Solutions Through IT

June 29, 2012

Microsoft CAL Licensing Explained (the Hilton “meatbag” Travis way)

Filed under: Administration, Exchange, Microsoft, SBS, Server 2003, Server 2008, Server 2008 R2 — solutionsthroughit @ 14:58

First and foremost, I’m attributing this solely and wholly to Hilton Travis, who coined this explanation many, many moons ago.  I’m re-writing/blogging it, because I can never seem to find it when I need it.  This may be somewhat paraphrased, and I’m sure any corrections will be pointed out by Hilton and applied to this article rapidly :),  Hilton’s original explanation referenced users as “bags of meat” and devices as “bags or wires and parts”.  I’m not going to do that, I’m just going to staple post-it notes onto computers and foreheads.

The easiest way to work out licensing is to imagine each license that you buy as a single post-it note.  You can purchase Yellow Post-it notes (User CALs) or Blue Post-it notes (Device CALs).  The rules for using the post-its or CAL’s are as follows:

  • If your post-it notes are colour-free, you must choose a colour for them.  This choice is not changeable once you have made it.  The included CALs with some products (typically OEM) are non-specific as to device or user.  You must choose to allocate them as device or user, and this choice must be retained. 
  • Each post it note must be stapled or (almost) permanently attached to it’s recipient. You can not pass post-it notes around from person to person or device to device.  You can transfer them if someone leaves or a device is replaced, but they can’t be used as a pool of licenses, or you can’t grab a post it as you walk in the door for your shift (This means no more concurrent licensing.  Microsoft haven’t had it for years, but people either still remember it, or understand that this method is more cost effective for them).
  • Yellow post-its can ONLY be stapled to a person.  With this post-it stapled to their forehead, the person can use 1 or 1,000 computers, devices, phones, widgets or interfaces to connect to the server or service that you have a CAL for.  These CAL’s are typically used where staff have multiple methods to access services.  In a SBS environment, you may access from your desktop, your home computer (OWA / RWW) and your mobile phone.  This is three device CAL’s or one user CAL.
  • Blue post-its can only be stapled onto a computer.  With this post-it, 1 or 1000 users may use the device to access the server/services.  This would be typically used in an office or call centre where multiple staff access the same computer, or where multiple shifts of staff work in the same area.  These staff will typically not access via mobile phone or remote computers.  This way you can have two or more users on a device or computer for one device CAL.
  • You can use Device or User CALs through your licensing, in any form or mixture that you require or desire (as long as you don’t exceed maximum licensing – e.g. SBS has a 75 user hard limit).

Disclaimer This article is provided for loose instruction and a way to get your head around the way Microsoft currently do their licensing.  The ONLY source for advise on Microsoft Licensing, is Microsoft.  Please contact them via their website or for Australians, 13 20 58.

Update – Hilton finally put it back up, mere minutes after I called him out – his post is available here (


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