A guide to Windows Server Editions- which one is right for your charity?


Getting started:

It can be tricky to suss out which Microsoft Windows Server is best for charities. Each organisation has different wants and needs so the server selection process isn’t black and white.

In this article we’ve drawn up a quick guide to summarise what benefits you get with each edition of Windows server to help you make informed decisions for your charity.

If you’re still wondering if a server is right for you, check out our guide to the top five benefits of having a server.

Before we get stuck in, here’s a quick look at some key terms:


How the licensing works

Definition of a server:

A server is a physical hardware system capable of running server software. A hardware partition or blade is considered to be a separate physical hardware system, and, therefore, a separate server.”Microsoft.

Types of license:

  • Core-based means the processor or execution core contained in the same integrated circuit within a computer’s central processing unit, whether cores are virtual or physical. This type of licensing requires additional client access licenses (CALs)
  • CPU-based or Processor-based licenses can only be used on a single server with a maximum of two physical processors, and does not require you to purchase additional user CALs.

Choosing your server:

Essentials edition:

Windows Essential Server

  • Charity Digital Exchange price: £31
  • Organisation size: Best for a small charity that doesn’t anticipate growth in the short-term: the reason being the maximum users/devices that can access the server (see limitations, below).
  • License: CPU-based (does not require or allow CALs). The licensing process for Essentials is straight forward and doesn’t require any additional purchases. This also makes the installation process pretty easy too.



The server has a built-in integration with Office 365 hosted services making it ideal if you are anticipating a move to the cloud. Solutions are also included for quick and easy remote computer and file access. Additionally, you don’t have to buy individual user CALs and the upfront cost is the entirety of what you have to pay.


With this edition you are limited to 25 users or 50 devices. This means, if your organisation is planning to grow in size in the next 2-5 years, you may find yourself needing to make a switch further down the line. Thankfully, donations available through Charity Digital Exchange should keep the costs to a minimum!

Standard Edition

Windows server standard still stands out from the crowd

  • Charity Digital Exchange price: £7
  • Organisation size: Suited to small-to-medium charities that don’t need to run numerous virtual machines.
  • License: Core-based (requires CALs). The licensing process for this edition (as well as Datacenter, below) can be a bit tricky. The number of core licenses must equal the number of physical cores on the licensed server. The purchase must be of at least 8 core licenses per physical processor and a minimum of 16 core licenses per server (core licenses are sold in 2-packs).


Standard edition is an ideal middle ground between Essentials (above) and Datacenter (below) as it offers a lot of the benefits of the latter at a more budget-friendly cost. These factors make it an ideal fit for small to medium-sized organisations. The Standard edition offers users capability to run 2 virtual machines (now called Hyper-V containers) . Additionally, Standard server also offers fully integrated services and direct access for users.


Two virtualised environments will be enough for most. Nonetheless, if you think your demands may increase over time, you could incur greater costs than if you had chosen to go with Datacenter from the outset, which allows multiple Hyper-V containers.

Datacenter edition


In terms of technicalities, there isn’t a ton of difference between the Standard and Datacenter editions, but they can have significant impact on your decision. Arguably the biggest difference is that you can run far more virtual machines with Datacenter, meaning your device will run more efficiently if you have multiple demands.

Take a look at our case study of how a charity put it to good use if you’re interested in learning more.

The limitations:

The biggest limitation that many find with Datacenter is the cost. At full price it is around 8 times the price of Windows Standard server. Luckily, the Charity Digital Exchange programme minimises this limitation by offering it as a donation, but it remains the more expensive of the two. It’s important to assess what demands you have for your technology before making a purchase. Additionally, think about what demands you predict for the near future.




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