Skip to main content

Cornell University

Activating Microsoft Products with the KMS Server

This article applies to: Software Licensing

On This Page

When you install Microsoft software, you generally need to provide a Microsoft product key. Under Cornell University's Microsoft Campus Agreement, a technology called Key Management Service (KMS) automatically activates products and keeps track of their activation status. This helps Cornell ensure compliance with the Campus Agreement, so that the university can continue to provide Microsoft software to campus at no fee.

Covered Products

KMS activation is available for the following Microsoft products, which are distributed by CU Software under Cornell's Microsoft Campus Agreement site license

  • Windows 11 (Enterprise, Professional, and Education Editions)
  • Windows 10 (Enterprise, Professional, and Education Editions)
  • Windows Server 2022
  • Windows Server 2019
  • Microsoft Office Professional Plus LTSC 2021
    When possible, we recommend using Microsoft Office 365, which uses a different activation method.
    Please see our Office 365 for Faculty and Staff page for more information.
  • Microsoft Office Professional Plus LTSC 2019
    When possible, we recommend using Microsoft Office 365, which uses a different activation method.
    Please see our Office 365 for Faculty and Staff page for more information.

KMS can also activate supplementary Microsoft Office products purchased through Cornell's Academic Select Plus agreement, such as Project and Visio.

How KMS Works

With KMS activation, newly installed products don't prompt for an activation key, and are available for immediate use. The software on each machine is configured to look for a local KMS activation server, and when it finds the server, the software on the machine is activated for 180 days (about six months). Once a week, your software will attempt to connect to the KMS activation server, and when successful, it resets the timer for 180 days again. If the software goes 180 days without activating, it enters a 30-day grace period, and displays a warning message. 

For a full account of how often KMS attempts to reach the server, please see Timetable for KMS Activation and Reactivation.

Activating with KMS: New Installations

From Networks That Allow KMS Autodiscovery: On most networks on campus, including the eduroam wireless network, your software should activate automatically. No action needs to be taken.

From Networks That Don't Allow KMS Autodiscovery: Some networks that are run by local IT departments have not been configured for KMS autodiscovery. If your machine does not activate automatically via KMS, please see your local IT provider. Your local IT provider will be able to do one of the following:

Configure your local DNS server to allow KMS autodiscovery [IT Admins]

  • Only needs to be done once for the DNS server.

  • After configuration, machines will activate automatically.

Activate individual machines by KMS manually [IT Admins]

  • Needs to be done on each individual machine.

  • Note: Virtual machines (for example, Windows running on a Mac via Parallels Desktop) always need manual configuration.

 Activating With KMS: Switching from MAK Activation

If you have previously activated Windows or Office by typing in a Product Key, your IT admin can switch your activation method to KMS. He or she would also need to do this if someone attempted to activate your software with an invalid or expired Product Key. IT admins should see Updating to KMS from an MAK Installation for step-by-step instructions.

Activating from Off-Campus

Cornell's KMS activation server is only reachable from within the Cornell network. However, you can still activate via KMS from off-campus by connecting to Cornell's Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. When you connect to Cornell via VPN, your computer is on the Cornell network, and has full access to services that are restricted to campus. This includes the KMS activation server.

Once you have connected via CU VPN, your software should activate automatically. The activation will be good for 180 days. If 180 days pass without reconnecting to the Cornell network, your software will enter its 30-day grace period mode, and display a warning message. You can take that as a prompt to connect to CU VPN again.

Please note that it can take up to two hours for automated activation to take effect. If you need to activate sooner, you may follow the manual KMS activation procedure while connected to CU VPN.

More Help

For more help activating Microsoft products with KMS, please contact the CU Software office: 


To share feedback about this page or request support, log in with your NetID

At Cornell we value your privacy. To view
our university's privacy practices, including
information use and third parties, visit University Privacy.