Jira Version Comparison Guide: Which Version Do I Need?

Atlassian’s website provides a fair amount of information about Jira, its popular issue tracking and project management software. However, no matter the breadth of available information, it can be hard to compare all the factors and what they can do for your business.

For example, there are separate pages for the three main products, Jira Core, Jira Software, and Jira Service Desk. And then, there are separate pages for the three hosting versions, Cloud, Server, and Data Center. Oh, and not all the products are available in the Data Center version in case your business needs extra levels of security. Licensing costs for Jira are likewise scattered.

Oxalis Solutions is here to help. We’ll lay the options all out here for you in one definitive overview of Jira Core, Jira Service Desk, and Jira Software. This guide covers pricing, features, and more. After covering pricing, features, and comparisons, it should be clear which Jira options your business needs.

3 Factors That Tell You Which Version of Jira to Buy

Here are the three key factors to consider:

  • Product: Core, Software, and/or Service Desk
  • Deployment: Cloud, Server, or Data Center
    • Note: Core does NOT have a Data Center version.
  • Licenses: number and type

Jira Products: Core, Software, and Service Desk

While these three products are independent, they can be used individually or partnered together. Despite the name, Jira Core does NOT mean it provides a baseline the other two products. Rather, it reflects the fact that its business project functionality is at the core of what Jira does and is present in the Software and Service Desk versions as well. So, if you want just Jira Software, you can without feeling the need to add other products on.

CoreProject management, change requests, workflow approvalsProjects, tasks/issues, workflow, approvals, notifications, reports, dashboards
SoftwareSoftware development, product management, bug trackingStories, epics, sprints, releases, versions, boards, roadmaps
Service DeskHelp desks, service centers—anywhere a small team of people handle requests submitted by a larger organizationSelf-service portals, SLAs, issue queues, knowledge base integration (Confluence)

For a more detailed side-by-side comparison, see the Akeles.com article, “What are the differences between JIRA Software, JIRA Service Desk and JIRA Core“.

The target uses listed above should give you a general sense of what each product is focused on. Keep in mind: Jira is flexible and extensible, not just by virtue of the hundreds of add-ons available in the Atlassian Marketplace. Due to Jira’s well-documented Java API that allows anyone to write custom code and even create add-ons.  If your use cases don’t clearly match what’s listed, Jira may still meet your needs. We have included some examples below.

The fact that Jira offers a dedicated software version does not mean it’s necessary for software development.  In fact, if you’re part of a small team or not following the Agile Development Approach, Jira Software could be more than you or your team needs. The fields Version and Components are built into both Jira Core or Jira Service Desk for software development.

Special Cases

Jira Service Desk’s most significant feature is the self-service (or customer) portal, providing a simple external interface to Jira that allows unlicensed users to create requests and check on the status of their requests.  Add-ons and customization can expand the actions available through a portal.

Note the key phrase “unlicensed users.” In Jira Service Desk, a license is only required to work on an issue.  This allows the flexibility to allow for many more people to use Jira than you could otherwise afford.

Bottom line: Jira Software is a perfect fit if you’re doing Agile Software Development with a sizable team or multiple teams.

Is there a special case we didn’t cover? We’d love to learn about it. Contact us and we’ll find a solution that fits your team needs.

Business Cases

To illustrate Jira’s flexibility and extensibility, here are two examples of business processes that can be built in Jira:

1) Document Review

Say you’re a complex fabrication company that uses an engineering company to produce drawings and schematics needed to fill orders. Each document has to be reviewed both by you and by the customer and can go through several revision cycles before being approved and sent to production.

With Jira Service Desk, you can create an external portal that engineers use to submit documents (including both attachments and metadata) and the customer uses to review them.  In Jira, your team receives a document request and reviews it, then uses a custom workflow to send the request to the customer for review via the portal. The customer sends the request back with their feedback, you review again, send it to the engineer to revise.  Eventually, the request is approved, and the workflow automatically routes it to production and the work begins.

2) Governmental Integration

In this scenario, you repair and service vehicles for the Army. Due to regulation, this process requires you to document every problem you find, your proposed fix, and get approval before doing any work.  Your team uses an Army software application to report the problems and get work approval. It’s a very manual, time-consuming process—using a separate application to manage work items.

But, the Army’s software has an API.

Now, with Jira Core, you can handle the entire process. From logging problems to managing related documents, even integrating with the Army’s system so work items are sent off for approval without opening the Army’s clunky, difficult program.

Deployment: Cloud, Server, or Data Center

These three choices should be familiar with many other software offerings, such as Microsoft SharePoint.

CloudNo installation, maintenance, or upgrades to deal with; no capital cost for hardwareReduced flexibility and customization; no control over which country your data is stored in, or other government security-related factors; annual cost is higher in most cases compared to annual maintenance for the same number of Server licensesAtlassian hosts, sets up, secures, and maintains your products.
ServerFull ability to customize Jira to meet your needs; full control over meeting government security requirements; one-time cost unless you add the annual maintenance planYou bear the capital cost of hardware and the resource cost of installation, maintenance, upgrades, etc.You install, host and run our products yourself, either on your own hardware or through cloud hosting services like AWS.
Data CenterEasy scalability; high availability; load balancing; improved performance with project archiving; Atlassian-supported disaster recoveryHighest cost for hardware and support resources; not available for Jira CoreThink of this as server, but at scale. Data Center products provide the same functionality as our server products but have additional capabilities to better serve enterprise organizations

Here are some practical questions to consider:

  • Will you have the resources to handle your own installation and maintenance?
    • If not, Jira Cloud is best.
  • Will you need full redundancy, high availability, or other enterprise-level architecture features?
    • If not, rule out Jira Data Center.
  • Will you have the resources for custom development?
    • If not, Jira Cloud is best.
  • Do you have government security requirements to meet, e.g. NIST or ITAR?
    • If so, rule out Jira Cloud.
  • Is it easier for your company to pay larger amounts of money annually or smaller amounts monthly?
    • If monthly, then Jira Cloud is best, as it’s the only option that has a monthly plan.

Jira License Comparison: Number and Type

Jira Core and Jira Software are licensed per user, meaning that a user cannot use the system unless a license is purchased and assigned. As mentioned above, Service Desk only requires a license for those who need to work issues in Jira, called “agents“.
It’s worth noting that licenses for agents are more expensive than licenses for Core and Software users.

Jira Server licenses are one-time costs, while Jira Cloud licenses may be paid monthly or annually. Cloud licenses will expire if you fail to renew when required. Data Center licenses are only available annually, but they do offer a 50% discount for academic clients.

All three products offer an affordable starter option for small groups (meaning up to 10 users or 3 agents). Beyond that, volume discounts make larger numbers of licenses progressively cheaper.

One practical consideration for Jira Service Desk: it includes the business process features in Jira Core. If you’re setting up projects in Service Desk that do not use the extra features of Service Desk, but only the business process features, you still have to pay for agent licenses. As a result, it may be cheaper to get both Core and Service Desk to save the expensive agent licenses.

Sound confusing? Let’s chat and talk through what will work best for your team.

Licensing Cost Overview

To translate Jira’s license per user costs into more practical terms, we’ve picked some sample numbers of users to compare costs between products and deployment options.

Monthly Cloud License Comparison

Here are samples of the licensing costs per month for the Cloud version of each product.  

Note: All costs are in US dollars.

# of Users / AgentsCore Cost/Mo.Software Cost/Mo.Service Desk Cost/Mo.
1-10 / 1-3$10$10$10
50 / 15$250$350
100 / 50$500$700$825
250 / 100$1,025$1,450$1,575
500 / 200$1,300$1,672.5$2,375
2,000 / 1,000$2,675$3,100$3,525

Annual Cloud License Comparison

Since the Jira Cloud version also offers a discounted annual subscription plan, it’s worth comparing the annualized monthly cost for each product to the corresponding subscription cost. Here is a breakdown of the cost per year for Jira products.

 Annualized Monthly CostAnnual Subscription Cost
# of Users / AgentsCoreSoftwareService DeskCoreSoftwareService Desk
1-10 / 1-3$120$120$120$100$100$100
50 / 15$3,000$4,200$3,600$2,500$3,500$3,000
100 / 50$6,000$8,400$9,900$5,000$7,000$8,250
250 / 100$12,300$17,400$18,900$10,800$15,050$15,750
500 / 200$15,600$20,070$28,500$13,000$17,250$23,750
2,000 / 1,000$32,100$37,200$42,300$29,500$33,750$35,250

This table shows how much business can save with the subscription plan. But, make sure to do the math for the number of licenses you actually need, as there are some beneficial points in the Jira cost-per-user hierarchy that might not be apparent from the surface.

Consider that $13,000 gets you 500 licenses on the subscription plan, but only 303 on the monthly plan. So if you switch from a monthly to a yearly subscription when you have 300 licenses, you can effectively add 200 licenses for the price of 300.

Server License Comparison

When you pay the one-time cost for a Server License, you get one year of software maintenance—an all encompassing service that includes access to new software releases/enhancements, Jira support, critical bug fixes, and security patches. After that first year, Atlassian offers an annual maintenance plan.

If you can anticipate your company’s need for future maintenance, or if you don’t have a staff member who can maintain the server for you, plan on adding the annual subscription plan for Jira Core.

 Jira Server MaintenanceJira Core Subscription
# of Users / AgentsCoreSoftwareService DeskCoreSoftwareService Desk
1-10 / 1-3$10$10$10$10$10$10
11-25 / 4-5$1,100$875$1,200$2,200$3,500$2,400
26-50 / 6-10$2,250$1,700$2350$4,500$6,800$4,700
51-100 / 11-15$4,400$3,325$3,600$8,800$13,300$7,200
101-250 / 16-25$8,800$6,600$5,200$17,600$26,400$10,400
251-500 / 26-50$13,200$10,000$9,500$26,400$40,000$19,000
501-2,000 / 51-100$20,000$15,000$15,800$40,000$60,000$31,600
2,001-10,000 / 101-250$40,000$50,000$25,300$80,000$120,000$50,600

As you can see, with two exceptions, the annual cost is lower for Server than for Core—and the more licenses you have, the more you save.

Data Center License Comparison

Although the advantages of the Data Center product usually stand on their own, here is the annual license cost compared to the annual maintenance for the same number of Server licenses.

 Data Center Annual CostServer Annual Maintenance Cost
# of Users / AgentsSoftwareService DeskSoftwareService Desk
250 / 100$20,400$22,000$13,200$15,800
500 / 200$20,400$39,600$20,000$25,300
1000 / 400$30,000$66,000$30,000$32,700
2,000 / 800$52,800$118,800$30,000$32,700*
5,000 / 2,000$132,000$145,200$60,000$32,700*
10,000 / 4,000$264,000$198,000$60,000$32,700*

*Jira Service Desk Server’s highest tier is 251+ agents, so it costs the same for 251 as for 1000 or 10000, but remember that if your server can’t handle the load from 1000 active agents, you have to pay separately for licenses for a new server

Where To Go From Here

In some cases, the information provided above will be enough to determine which Jira product(s) and deployment options are the best fit for you. But most companies, especially larger ones, have plenty of business processes that don’t clearly fall into those categories. And the truth is, we all know that reading the marketing materials doesn’t always provide the most accurate reflection of performance. This is where we come in. Oxalis can bridge that information gap, and help you figure out whether Jira products can meet your particular needs.

We covered many of the benefits, drawbacks, and differences between Jira Core, Jira Service Desk, and Jira Software over the course of this post. However, if you need more information while deciding if the Jira Suite is right for you, send our team of experts a message—don’t let lack of information make your decision for you.

For more information, we offer Jira consulting services to help with best practices in configuration, customization, and more.


Feel free to send us a message in the form below. We’re very approachable and would like to talk more about how we can meet your needs: