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. But if you’re a buyer trying to figure out what flavor of Jira you need, it can be hard to get the full picture of all the factors and how they compare. There are separate pages for the three main products, Jira Core, Jira Software, and Jira Service Desk. 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. Licensing costs for Jira are likewise scattered.

So we’ll lay it all out here for you, in one handy overview od Atlassian products: Jira Core vs. Service Desk vs. Software. This Jira guide covers pricing, features, and more. By the time you get to the end of this article, it should be clear which Jira options you need.

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‡
  • Licenses: number and type
    • Core does NOT have a Data Center version.

Product: Core, Software, and/or/vs. Service Desk

These three products are independent and can be used individually or together. Jira Core’s name does NOT mean it provides a baseline the other two products need in order to function; 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 get just that.

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)

See the Akeles article, “What are the differences between JIRA Software, JIRA Service Desk and JIRA Core,” for a more detailed side-by-side comparison of the products.

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

On the flip side, the fact that Jira offers a dedicated Software version doesn’t mean it’s the product you have to use for software development.  If you’re not following the agile development approach, or if your team is two or three people, Jira Software may be more than you need. You can use Jira Core or Jira Service Desk for software development; for instance, the fields Version and Components are built into both products.

Special Cases

Jira Service Desk’s most significant feature is the self-service (or customer) portal.  It provides 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 many more people to use Jira than you could otherwise afford.

If you’re doing agile software development with a sizable team or multiple teams, then Jira Software is the perfect fit.

Business Cases

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

Document Review

Say you’re a complex fabrication company that uses an engineering company to produce the drawings and schematics you need in order to fill customers’ 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 to begin work on.

Governmental Integration

Let’s say that you service vehicles for the Army, a process that 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 pretty manual, time-consuming process because you have to use a separate application to manage these work items on your side.  But the Army’s software has an API.

With Jira Core, you can handle the entire process, from logging the problem to managing related documents to integrating with the Army’s system so the work items are sent off and approved without ever having to open the Army’s clunky program.

Deployment: Cloud, Server, or Data Center

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

No installation, maintenance, or upgrades to deal with; no capital cost for hardware
Reduced 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 licenses
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.
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 Core

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 Software are licensed per Jira user, meaning that a user can’t use the system at all unless a license is assigned to them. As mentioned above, Service Desk only requires a license for those who need to work issues in Jira; Jira calls these users “agents.” Licenses for agents are more expensive than licenses for Core and Software users – presumably to compensate for the assumed number of people using the portal for free.

Jira Server licenses are perpetual one-time costs; once you pay for them, they’re good forever. Jira Cloud licenses may be paid monthly or annually and will expire if you fail to renew when required. Data Center licenses are only available annually but offer a 50% discount for academic clients.

All three products offer a cheap 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 Service Desk which may not be obvious arises from the fact that Service Desk includes the business process features in Core. So if you might be setting up projects in Service Desk that do NOT use the extra features of Service Desk, but only the business process features, you will still have to pay for agent licenses. As a result, it may be cheaper to get both Core and Service Desk, in order to save the expensive agent licenses for users working on projects that use Service Desk features. Do the math!

Licensing Cost Overview

To translate Jira’s license per user costs into 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.  

All costs are in US dollars.

# of Users / AgentsCore Cost/Mo.Software Cost/Mo.Service Desk Cost/Mo.
1-10 / 1-310 (flat)10 (flat)10 (flat)
50 / 15250350300
100 / 50500700825
250 / 1001,0251,4501,575
500 / 2001,3001,7252,375
2,000 / 1,0002,6753,1003,525

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 / 1-3120120120100100100
50 / 153,0004,2003,6002,5003,5003,000
100 / 506,0008,4009,9005,0007,0008,250
250 / 10012,30017,40018,90010,80015,05015,750
500 / 20015,60020,07028,50013,00017,25023,750
2,000 / 1,00032,10037,20042,30029,50033,75035,250

This gives you a sense for how much you save with the subscription plan. But do the math for the number of licenses you need, because there are some beneficial points in the Jira cost per user hierarchy that might not be apparent.

For instance, 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 3.

Server License Comparison

When you pay the one-time cost for a Server license, you get a year of software maintenance – access to new software releases/enhancements, Jira support, critical bug fixes, and security patches. Beyond that, you’re on your own unless you pay for the annual maintenance plan.

So it’s worth comparing the cost of that maintenance plan to the annual subscription plan for Jira Core.

 Jira Server MaintenanceJira Core Subscription
# of Users / AgentsCoreSoftwareService DeskCoreSoftwareService Desk
1-10 / 1-3101010100100100
50 / 151,5002,2503,1502,5003,5003,000
100 / 502,7504,1508,2505,0007,0008,250
250 / 1005,5008,25013,75010,80015,05015,750
500 / 2008,25012,40022,00013,00017,25023,750
2,000 / 1,00010,10015,20028,45029,50033,75035,250

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 / 10012,00020,0008,25013,750
500 / 20012,00036,00012,40022,000
1,000 / 40024,00060,00015,20028,450*
2,000 / 80048,00084,00015,20028,450*
5,000 / 2,000120,000132,00019,00028,450*
10,000 / 4,000240,000324,00022,75028,450*
  • *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 Jira can handle many of them too. And the truth is, we all know that reading the marketing materials about a product doesn’t always provide a good sense for what it really does, how it actually works. This is where we come in. We can bridge that information gap, and help you figure out whether Jira products can meet your particular needs.

In your process of deciding between Jira Core vs. Service Desk vs. Software, we hope that our guide covered everything needed from pricing, features, and more. So if you have questions or are wondering whether Jira is a good fit for you, you can send us an email or chat with an expert. Don’t let lack of information make your decision for you.

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


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