses. In most instances, organizations will need to request at least eight products to obtain the minimum of 16 core licenses for one server. Microsoft donation rules allow you to obtain up to 50 core licenses by requesting up to 25 products from the System Center Server Management Suite title group per two-year cycle.

For detailed licensing information, see the System Center 2016 licensing datasheet (PDF).

System Center Client Management License Suites

Client MLs are required for managed devices that run non-server OSEs and can be licensed per OSE or per user. MLs are available for the following System Center components.

  • Configuration Manager (also includes Virtual Machine Manager)
  • Data Protection Manager
  • Operations Manager
  • Orchestrator
  • Service Manager

Core CAL Suites

These suites offer licenses for key Microsoft server products, including System Center Configuration Manager. Licensed per user or per device, they include client access licenses (CALs) for Windows Server, Exchange Server, SharePoint Server Standard Edition, and Skype for Business Server Standard edition, as well as the client MLs for System Center Configuration Manager and Endpoint Protection Manager.

The core CAL suites are the Core User CAL Suite and the Core Device CAL Suite.


If you have earlier versions of System Center with active Software Assurance, you can upgrade to System Center 2016 versions without placing a new donation request. Since System Center 2016 has changed to a core-based licensing model, organizations with Software Assurance will be granted a certain number of core licenses, depending on how many processor licenses they have. See the System Center 2016 licensing datasheet (PDF) for details.

For help upgrading, see Microsoft's resources for deploying and supporting System Center.


Downgrade rights allow you to obtain System Center software in any version that Microsoft continues to make available for download through the Volume Licensing Service Center. With System Center, you can choose to download the 2016, 2012 R2, or 2012 versions of the software when you request System Center MLs. Downgrading does not depend on Software Assurance; it is a benefit of Volume Licensing.

However, with the release of System Center 2016, all previous System Center MLs have been transitioned to the new core-based licensing model. If you are planning on requesting new or additional licenses for a previous version of System Center, make sure you get enough licenses to cover all the cores on your licensed server according to System Center 2016 licensing guidelines. See the System Center 2016 licensing datasheet (PDF) for details.

System Center Products Available Through TechSoup Canada

See the System Center donations available through TechSoup Canada.