Some days ago, I reported that we were having problems activating KMS on a Windows Server 2003. It turned out that we accidently exceeded the number of possible KMS installations. You can only activate 6 KMS hosts with one KMS key, each with up to 9 reactivations. I was quite surprised to hear that we have already 6 KMS hosts installed. Actually, I thought my test system is the first one. So how did we get 6 KMS installations?

The explanation of this incident is a good example of how easily you can run into problems with Microsoft's new activation guidelines. When we first received the Vista DVDs, we only got one key, the KMS Key. At that time nobody knew what "KMS" means. Since it was the only key we got, we all thought it is just the key to activate Vista. Well, you really can use the KMS key to activate Vista. So, some of our admins used this key for their test installations.

I think it is quite strange that you can use the same key to activate a workstation and as a backend application. Anyway, Microsoft will now increase the number of allowed KMS hosts for our organization. But this will take one to three weeks!

This gives you an idea what happens if there is any kind of "misuse" of your activation keys. In our case, we accidently misused the KMS key because we didn't get the right instructions. I am sure; there are many similar cases where one can run innocently into problems.

Let's say someone steals your KMS key and publishes it on the internet. Microsoft will disable this key, which will result in an activation failure of your KMS host. Your Vista clients won't be able to activate anymore. After 180 days your activated machines will get deactivated. There is a 30 day grace period before they go into Reduced Functionally Mode (RFM). You can prolong the grace period three times which gives you another 120 days.

Thus, there should be plenty of time to fix the problem. However, the question is, when will you realize that you have a problem at all? In the case described above, we realized the problem too late. We didn't deploy Vista yet, so it is not a big problem. But it confirmed my worries about this new risks Microsoft imposed on us with Windows Vista Volume Activation 2.0. It doesn't happen often with new versions, but version 2.0 is definitely a change to the worse.

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Please check out the Related section below for other articles in this series about Vista activation.

3 Comments
  1. Joel 16 years ago

    Thanks for this information. I am nearing the start of my own Vista compatibility testing and plan to use KMS to serve my pilot test machines.

    I understand that Vista Virtual machines will not count toward the KMS count – which also means they do not need activation – is this right?

    I would assume that a domain admin would be required to install the KMS host since it would interact with DNS to modify SRV records or is this not the case?

    How many PCs do you support?

  2. Michael Pietroforte 16 years ago

    You have to activate virtual Vista installations as well. They just don’t increase the n-count of the KMS. So, you can’t use virtual machines to reach the minimum of 25 Vista computers. Microsoft obviously wants only the bigger companies to use KMS. And yes, you need admin rights to install KMS. We’ve about 550 PCs at the moment.

  3. troy 16 years ago

    Ok, so am I assuming that when I have my Virtual Vista installed and that the activation is counting down that when it hits 0 days left to activate, that it is still going to operate as normal?? We have a KMS setup as well, but are not finding the virtual area to be pleasent.

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