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David Haycox
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Are Microsoft device CALs required for networking equipment?

We have a deployment containing a number of computers that are used by shift workers, and so have chosen to use Microsoft device CALs rather than user CALs.  However, rather than just counting the number of users, we now need to count devices and it's unclear which devices require device CALs.  It's obvious that the computers do, but what about:

  • Printers (including multi-function models)
  • Switches (including smart switches)
  • Routers (that may authenticate VPN users against the Active Directory)
  • Wireless access points (that authenticate users against the AD)

How can we determine whether CALs are required for these devices?
Microsoft Server OSWindows Server 2008

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Lee W, MVP

8/22/2022 - Mon
Lee W, MVP

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David Haycox

Okay thanks, so a smart switch that gets an IP address for management requires a CAL, but an unmanaged switch (which has no IP address) does not?

Can you reference any Microsoft documentation for this (so we can prove it to the people that have to pay for the CALs)?  Thanks.
Lee W, MVP

Okay thanks, so a smart switch that gets an IP address for management requires a CAL, but an unmanaged switch (which has no IP address) does not?

I would say yes.

Read your license agreement.

Licensing Disclaimer
License information provided here is "best efforts".  The comments of the respondents are based on interpretation of the license agreements and their knowledge of the particular laws and regulations in their geographic location.  Laws in your location may invalidate certain aspects of the license and/or licenses can change.  (For example, at least one major nation's laws allow Microsoft's OEM licenses to be transferred to new hardware). "They told me on Experts-Exchange" will not be a valid excuse in an audit.  You need to contact the license granting authority to confirm any advice offered here.
David Haycox

Well of course, but you could say that would answer the original question as well.  What I was hoping for was someone who had already read the licence agreement (it must be standard, no?) and could point out the relevant parts...

Thanks again, anyway.
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Lee W, MVP

You're missing the point.  

The license agreement is a LEGAL document.  And the laws in your area may invalidate certain aspects or change their interpretation.  No one is going to jail for simple violations but there can be lawsuits.  If an audit reveals questionable items on your network, then the vendor's legal time can go to work sueing your organization.  Legal agreements have disputes all the timbecause of interpretation.  I cannot interpret the license agreement on your behalf.  And the odds that it contains the exact wording that you want is pretty low.  Speak to your legal counsel or contact the vendor.  

And yes, I should have posted that disclaimer with my first response.
David Haycox

Understood.  I have tried but have actually been unable to locate the licence agreement on Microsoft's web site!  I was hoping you might have a link....

In any case if there is a CAL for every device on the network capable of having an IP address, then I believe we're covered (just quite likely unnecessarily).

I have done several licensing compliance audits (but all with the user CAL model, hence the question) and also tried on several occasions to get Microsoft themselves (through a licence reseller, or directly) to qualify their own licensing terms - but they don't seem to know!  So for these reasons, I'm not concerned by the risk of a shortfall.  Thanks again!

I can confirm that, knowing it from a license audit. Either each user using a device or each device needs a CAL, as soon as a service of the Server OS is used - file sharing, DHCP, DNS, ... That's another reason some admins prefer running DHCP and DNS on a router or a Linux machine.
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Lee W, MVP

I would say speak to your legal counsel.  In my UNQUALIFIED opinion, if you can document legitimate attempts to sort out proper licensing and you are ultimately deemed out of compliance, your liability should be reasonably limited to just acquiring the licenses to make you compliant with no further penalty.  But legal counsel should better be able to direct you on this if you can't get some solid confirmation from the license granting authority.