Case Study: SBS2003 5CAL Reset Issue


This client runs a Small Business Server 2003 environment for their primary server, with a server 2003 Terminal Server for remote desktop access to applications.


Problem Being Addressed:

While troubleshooting an issue with connecting to the Terminal Server after reconfiguring the VPN for Salem-to-Eugene traffic, the users in Salem were reporting that they were unable to access any files or programs on the terminal server, though they could log in.  Logging out, killing the session, and logging back in produced the same effect.  All necessary services were running on both servers.  Examining the error log revealed events identified in MS KB 888818, including the following errors:

No license was available for user domainname\username using product FilePrint . Use Licensing from the Administrative Tools folder to ensure that you have sufficient licenses.

License usage for product Windows Server has reached the maximum number of per server licenses purchased. Consult Licensing from the Administrative Tools folder for more information.

The Approach Taken:

Microsoft KB 888818 reports that it is a KNOWN BUG that SBS2003 sometimes resets to the default of 5 Client Access Licenses (CALs).  This can be caused by a number of different circumstances.  They propose a handful of different solutions:

Solution 1: Restore CALs using the Backup and Restore CALs wizard in the licensing manager.

Solution 2: Restore the Windows folder from a Backup.

Solution 3: Re-add the CALs to the licensing manager from the original paperwork.

Problems Experienced:

The biggest problem with these solutions is that this client has no backups in place.  Solution one (Restore from a CAL backup) requires you to have a backup of the CAL file, a process which is run manually using the wizard.  Solution two is incredibly destructive to the system (Restore the entire Windows folder from a recent backup) and was not possible in the environment.  Solution three required access to the original paperwork, which was presumed gone long ago based on the environment.  However, solution two presented the most promise.  Since restoring the Windows folder would fix the problem, a file somewhere within the Windows folder must be responsible for the CAL information.  I did have access to an old backup file (2 or 3 years old).  Ideally, I could restore the singular file responsible and avoid any damage to the system.  The final solution, however, was infinitely better.

While searching for the location of said CAL file, I found the solution on a small blog.  For Windows SBS2003, the licenses are kept in the file in the WINDOWS\system32 folder.  Better yet, Windows automatically keeps a backup of this file, names  Renaming to, and copying to the original name restores the non-damaged CAL file.  Restarting the License Logging Service refreshes the license information, and instantly all errors ceased and the users were once again able to access their programs.

Things We Would Do Differently:

Ideally, backups should be in place.  However, with something critical like CALs it is wise to catalogue paperwork in alfresco, and running the CAL backup wizard and storing the file on the system and remotely would be the best possible solution.


  1. The number of client access licenses may be reset to five in Windows Small Business Server 2003, KB 888818
  2. Small Business Server 2003 – The Dreaded 5 CAL Reset Issue

Inactive since April, 2015

Andrew Sherman graduated from Linfield College in 2011 with a Bachelors in Psychology and a minor in business. He has worked with computers from a very young age, which led to his first full IT job in High-school. During college, he worked for Linfield’s IT department, and continued developing skills with computer deployment and troubleshooting.

Since joining Deus Machine Andrew has honed a large array of IT skills including Network Administration and Engineering, as well as Windows Server, Active Directory, and Microsoft Exchange Deployment and administration. He specializes in configuration of network hardware, and is the go-to Cisco specialist in the company.