Automated Virtual Machine Activation

Let’s face it… Microsoft wants you to use Microsoft, so when it can, it creates technologies that make it easier for you to do so.  Automatic Virtual Machine Activation (AVMA) is one of those tools.

I remember when Microsoft got into the server virtualization game, it really had very little to compete with VMware, other than price.  That has certainly changed, and while Hyper-V is not completely where ESXi is, it is damned close… and there are some benefits, such as AVMA.

What is it?  Simple.  If your virtualization host is running Hyper-V, then your guest VMs do not need to activate to Microsoft… or even to a KMS Server for that matter.  They activate directly to the host.  That means that rather than having to keep track of (or worse, share) your Product Keys, you can simply share the AVMA keys.  The rest is done through the Data Exchange Integration Service in the Hyper-V stack.

The downside?  You have to have an (activated) Windows Server Datacenter Edition as your host.  In other words, it will not work with Hyper-V Server.  That is not a huge downside, but it is significant.

The keys are available for free on-line, and the activation is done against your host.  So use the following keys:

Windows Server 2016

Edition AVMA key
Standard C3RCX-M6NRP-6CXC9-TW2F2-4RHYD
Essentials B4YNW-62DX9-W8V6M-82649-MHBKQ

Windows Server 2012 R2

Edition AVMA key
Datacenter Y4TGP-NPTV9-HTC2H-7MGQ3-DV4TW
Essentials K2XGM-NMBT3-2R6Q8-WF2FK-P36R2

(Notice that this works only for Server 2012R2 and later.  The feature was only introduced in that version.)

One thing you need to make sure of in the guest VM settings… You need to have Data Exchange enabled in the Integration Services context, as seen here:


…So now, you can include the AVMA key in your VM templates, and you will be all set.  But if you didn’t do that, try the following command:

slmgr.exe /ipk C3RCX-M6NRP-6CXC9-TW2F2-4RHYD

That will add the product key to your VM, and all that is left to do is activate it using the following:

slmgr.exe /ato

That’s it… Have fun!



SCOM License – Upgrade?

The installation of System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2016 does not ask you anywhere to enter a license key.  Then when you run the Operations Console, you are shown a required task to Upgrade to full version.  When you click on the link, it opens a website that is less than helpful.

SCOM Upgrade to Full

In fact, when you open the Help – About, you get a nice screen that says the product is not licensed to anyone, and you are using an Eval copy.

SCOM Unlicensed

All this is saying is that we have not yet entered a product key for SCOM.  For reasons I have never quite understood, there is no way to enter the license key in the GUI; you have to enter it in the Operations Manager Shell (essentially the PowerShell for SCOM), and you have to do it directly from the Management Server.

The command is: Set-SCOMLicense -ProductID “XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX”.

SCOM ProductID

Once you do this, the Upgrade Required notice will disappear (when you restart the Management Console), and your product version in the About section will now appear as Retail.

SCOM Licensed

Note: If you have any problems getting this to work with the Shell, try running the Operations Manager Shell as Administrator.

Activating Office 2013 Headaches… Here’s your Aspirin!

Hey Mitch, why is it that every time I install Microsoft office 2013 for my customers I have to log in with a Microsoft Account (Formerly Live ID)?  Why can’t I just use a product key like I used to?  I always use my own Microsoft Account, and I am now the registered user for hundreds of installations of Office 2013!

imageI have been confronted by partners, customers, and end users with variants of this question for months, and I always tell them the same thing… there is NO requirement to log onto a Microsoft Account when installing Microsoft Office 2013.  Unfortunately people don’t read the fine print!

Microsoft Office 2013 was designed to work with the cloud – Office 365 is of course the answer, and gives you so much more than just the client software.  In fact, with Office 365 Microsoft is moving to a subscription-based service, rather than an up-front purchase model.  Especially in the enterprise but also in smaller businesses and the home it is easier on the pocketbook to pay monthly than up front.

Not all of you agree… Okay, that is fine; if you do not want to work with Office 365, and would rather buy the FPP and not integrate with any of the on-line services (including licensing and activation!) then it is simple… in the Activate Office screen under the big NEXT button there is a little option to ‘Enter a product key instead.’  I admit it, the font size makes it easy to miss, but it is indeed there (note the highlighted section in the screen capture).

Now here’s the fun part… at least from a Deployment standpoint.  There is a better way of installing Microsoft Office that does not require you to type in a product key every time: create a .MSP file with the Microsoft Office Customization Tool.  It is only available with the Pro versions of Microsoft Office, and even at that only with media attached to a volume license.  However if you have that, your life will be much easier:

  1. image Attach the media to your PC (either by inserting the DVD or by mounting the .ISO file).
  2. Open a Command Prompt.
  3. Navigate to the root directory of the media (as pictured it is D:\)
  4. type setup /admin
  5. This will open the Microsoft Office Customization Tool

    You will be prompted to select the product that you want to customize (in this case Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 (64-bit)), or to open an existing customization file.  Click OK.


While this tool gives you a lot of options that you can configure (and I encourage you to explore!) I will focus on two specific options.

Installation location and organization name

I like the fact that the OCT allows me to enter my organization name (as well as the default installation path).  If I am installing Office on a small number of computers then it really doesn’t bother me to type in the organization name, but if I have to install it on dozens (or thousands) then this really helps me out.


Licensing and user interface

If I am going to the trouble (okay, it’s not that much trouble) of customization, then I might as well do it right.  Let’s click in the Navigation Pane to Licensing and user interface.

If you have a Key Management Server (KMS) in your organization then you should let it manage your licenses, but most smaller organizations won’t have this, so we are going to select the radio button Enter another product key to enter our Multiple Activation Key (MAK).  In the appropriate box you can enter your key, which will be 25-characters.  You will also have to check the box ‘I accept the terms in the License Agreement’ if you don’t want your end users having to do it.

Speaking of end users, the same screen lets you change the Display level of the installation… so they can see it happening, or not.  I like to set the level to None, but send a Completion notice so they will be advised when the installation is complete.


**NOTE: The product key used herein is obviously not a legitimate one.  The OCT does verify that your Product Key is valid, else it will not let you navigate from this screen.

imageOnce you have completed all of the customizations you like (as I said, please do not feel restricted by these!) you have to save your customization file.  In the File menu click Save As…

Navigate to where you plan to save it and enter a file name, and press Save.  You are almost ready!

Now that you have created your .MSP file, all you have to do is place it in the updates directory of your installation media.  If you are using an .ISO file then you can simply mount the file and copy it in.  If you are deploying from a USB key or network share then you can simply copy the file.  If you are still deploying from CDs then I am afraid you are going to have to create a new disc… and suffer the ridicule of people who think that CDs are so last decade 🙂


Microsoft goes to great efforts with every new product release to make it easier on end users and IT Pros alike to deploy and use their technologies.  While the cloud connection is great (and some of us love being able to activate our applications by entering our Microsoft or Organizational Account!) it is not the only game in town, and so the old ways are still available to you.  You just may have to dig a little deeper, look a little harder… or ask someone like me! 🙂

Activation Headaches: Here is your aspirin!

This post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection.

There are three concepts in Microsoft licensing that people often mistake for a single entity, when in fact the three are connected but very separate.  They are:

  • Licensing
  • Activation
  • Product Keys

Because the three are so tied together it is easy to get yourself in trouble if you do not take the time to understand how the three of them interrelate.  However with a little understanding you should be good to go.


You have paid for an instance of an operating system or an application; you are licensed to use it.  Does that mean you are licensed to use it anywhere? Of course not.  Depending on the type of license you may be good, or you may be limited.  For example, there may be educational licensing that cannot be used outside of a school, or charity licensing that can only be used by a non-profit (and non-religious) organization.  Then there are OEM licenses which are tied to a piece of hardware, which means that it cannot be transferred to another physical machine (or, depending on the license, to a Virtual Machine).  These types of limitations are important to understand not only when planning your licensing, but also when migrating from older to newer hardware, and from physical to virtual, and even from vSphere to Hyper-V (virtual to virtual).


You install an operating system or an application.  Now you are allowed to use it… however before you do it has to ‘call home’ to make sure that your license is legitimate.  Unfortunately over the past few decades software piracy and misuse caused companies like Microsoft to come up with ways to try to prevent theft or misuse.  In the days before ubiquitous interconnected computing (the Internet) you might have had to call Microsoft with a code and type in their response code.  Fortunately today our computers are all connected, and all that software activation requires is your permission (some companies do not ask even that).  However what if your computer is not connected to the Internet at the moment?  Simple… most companies will let you install and use their software for a trial period (often 30 or 60 days) before having to activate it.


Product Keys

In order to make sure your operating system or application software is legitimate the company that sells it to you will provide you a product key, often represented on a Certificate of Authenticity (COA).  This key ensures that you purchased it legitimately, and is encoded with protections to make sure a) you enter a legitimate key, and b) that the key has not simply been stolen or used more often than permitted.

So we’re good to go… we understand the three different concepts.  How they interconnect is as such:

  • Not all Licensed software comes with a Product Key, but most of them do, and most of them require Activation to work.
  • Having a Product Key does not mean that you are licensed, but will usually allow you to Activate your software (or OS).
  • Having a Licensed Product Key does not necessarily mean you will be able to Activate your software, because if the Product Key has been compromised the software vendor may ‘kill’ the Product Key.
  • A ‘killed’ Product Key does not mean you lose your License; you will however have to contact your software vendor to get a new key in order to Activate.
  • An Activation is not proof of License.  You can reinstall the same machine ten times and only use a single license.  Also if you are able to Activate a Product Key more often than the number of Licenses you bought it does not make it legitimate.

Ok… so now that you understand all of this (there will be a test Winking smile) it is time to manage your Licenses and Product Keys and Activations.

What? Are you serious?

Okay okay… we know it sounds like a much simpler task in an organization with ten machines than in one with 10,000 machines, but Microsoft has a solution that is going to make your life easier.  For the Enterprise (or at least for organizations with over 25 licenses) Microsoft provides a couple of free tools for managing your Volume License (VL) Activations.  The Key Management Server (KMS) is a great way to manage your activations for Windows (Server & Client), Office, and several other Microsoft products, including OEM, Volume License, and even ‘FPP.’

Charity Shelbourne, a Senior Premier Field Engineer with Microsoft, wrote a great piece on Active Directory-Based Activation vs. Key Management Services.  It discusses and links to articles on setting up and managing a KMS Server, as well as takes you through installing and configuring the Volume Activation Services role in Windows Server 2012, and managing all of the components of same.  You can check out that article on the Ask Premier Field Engineer (PFE) Blog here.  I was going to do a similar write-up, but when she has done such a great job I decided it was better to just point to hers.  Now go forth and get your Licensed Product Keys Activated!

Wrong Product Key? Oh No!

Here’s a tip if you need to change your product key in Windows 8.  It also works in earlier versions of Windows, but those versions have easier ways of doing it.  In Windows 8 you need to use the Windows Software Licensing Management Tool (slmgr.vbs)

  1. Open a Command Prompt with elevated privileges (from the Windows 8 Start Screen, type cmd, right-click the result, and click ‘Run with Elevated Privileges’ along the bottom.
  2. Type slmgr –ipk <your product key>

The slmgr tool is a .vbs script that you can use to install product keys, activate, or display licensing activation for Windows.  the –ipk switch installs a new product key, either in absence of an existing one, or to replace it.

Assuming you are connected to the Internet, the Activate Windows message will disappear immediately, and you will be able to use features and settings in Windows that are blocked until you activate.

Of course, the best way to not need this trick is to add the proper product key at the installation Smile