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Managing Windows Licensing and Activation : Managing Volume License Activation (part 2) - Leveraging MAK activation, Comparing KMS and MAK activation

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2. Leveraging MAK activation

When KMS activation doesn't meet your needs, Multiple Activation Key (MAK) activation can be used. MAK activation is similar to retail product activation in that each workstation must be activated against the Microsoft activation server. This process may be performed over the Internet or the phone.

The primary advantage to MAK activation is that it is relatively permanent. After a computer is activated using a MAK, clients are not required to reactivate at regular intervals. In fact, the only time reactivation should be necessary is after significant hardware or driver updates or after reinstallation of Windows.

With permanent activations, users can create images of the workstations after activating Windows, which bypasses any activation or validation procedures. To prevent this, Windows keeps track of the hardware on which it is installed. If a significant number of components change, then reactivation is required. Although the intent is to identify when the hardware has been changed, updating drivers can also cause a change to be detected. Each hardware component is assigned a weight. If the total weight of changed components reaches 25, then the computer must be reactivated. Table 1 shows the indexed hardware components along with their corresponding weights.

Table 1. Understanding Weight Values for Triggering Reactivation
Hardware ComponentWeight
Physical System Hard Disk Drive Serial Number11
BIOS Identifier9
Processor3
IDE Adapter3
SCSI Adapter2
MAC Address2
Audio Adapter2
RAM Amount (i.e. 0-512 MB, 512 MB-1 GB, etc.)1
Display Adapter1
CD/DVD Drive1

Reviewing the limitations of MAK

Using MAK activation has its disadvantages as well. The primary disadvantage of MAK activation is that it uses an activation pool for each MAK issued.

When you purchase volume licenses and receive a MAK, Microsoft creates a pool of activations associated with your MAK. Although this number is loosely based on the number of volume licenses you purchase, it also is related to the licensing agreement you purchase them under. After the pool has been created on Microsoft's activation servers, you may activate computers with the corresponding MAK. Each activation decreases the pool count by one. The most notable implication here is that even reactivations will decrease the count by one. Therefore, if you frequently reload your computers, which will in turn require them to be reactivated, your activation pool may quickly become depleted.

However, there is not a one-to-one relationship between your activation pool and the number of licenses you purchased. In addition, the activation pool may be increased at any time by simply contacting Microsoft Activation. MAK activation is not intended to ensure that each activation represents a legal copy of Windows. Instead, it ensures that businesses and organizations are aware of the number of activations they are performing. In turn, it would be much more apparent if a key were to be leaked to the outside world or if it were being used inappropriately by unscrupulous staff members. If you legitimately reactivate computers very frequently, this can become quite a hassle, however. In this case, it is usually best to implement KMS activation.

The actual activation process for MAK activation can be performed by two methods, depending upon your network design. Figure 3 shows an example of independent MAK activation. Independent activation will be performed automatically if a MAK is used for installation and an Internet connection can be established. Otherwise, independent activation may be performed over the telephone. As the size of the network grows, phone activation becomes increasingly unpopular and ineffective.

Figure 3. Independent activation of MAK

In some environments, Internet access may not be directly available and phone activation may not be practical. If the environment contains at least 25 workstations, KMS activation is typically preferred. If, however, there are not at least 25 workstations or MAK must be used for other reasons, proxy activation may be performed for MAK clients, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Proxy activation of MAK

To perform MAK proxy activation, the Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT) is used. In proxy activation, the computer requiring activation generates a request that can then be passed on to Microsoft as a completely separate process. This feature eliminates the need for direct Internet access by the clients and eliminates the need to place a phone call for each workstation to be activated.

3. Comparing KMS and MAK activation

Licensing can be confusing, and there are several pros and cons to both the KMS and MAK approaches to activation. To help you make a decision, we've included Table 2, which highlights the differences between MAK activation and KMS activation.

Table 2. Comparing KMS and MAK Activation Methods
KMS ActivationMAK Activation
Clients use the default installation keyClients must use a MAK installation key
Only the KMS server is activated with MicrosoftEach client is activated directly with Microsoft unless the VAMT is used
25 physical client minimum to implement for Vista, and 5 for Windows Server 2008No minimum number required
No activation pool to manage allowing unlimited reactivationsActivation pool managed by Microsoft
Each activation is valid for 180 daysActivations are not time limited
DNS or manual client configuration is used to locate the KMS serverInternet access, a phone call or the VAMT is used for activation
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