How Do You Decide Whether to Purchase Microsoft Client Access License Suites vs. Individual CAL Licenses?

By Daniel Brewster

Director of Client Services - Microsoft, NPI

February 15, 2016

Interested in learning more about NPI’s services?

Contact Us

Artwork Courtesy of

Microsoft learned a long time ago that it was easier to increase its market share for a particular product by bundling that product into a suite. Microsoft Office 1.0 included Word 1.1, Excel 2.0, and PowerPoint 2.0 and was first available in 1990. The suite offering enable Microsoft to more efficiently compete against products like WordPerfect and Lotus 123, eventually overcoming those products to become one of the largest revenue-producing products in Microsoft’s history. While it’s true that you can still purchase the individual applications, the vast majority of Office sales are through the suite.

The Client Access License (CAL) provides rights for a specific user or a specific device to access a Microsoft server product (one CAL may access an unlimited number of servers in your enterprise). Microsoft offers individual CAL licenses, available under the Select or MPSA program for its individual server products. It also offers either the Core CAL Suite or the Enterprise CAL Suite under the Enterprise, Select, and MPSA agreements.

Today the Core CAL Suite includes the following components:

Microsoft Table 1

The Enterprise CAL Suite includes the following components:

Microsoft Table 2

Generally speaking, if you need at least three of the Core CAL components, it is less expensive to purchase the Core CAL Suite. If you need at least three of the additional Enterprise CAL components, it’s less expensive to purchase the Enterprise CAL Suite. The CAL Suites are only sold with Software Assurance, so you’ll benefit from any updates or additions to the suite products made during the term of coverage.

Based upon Select Plus Level B pricing, you will save approximately 21 percent by purchasing the Core CAL in lieu of the individual CAL components. You’ll see an impressive 38 percent savings by purchasing the Enterprise CAL Suite in the same fashion. Additional discounts are available if you purchase the CAL Suites under the Enterprise Agreement program.

Most customers do elect to maintain Software Assurance on their server estate. While you may not upgrade a particular server product within a three-year period, it is likely that you will upgrade at least one of the server products within the suite during that time. For all practical purposes, the process of upgrading a single server to a new version will also require you to upgrade all of your Client Access Licenses, so NPI does recommend that you consider the CAL suites if you have adopted several of the Microsoft server products.