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Volume Activation for Windows 8.1

Published: March 12, 2014

Applies To: Windows 8.1

This guide is designed to help organizations that are planning to use volume activation to deploy and activate Windows 8.1, including organizations that have used volume activation for earlier versions of Windows.

Volume activation is the process that Microsoft volume licensing customers use to automate and manage the activation of Windows operating systems, Microsoft Office, and other Microsoft products across large organizations. Volume licensing is available to customers who purchase software under various volume programs (such as Open and Select) and to participants in programs such as the Microsoft Partner Program and MSDN Subscriptions.

Volume activation is a configurable solution that helps automate and manage the product activation process on computers running Windows operating systems that have been licensed under a volume licensing program. Volume activation is also used with other software from Microsoft (most notably the Office suites) that are sold under volume licensing agreements and that support volume activation.

This guide provides information and step-by-step guidance to help you choose a volume activation method that suits your environment, and then to configure that solution successfully. This guide describes the new volume activation features that are available in Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 and the tools that are provided in these versions of Windows and Windows Server to manage volume activation.

Because most organizations will not immediately switch all computers to Windows 8.1, practical volume activation strategies must also take in to account how to work with the Windows 78, Windows 7, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2008 R2 2 operating systems. This guide discusses how the new volume activation tools can support earlier operating systems, but it does not discuss the tools that are provided with earlier operating system versions.

Volume activation—and the need for activation itself—is not new, and this guide does not review all of its concepts and history. You can find additional background in the appendices of this guide. For more information, see Volume Activation Overview in the TechNet Library.

If you would like additional information about planning a volume activation deployment specifically for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, please see the Volume Activation Planning Guide for Windows 7. For the Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 operating systems, review Volume Activation 2.0 Technical Guidance.

To successfully plan and implement a volume activation strategy, you must:

  • Learn about and understand product activation.

  • Review and evaluate the available activation types or models.

  • Consider the connectivity of the clients to be activated.

  • Choose the method or methods to be used with each type of client.

  • Determine the types and number of product keys you will need.

  • Determine the monitoring and reporting needs in your organization.

  • Install and configure the tools required to support the methods selected.

Keep in mind that the method of activation does not change an organization’s responsibility to the licensing requirements. You must ensure that all software used in your organization is properly licensed and activated in accordance with the terms of the licensing agreements in place.

In this guide:

on the client device. You can activate Windows 8.1 in the same ways as previous versions—by using Multiple Activation Keys (MAKs), retail keys, or volume licensing keys with a Key Management Server (KMS). This guide examines in more detail the differences in how keys are used from the client and applied from the KMS.

A significant change was made with the release of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 with the addition of Active Directory-based activation. This new activation method is a role service that allows you to use Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) to store activation objects, which can further simplify the task of maintaining volume activation services for a network. With Active Directory-based activation, no additional host server is needed.

Instead, a computer running Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 R2, or Windows Server 2012 R2 attempts to retrieve volume activation information from the domain at startup, falling back to KMS if the domain is not available or not configured for Active Directory-based activation. The computer will periodically attempt to reactivate by using the domain, and it will stay activated as long as it remains a member of the domain and has periodic contact with a domain controller or a KMS.

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