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Active Directory Based Activation (ADBA), first introduced in Windows Server 2012, aims to completely replace Key Management Services (KMS). The benefits over KMS are huge but ADBA has one noticeable drawback. In this guide, we will compare KMS to ADBA. We will also walkthrough an ADBA setup for Windows 8.1 clients.
Volume Activation (VA) Services for Windows Server 2012 R2
How Does ADBA compare to KMS? ^
Microsoft took a look at the common complaints for KMS in order to eliminate them in ADBA. For example, KMS requires a minimal number of clients before activation takes place. Currently, 25 instances are required for client operating systems and five instances are required for server operating systems. ADBA does not have a minimal activation threshold.
ADBA is a GUI based activation mechanism. If you are currently running KMS on a 2008 R2 machine or below, this will probably be a very welcome change. There are some things more suitable to a GUI than command line. In my opinion, activations are one of those things.
With KMS, your activation objects is directly linked to your KMS host. If your KMS host goes down, clients will be unable to activate. ADBA stores its activation objects within Active Directory. By using ADSI, you can view these activation objects.
The Activation Objects as seen from ADSI
Because the activation objects are stored within Active Directory, they are no longer node specific. As long as a client can contact Active Directory, that client can activate. If clients can’t contact AD, you probably have bigger problems.
Finally, KMS configuration is domain specific. If you manage a large multi-domain environment, KMS requires more administrative effort. ADBA, on the other hand, is a forest wide single instance activation method. A onetime configuration takes care of your entire AD infrastructure.
ADBA requirements ^
ADBA does have a minimal OS requirement. It can only activate Windows 8+ and Windows Server 2012+ operating systems. It also supports Office 2013 activation.
But here is the good news – KMS and ADBA are not mutually exclusive. You can continue to use KMS to activate your older clients and use ADBA for your newer clients. If your KMS host is running (or upgraded) to Windows Server 2012 R2, you can even have both roles on the same machine. Doing this gives you a GUI for KMS.
Surprisingly, you can take advantage of ADBA without needing to upgrade your domain controllers. Your schema version will need to be updated to Windows Server 2012 at least.
Activating Windows 8.1 with ADBA ^
Got 15 minutes and a Windows 2012 R2 Server? Great – let’s set up ADBA! This guide will assume that you are starting from scratch. First, head to the Add Roles and Features wizard. Continue through the wizard until you reach the Server Roles selection. Select the Volume Activation Services role and finish the wizard.
Installing Volume Activation Services
Next, launch the newly installed Volume Activation tools. Select Active Directory Based Activation as the Activation type.
Configuring Active Directory Based Activation
Install your KMS host key and provide a unique name for this value. As a note, you can install a single Windows Server 2012 R2 KMS key to activate client and server operating systems. More information can be found here. Under Product Key management, you will need to select the type of initial server activation.
ADBA Product Key management
Continue through the wizard until you receive confirmation that activation has successfully been enabled.
To test activation, simply restart an un-activated client. You can check System Properties or the Application Event log to see your successful Active Directory Based Activation!
Our successful activation!