Navigating Enterprise Licensing of Windows 10 for SMB’s

Moving your business to Windows 10 is a step forward into a more secure and modern operating system platform. But in making this move, you need to be aware of how the various Windows 10 licensing price points could affect your bottom line. There are a number of Microsoft Volume Licensing solutions available to small and mid-sized businesses (SMB’s) to alleviate many licensing cost concerns. This is especially important as many of you do not have the need of a larger Software Assurance (SA) contract. The flexibility of these options will give your business the ability to upgrade to Windows 10 without breaking the budget.

The New Editions of Licensing

Before we dive into some volume licensing options, it is important for your business to understand how each version of Windows is licensed. While we are not going to go into great detail here, it is of value to note some of these quick hits.

  • Retail Licensing. Retail licensed editions of Windows 10 are the Home and Pro versions of Windows 10. These are one off purchases mostly seen in very small businesses.
  • OEM Licensing. This also just applies to Windows 10 Home and Pro versions, and are the versions of Windows 10 which comes preinstalled on devices.
  • Volume Licensing options. This is the most suitable licensing option for most businesses, and includes Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise versions.

To be blunt, any of these options outside of the Volume Licensing options will not be manageable or cost effective enough to warrant serious consideration by any business which exceeds 25 devices or users. Volume Licensing will by far be the most effective option for those businesses looking to move forward with a Windows 10 upgrade regardless of their ability to obtain a Software Assurance contract.

Volume Licensing in the Enterprise

The facts most SMB’s face on a daily and project level basis are that they do not have the financial resources at their disposal that many of Microsoft’s larger clients have. The licensing waters have been further muddied by Microsoft’s push to get its SMB clients off of the Home and Pro versions of Windows 10 and onto the Enterprise version. But, what about the differences in pricing points?

Microsoft took steps towards addressing this issue the past fall, introducing two new licensing and Windows 10 plans: Windows 10 Enterprise E3 and Windows 10 Enterprise E5. These two plans helps to solve the issue that SMB’s have been wrestling with: Either purchase and commit to a long term SA contract, or pay a per device fee at a Volume Licensing rate. The introduction of the E3 and E5 pricing plans gives SMB’s better control over their Windows 10 device licensing while making licensing a much easier endeavor that does not require a NASA statistician to be on the payroll.

Windows 10 Enterprise E3

The Microsoft Windows 10 Enterprise E3 program is most likely going to be the best route for most SMB’s out there. While we are not going to get into exact pricing figures here (these seem to change like the wind changes direction), in general the per-seat licensing costs in the E3 program are less than the per-seat costs in the E5 program.

Within this program businesses can choose between two branch support options. The first option, Current Branch support, allows you to automatically receive all security updates and new features. The second option, Current Branch of Business, gives your business the ability to delay new feature updates by up to eight months.

Additionally, businesses will receive an allocation to allow five device installations of Windows 10 per user with no seat limits while gaining an ability to upgrade Windows 10 Pro users to Enterprise users via the Cloud Solution Provider and Azure Active Directory very quickly and unobtrusively. Last but not least, it is worth noting that those using Windows 10 E3 cannot enroll in the Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB), meaning that they cannot opt out of receiving Windows 10 features for a period of 10 years.

Windows 10 Enterprise E5

While the E5 program includes all of the options that the Windows 10 Enterprise E3 program contains, the big win for us is how it takes Windows 10 one step further in terms of security. The E5 version of Windows 10 is the only version of Windows 10 that includes the Defender Advanced Threat Protection functionality. This feature gives SMB’s in regulatory rich business sectors such as finance and healthcare an extra security tool at their disposal. This alone may make the additional cost worthwhile for these businesses.

The other potentially great aspect of the E5 version is the Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) that is available here. Many businesses quite simply want a secure and stable operating system environment in which to operate, and are not dependent or interested in new Windows features beyond security updates. If this is the case for your organization, you may want to consider traveling down the E5 road.

Finally, the pricing aspect of this version. Again we are not going to get into exact prices due to the ever changing pricing points that we see, but we have found that a per device license runs about twice as much as a Windows 10 Enterprise E3 license, which is going to be a factor that many SMB’s will need to use in their selection processes.

Licensing Is a Tricky Minefield

Obviously, all the intricacies of Windows licensing are far too complex to be summed up in a short post. And while we looked at the two newest pricing options available for SMB’s, there are a number of other Volume Licensing options out there which can influence and determine just how Windows 10 licensing aligns with your business and IT budgets. Before pulling out your hair and hiring a Harvard mathematician to sort through it all, contact Champion to see how we can help you to navigate the licensing waters of a Windows 10 migration.


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