I’ve gotten a lot of questions about SQL Server 2014 licensing. The good news is that nothing has really changed since SQL Server 2012. There’s some minor wording changes to make it more clear what you have to purchase to get free secondary servers when using Clustering or AlwaysOn Availability groups. But other than that it’s all the same. With no further ado, here’s a lovely reblog of my SQL 2012 licensing blog post with some tweaks for SQL 2014.

So you may have heard earlier today about the license changes that are coming out for SQL Server 2012. I know that the official announcement can be a little hard to get through and the changes can be a little confusing at first (or even second or third) glance. The SQL Server licensing team was kind enough to spend some time sitting down with me to try and work through how the license changes will be effecting customers. Please note that any prices that I quote in here are list (retail) prices and are shown in US dollars. If you have an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft you will probably be paying less.


First lets start with the edition lists. SQL Server is reducing the number of editions from 6 down to 4 (I’m excluding all the different appliances here). Those editions will be Express, Standard, BI, and Enterprise Edition. The express edition will still be a free edition with limited functionality. I wouldn’t expect the features that are available in the express edition to change. As for the features which will be available, the specific features which will be in each edition haven’t yet been announced. Look for this sort of feature matrix to be available sometime between now and when SQL Server 2012 goes GA in 2012. Until that feature matrix is released any specific feature to edition information that you here is just a rumor.

Web Edition

The web edition will still exist even though I didn’t list it above. The reason that I didn’t list it above is because the web edition will no longer be available for purchase via enterprise license agreements or retail channels. The only way that you will be able to get the web edition of SQL Server 2012 will be through a hosting provider like Amazon EC2, RackSpace, Dream Host, Genesis Hosting Solutions, etc. These hosting providers will be able to provide you with the web edition of SQL Server 2012 through their hosting provider license.

Standard Edition

The standard edition is still around and kicking. Standard edition will be available in both a Server+CAL license model or a CPU Core license model. The costs for a server license or a CPU Core license remain the same as they were under SQL Server 2008 R2 (I’ll explain the core licenses later on). However if you are using the Server+CAL license model the CALs are going up in price by 27% from $164 (US) to $208.28 (US).

There are some things to note about Standard Edition which are changing from prior editions. First there is a hard limit of 16 cores for Standard Edition. This is hard set and is a license limitation so SQL Server will only use the first 16 cores in the server if there are more than 16 cores in the server.

A big change to the Standard Edition high availability story that has been announced is that Database Mirroring in Standard Edition remains but has been marked as deprecated. This means that it is support available, and supported but will be removed from the product in a future release, typically 2-3 major releases from now.

As for the support for other features in the standard edition of SQL Server 2012 not a lot of the details have been made available yet. For the complete support matrix you’ll have to wait until we get closer to the release of the product.

The features that I do know will NOT be available in the standard edition are:

  • Data Quality Services
  • Master Data Services
  • Power View
  • PowerPivot for SharePoint Services
  • Semantic Model
  • Advanced Auditing
  • Transparent Data Encryption
  • Column Store Index
  • Data Compression
  • Table/Index Partitioning
  • AlwaysOn Availability Groups

BI Edition

The BI Edition will include all the features of the Standard edition plus some extras. The licensing for the BI edition will only be available in a Server+CAL model. There is no CPU core license available for the BI Edition. If you need a CPU license for the BI Edition you’ll need to look to the Enterprise Edition (as it includes all the BI edition features). Now the BI Edition doesn’t include only the BI stack. It includes the database engine as well with a slightly higher cap on the number of cores that are supported. While the standard edition supports 16 cores for the database engine, the BI edition supports up to 20 cores for the database engine. All of the BI services (SSAS, SSIS, SSRS) will support up to the OS maximum number of cores.

The BI edition will include the following features:

  • Data Quality Services
  • Master Data Services
  • Power View
  • Power Pivot for SharePoint Services
  • Semantic Model
  • Advanced Analytics

The BI Edition will not include the following features:

  • Advanced Auditing
  • Transparent Data Encryption
  • Column Store Index
  • Data Compression
  • Table/Index Partitioning
  • AlwaysOn Availability Groups

The BI Edition is listed as having “Basic” High Availability.

The cost for the BI Edition server license will be the same as the SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition server license which is $8,592.

If you need an internet facing SSAS cube you can not use a BI Edition license, you will then need to look at purchasing an Enterprise Edition license for that server.

Enterprise Edition

The Enterprise Edition is still around and is the big daddy of the SQL Server stack again as the Data Center Edition of the product is being removed. This means that the Enterprise Edition will hold all the new features that are being introduced. When it comes to licensing Enterprise Edition there is no longer a Server+CAL model available for new purchases. You will only be able to purchase CPU Core licenses. If you are upgrading an existing server that has Server+CAL using your Software Assurance or Enterprise Agreement you can continue to use the Server+CAL license model for as long as you want to.continue to pay for Software Assurance. If you terminate your Software Assurance license you’ll then need to purchase the correct number of CPU Core licenses for that server (again I’ll be talking about the CPU Core licenses further down).

The Enterprise Edition of SQL Server 2012/2014 includes all the features of the BI Edition as well as the Standard Edition.

CPU Core Licenses

By now you’ve probably noticed that I’ve mentioned CPU Core licenses and not CPU licenses. That’s right, Microsoft has decided to follow the unholy beast (aka. Oracle) into CPU core licensing hell. It’s actually not that bad, and for most of your servers the costs should stay the same.

The CPU Core licenses (available only for Standard and Enterprise edition) are sold in two core “packs” (I don’t know the actual term for them yet, so I’ve decided to call them “packs”). If you have quad core CPUs you need two of these packs per socket. These license packs will cost half of what a SQL Server 2008 R2 CPU license cost. The catch here is that you have to purchase at least 4 cores per CPU. The reason that Microsoft decided not to just sell the licenses in 4 core “packs” is because the people with 6 core CPUs would then be screwed having to buy more licenses than they actually needed.

If you have two sockets with 2 cores each, you need 4 license “packs” (8 core licenses)

If you have two sockets with 4 cores each, you need 4 license “packs” (8 core licenses)

If you have two sockets with 6 cores each, you need 6 license “packs” (12 core licenses)

If you have two sockets with 8 cores each, you need 8 license “packs” (16 core licenses)

SQL Server in a VM

When you are running SQL Server within a virtual machine if you are using CPU Core licenses then you will need to license at least 4 cores for the VM. If you have more than 4 vCPUs on the VM you’ll need to have a CPU Core license for each vCPU that you have assigned to the VM.

Host Based Licensing

SQL Server 2012 will still include host based licensing as on option for those customers who have Software Assurance and an Enterprise Agreement. The host based licensing works just like it did before, you purchase enough Enterprise Edition CPU Core licenses for the host and you can run as many virtual machines running SQL Server as you would like to.

Upgrading using your Software Assurance Rights

This is probably the section that you were looking forward to (or dreading) the most.

When you upgrade from SQL Server 2008 R2 (or below) to SQL Server 2012 using your Software Assurance rights you can continue to use your existing license model until the end of your Software Assurance cycle. This means that if you have CPU licenses under SQL Server 2008 R2 you can continue to use those CPU licenses under SQL Server 2012 until your Software Assurance expires. Once it expires you will need to true up on the number of CPU Cores. When this true up happens each CPU license that you had before will count towards a minimum of 4 CPU Cores (if you have Data Center Edition CPU licenses of SQL Server 2008 R2 you will be credited a minimum of 8 CPU Cores for each CPU license). If you have a large server that needs upgrading talk to you Microsoft Account Manager or Microsoft Partner about the core credit that you’ll get for your legacy CPU licenses. You’ll notice the magical word “minimum” shown here. This is because the Microsoft Account Managers and Microsoft Partners have the ability to give you more credit that these minimums.

If you have a SQL Server today with two sockets and you upgrade it to SQL Server 2012, then you need to add two more sockets to the server you can still do that. Contact your Microsoft Account Manager (if you have a Software Assurance or an Enterprise Agreement then you have a Microsoft Account Manager, your boss probably knows how to contact them) or Microsoft Partner and they will be able to see you CPU licenses for existing servers only. The SKU won’t be published, but it will be available internally for them to get to you.

Server Licenses and Upgrading

If you have a Standard Edition server that uses Server+CAL licensing that you are upgrading to SQL Server 2012 do keep in mind that hard limit of 16 cores for Standard Edition.

If you have an Enterprise Edition server that uses Server+CAL licensing that you are upgrading to SQL Server 2012 don’t freak out. There is an upgrade path for you even though there is no more Server+CAL license available for SQL Server 2012, provided that you have Software Assurance for the SQL Server license. If you do then you can upgrade that server continuing to use the Server+CAL model (don’t forget that your CALs need upgrading as well if they don’t have Software Assurance) until your Software Assurance expires at which point you would need to downgrade to the BI edition or the Standard Edition; or upgrade to the CPU Core license model to remain on Enterprise Edition (look at the features you need before making this decision). Now the catch here is that using the SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition with a Server+CAL license option (that you’ve upgraded into as you can not purchase this new) is ONLY available for servers that have 20 cores or less. If you have a SQL Server with more than 20 cores running Enterprise Edition using a Server+CAL license model you’ll need to talk to your Microsoft Account Manager or Microsoft Partner to see what options are available to you.

Costs For Buying New

For Standard Edition when using the Server+CALs license the cost will remain the same as SQL Server 2008 R2 ($898). When using the CPU Core license model if you have 4 cores or less per CPU socket the cost will remain the same as a CPU license for SQL Server 2008 R2 ($7,171 US). If you have more cores than 4 per socket the costs will go up depending on the number of cores that you have. For every two cores in the server you’ll need a CPU Core “pack” which will cost $3,585.50.

For the BI Edition your only option is Server+CALs. The SQL Server 2012 BI Edition server license will be the same as the SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise server license cost ($8,592).

For the Enterprise Edition your only option is the CPU Core license model. For a server with 4 cores or less per CPU the cost will remain the same as a CPU license for SQL Server 2008 R2 ($27,495). If you have more cores than 4 per socket the costs will go up depending on the number of cores that you have. For every two cores in the server you’ll need a CPU Core “pack” which will cost $13,747.50.

If you have an Enterprise Agreement check with your Microsoft Account Manager or Microsoft Partner for actual pricing information. Customers with an Enterprise Agreement should be paying less than these numbers show. Of course Software Assurance will made the numbers go up but that includes its own set of benefits.


I hope that this answers your questions about the SQL Server 2012/2014 licensing model that will be coming out. If I didn’t please post your questions here or on Twitter and I’ll either answer them or get them to someone who can answer them if I can’t and get the answer published either in the Q&A here or as a new blog post.

My Opinion

Now you may think from this rather long post that I like everything that I’ve talked about here, which isn’t the case. This blog post is to simply explain what is coming in as clear a way as possible given that the presentations on this topic that I’ve seen to date have left me with a lot more questions than answers. After all I did spend the better part of a day on the phone with two people at Microsoft to get all of this explained in such a way that I understood it. As not everyone out there will get that chance I put together this blog post to explain what I learned. Personally I don’t think that killing off the Workgroup edition was not a good idea. Lots of people were using it, including everyone running SBS 2008 R2 (or what ever it is called).

I’m not a big fan of the core based licensing model that we have coming out with SQL Server 2012, but I do understand why Microsoft is going to this model. I think we were pretty lucky to have gotten away with CPU based licenses for as long as we did. Personally I really think that moving away from a Server+CAL license model for Enterprise Edition is a bad plan given that thinks like the Utility Control Point require Enterprise Edition (I’m assuming this will still require EE). If you want to manage a large company with UCP that requires a pretty beefy Enterprise Edition server which is dedicated to UCP, yet this server now will cost A LOT compared to just buying an Enterprise Edition Server+CAL license for your UCP server.

I think that a lot more information is going to be needed before any real decision can be made on how much I like or don’t like these changes. When the full feature to edition matrix is released that will be a big deciding factor in how well some of these changes will go over.

Obviously the knee jerk reaction of SQL Server 2012/2014 is going to cost me more money so the chance sucks is an easy one to take, hell that’s where I started from (you should have seen the first emails I sent to Microsoft). But when you look at some of the variables that they have put into getting people upgraded, specifically the ability to convert a CPU license to at least 4 core licenses (or at least 8 if coming from Data Center edition) gives some flexibility. This is when it is going to be very important to have a good working relationship with your Microsoft Account Manager or Microsoft Partner as the ability to upgrade for as little as possible will be sitting squarely in their hands. I would reach out to this person now, get to know them. Bake them some cookies, send them a bottle of booze, what ever it takes to get on their good side.



43 Responses

  1. Hi,

    are planning to build / upgrade to SQL 2014 Cluster, with 2 Standbys (one in our local
    data center and one in our DR data center). 
    specifically intend to do create an Active / Passive cluster with SQL 2014
    Enterprise as our primary database failover and we plan to have two Standby database
    servers that are synchronized with the primary using SQL Availability Groups.

    How many server (per core) licenses we need?  I assume SQL cluster passive node will not be
    treated as “standby” node in terms of licensing. correct me if I am wrong?

    I am aware that Software Assurance you are granted rights to one Passive Server of equal or
    less Cores, however a second passive server would need to be fully licensed.



  2. In your config, you’ll need to license the production instance (that covers your active and your passive nodes), and one of the Availability Group replicas (which would give you the second passive node for free).

  3. Hi,
    The scenario is following, we are running an online store ,where 50 till 60 000 customers are buying products per year , we want to license the Database with SQL but have no idea if we need an User cal for each customer which is creating an Account in the webstore , or if we have to license only our internal infrustructure.

  4. Tomas,

    You’ll need to use the CPU licensing for the SQL Server.  This would be the part that I cover in the section titled “CPU Core Licenses”. 

    (Sales Pitch)

    If you’d like assistance on getting this done feel free to contact me via my companies website http://www.dcac.co and we’d be happy to assist you to ensure that you size the server correctly and that you are licensed correctly for your production platform.

    (End Sales Pitch)



  5. If the client buy one sql server enterprise license and its using in server. Using our software other 4 machines accessing the data. There will be only one SQL user. but the data is accessed via network thru the software. So is there any need to purchase more license?

  6. Arunrajra,
    If the client is purchasing an Enterprise Edition license they’ll need to license all the CPUs in the server which they are installing SQL Server Enterprise Edition.  Because they are licensing all the CPU cores they can connect as many users to the system as they want.
  7. Denny Cherry,

    Thanks for the reply. Client is not installing SQL on other machines. They will install the SQL on server machine only. Using Billing Software they accessing the data from the server machine. So is there any need to purchase new licenses

    SERVER : SQL Server EE license
    Client machine (4 nos): No SQL Installed. The data accessing using a third party software via instance name thru network.

  8. Because you are buying CPU licenses for the SQL Server there’s nothing else to worry about. If you were using standard edition and using the Server+CAL license model then you would need to have CALs for each user that is connecting. But because you are using Enterprise Edition which is only available in the CPU Core license model that isn’t anything that you have to worry about.

  9. Hi Mr Denny,

    On msdn, its specifically mention SQL 2014 BI edition support only 4 socket or 16 cores max. Your blog states it supports up to 20 cores to database engine? This seem to contradict MSDN or I’ve misread?
  10. Denny, Hope I am not too far off in asking you.

    I have someone using Microsoft Dynamics SL and they are licensed with SQL Server 2008 Standard and CALs for all users in the company (because of a Business Portal tie in to SL for time and billing app). They are looking also to update their MS CRM product to the current version, which requires SQL 2012+. Does this mean they have to buy a separate new SQL Server + CALs for each CRM user for SQL 2014, let’s say?



  11. Rocky,
    If they have software assurance on the server license and software assurance on the CALs then no. They can just upgrade. If they don’t then they will need to purchase a new server+CALs license for the SQL Server and enough CALs to cover all the users that will be using the server. Depending on the number of users that they need to license it may be cheaper to purchase CPU core licenses instead.
  12. Thanks Denny,

    The confusing part for me is that their Dynamics SL will remain on SQL 2008. The new CRM install will be on a separate SQL 2012 or 2014. Does the purchase of CPU core include CALs?

  13. When you purchase CPU Core licenses it does not include any CALs and no CALs are required to connect to it.
  14. Hi Denny,

    I have a physical server with 2 sockets, with 2x 4 physical cores CPU. So a total of 8 cores.

    Would the server work if you only install one core pack SQL EE 2014 on this server? I can imagine that it only uses half of the Cores capacity for SQL EE 2014 and the rest will be a sleep?

  15. Ezra,

    You can’t license half the cores in the server. Whatever cores are installed must be licensed. In order to license only 4 cores you’ll need to physically remove one processor from the server.


  16. Hi Denny,

    Ok, so SQL EE won’t work if i only license half the cores?
    Or will the Microsoft license department give me a fine for incorrect licensing?

  17. Yep, sure is. You might want to look into standard edition. It is much less expensive for core based licenses. 

  18. Hi thanks for the informative post. Just a quick question to make sure I am clear, if running SQL Server in a VM and wanting to use core licensing, is there any difference if I configure the VM with 4 sockets and 1 core per socket vs 1 sockets and 4 cores per socket?

    I am assuming that since I am assigning 4 vCPUs either way, I just need 2 “core”  license packs is that right?

  19. James,

    Yes there is a difference.  When buying core based licenses, you have to purchase a minimum of 4 cores per socket.  So if you had 4 sockets and presented one core from each one to the VM, you’d need to license 16 cores.

  20. Hi Denny
    Thanks for your comprehensive and informative article. I am developing a public facing website with a SQL server backend. There will be only one local user (SA). Express will not work as the DB size is >16gb. 2008 Standard edition features are sufficient. What type of license do we need. Thanks for your help.

  21. gfuchs,

    You’ll need a SQL 2014 core license for the server.  You might be able to find a vendor who will sell you an older license, but then you can’t upgrade in the future.  The upside to buying an older license is that you can buy CPU licenses instead of core licenses.

    Assuming that you can’t find someone to sell you an older license you’ll want the SQL Server 2014 Standard Edition core based license.  You can then install any version you want up through SQL Server 2014.  And if you start with SQL Server 2008 now, you can upgrade to SQL Server 2014 later as you already have the license for it.

  22. Thanks Denny!   Can you give me some idea about the price ranges I should expect for an older (2008) cpu license versus a 2014 license?  This is a single cpu server T320 Xeon E-24XX v2 Processor

  23. If you can find an older license it’s be ~$7,171 MSRP for the CPU license. SQL 2014 will be ~$1,792 per core (you must license at least 4 cores no mater how many you have).

  24. wow.    This seems really excessive/expensive for a relatively small website – around  100 users.  Currently on a  leased dedicated server.  Do you think that AWS or other cloud-based options representative a better value?

  25. This is the cost of using SQL to host an application. You can look at using a VM in Azure to host the SQL Server database. If you can get away with the web edition of SQL Server in a VM the cost is ~$24 a month for a VM with up to 4 cores. If you need standard edition the cost is ~$298 a month.

    If you just need the database you can look at the Azure SQL DB service where you just get the database and don’t have to deal with managing the VM. The smallest database size there, which is an S0 is ~$15 a month and goes up from there depending on how much performance you want to pay for. The better tuned your application is the less you’ll need to spend.

  26. Hi Denny, thank you for the post. Let me ask you: Is there any chance of using a 2014 passive instance (AG or FCI) without SA? Or if don’t, Is it possible to buy the 2012, in which we can have a passive SQL Server regardless SA.

  27. In 2014 to be properly licensed you need to have SA, which I recommend anyway as it includes support as well as the ability to upgrade when the next version comes out.

    There are companies out there that do sell older licenses still.

    With the older licenses you didn’t need SA to have the passive node, but if you want to fail the cluster (or AG) over more than once every 90 days you need to have “License Mobility” which comes with having SA and an EA.

    If the application is critical enough that you need AGs or FCI then management should be willing to pay for software assurance.

  28. Hi Denny,

    We are wanting to upgrade from 2005 to 2012 and intend going with Standard Edition initially. If we license Standard Edition for production with Software Asurance am I right that we do need to license our passive DR server too? My confusion is around SA  – because I’m sure I’ve read that you only get the ‘free’ passive node with an Enterprise licence.

    So by having 2 x Standard Licences if we later decide to upgrade to Enterprise what would the cost be based on or is this then treated as a completely new purchase:

    – we would be going down to needing just one licence (Enterprise licence covering the passive under SA)
    – also is there a pro-rota upgrade licence cost due to it replacing  the 2x Standard licences originally purchased – or is this just totally naive of me?


  29. unsy,

    If you have SA and an EA they you do not need to license the passive node of your cluster.  As long as you have SA and an EA you get the free passive node for any edition.

    If you need to upgrade to Enterprise there is no pro-rated upgrade license cost.  You have to purchase the new Enterprise Edition license outright and you retain the Standard edition license to use on another server later.

  30. Denny,

    Thanks for clearing up my misunderstanding that with SA/EA we don’t have to licence our passive with STD edition. This does at least reduce the redundant licence cost were we to upgrade to Enterprise in the future.

    Great article and appreciate such a quick response to my question.


  31. Hello

    I am using MS SQL Server 2014 enterprise edition (probably it is cal server licensing). I want to change it to MS SQL Server 2014 enterprise edition core licensing. I have the license key of it and I don’t want to lose my DBs, jobs, procedures etc..

    Is it possible?
  32. As long as the instance isn’t limiting the number of cores you can use when it starts up (you’ll see a message when it starts up in the ERRORLOG) then there’s nothing that you need to do. Otherwise you’ll need to do an upgrade using the Edition upgrade option within the installer.

  33. Denny,

    My name is Michael Stack and I am a Strategic Microsoft Licensing Executive at the largest reseller of Microsoft software in the world. I am also the Assistant Manager of my team. My clients range in size from 2,000 seats all the way up to 20,000. With that said, I wanted to correct something that you wrote above regarding the continued use of SQL Enterprise in the Server/CAL model. While Software Assurance will give you rights to upgrade SQL 2008R2 Enterprise to SQL 2012 and SQL 2014, SA is not required to be maintained to continue running those upgraded versions. They can leverage SA for things like Mobility Rights and support, but simply using the new versions does not require continued SA coverage.

    “If you are upgrading an existing server that has Server+CAL using your Software Assurance or Enterprise Agreement you can continue to use the Server+CAL license model for as long as you continue to pay for Software Assurance.”

    As long as you had active SA at the time the new versions were released (April 1, 2012 for SQL 2012 Enterprise and April 1, 2014 for SQL 2014 Enterprise), you retain perpetual rights to those new versions even after the SA is expired. There is a 20 core physical and a 20 virtual thread limitation on actual consumption when upgrading 2008R2 Enterprise to either 2012 or 2014 however, which will naturally push more clients towards Enterprise Core over time. 

    A client came to me with this link, and I of course came here to read it for myself. Please do me a favor and update the article so that people have the corrected information. I would urge you to read the Product List from April 2012 as well as the licensing briefs for SQL 2012 and 2014, none of which contain the information contained in the above quotes. Sounds like a small thing, but believe me, it’s bigger than you think.  Thank you sir.

  34. Michael,

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’ve updated the article (took a while for me to get to it, it’s been a crazy year, but it’s updated). If you see any other issues please let me know.

  35. Hi Denny,

    Just returning to this great article/thread with another question you might be able to help with.

    We are looking at building a new SQL 2014 Cluster. In order to isolate the data for different applications we currently have 4 separate SQL instances in a 2008R2 Active-Passive cluster. I am in favour of the same setup with a default SQL instance and 3 x named instance on a 2-node FCI (cluster) . My colleague says that this would require effectively licencing 4 x SQL Server (something that has changed in the SQL 2014 licence model).

    When the licence guides refers to instances – I assume this implies Virtual machines – which I agree obviously would need to be licenced individually. I’ve been unable to find anything that clearly explains this to me and I’d imagine Denny you would have covered this if it were a change in 2014 .

    In my mind 2 or more x SQL instances on a single server is still only 1 licence (ignoring the EA/SA complication of passive nodes, etc previously discussed).

    The term “Instance” is quite ambiguous and I don’t want to mis-interpret what this means and result in a costly licence blunder.


  36. Unsy,
    I just reread the Licensing Data Sheet from Microsoft, and everything in there talks about licensing at the server level. There’s nothing in there about licensing a specific instance. When you license SQL Server you license it for everything that needs to run within the OS. So if you have 5 instances you license the server to run SQL Server and it was run 5 instances.

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