Activating Lots of Windows Virtual Machines in a Cloud with KMS

You know, few of us ever think about the practical sides of Windows/Office licensing when it comes to deploying lots of machines.  It’s one thing to identify, buy, and deploy the licenses – but we never seem to think about activating the damned things until it’s a bit late (been there, took photos, and bought the t-shirt).

The challenge is that when we use automated techniques to deploy software (imaging for Windows, software distribution for Office) then we need a way to activate the software without us admins/engineers/consultants being actively involved.  End users won’t click on the activate prompts for MAK product key activation … and that leads us to help desk calls and outages.

If you have volume licensing then you are entitled to use Key Management Service (KMS) licensing.  KMS is kind of similar to RDS or TermSvcs licensing – you set up a local KMS on a machine that you activate, and then your local product installations contact it to activate.  This is all done using a KMS product key instead of a MAK product key.

This is ideal in the cloud.  Now you can allow end users to deploy Windows servers and activation will be handled automatically, or you can enable a VDI broker/architecture to deploy VMs automatically and Windows/Office will be activated automatically from a local service.

Note that it requires a minimum number of products to work:

  • Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 you must have at least five (5) computers to activate.
  • Windows Vista or Windows 7 you must have at least twenty-five (25) computers to activate. These thresholds can be a mix of server and client machines to make up the threshold number.
  • Office 2010, Project 2010 and Visio 2010 you must have at least five (5) computers to activate. If you have deployed Microsoft Office 2010 products, including Project 2010 and Visio 2010, you must have at least five (5) computers running Office 2010, Project 2010 or Visio 2010.

Rather than me recreating the wheel, here are some useful links:

The half day of effort that you’ll put into this is a worthwhile investment.  Once you’re set up, the activations of machines (virtual or physical) Windows and Office installations will happen automatically, taking care of that last step of the deployment that we never think of until the helpdesk calls start coming in.

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