SQL Server 2012 Licensing Changes

Published On: 2011-11-03By:

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.

Workgroup Edition

The workgroup edition is no more.  I don’t have any specific information about how the upgrades will work for customers who have purchased the workgroup edition under their enterprise agreements.  If you are one of the few customers who has purchased SQL Server Workgroup edition under your enterprise agreement you’ll want to contact your sales rep or Microsoft Partner on what options are available to you when it comes time to upgrade that server to SQL Server 2012.

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
  • Always On

BI Edition

There is a new edition between the Standard Edition and the Enterprise Edition called the 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
  • Always On

The BI Edition is listed as having “Basic” High Availability.  I have gotten no answer on what “Basic” High Availability is.

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 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 will include all the features of the BI Edition as well as the Standard Edition.

Datacenter Edition

The Datacenter Edition of SQL Server is going away.  All users of the data center edition will be switching into the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server 2012.  There will be some special benefits when you do this change out as you switch your CPU licenses of SQL Server 2008 R2 to CPU Core licenses of SQL Server 2012 which I’ll cover below.

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 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 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.


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8 responses to “SQL Server 2012 Licensing Changes”

  1. Mbourgon says:

    Denny, any idea how hyperthreading affects this? Are my virtual cores going to be charged as well? Granted, not all servers should have it, but we have a few where it works well.

  2. RobRich says:

    What happened to the Deveper Edition?

  3. […] as a followup to My SQL Server 2012 licensing blog post I wanted to follow up on what exactly is a core license good […]

  4. Mrdenny says:

    I did another blog post which specifically talks about hyperthreading which you can find here.


  5. Mrdenny says:

    As far as I know the developer edition isn’t going anywhere. The pricing and availability for that edition hasn’t changed at all.


  6. […] BACKUP DATABASE command – 5.4k views 8. New INSERT syntax in SQL Server 2008 – 5.9k views 7. SQL Server 2012 Licensing Changes – 7.6k views 6. Difference between an Index and a Primary Key – 8.7k views 5. What exactly is […]

  7. johnsmithsqllicensesucks says:

    I work for one of the leading financial bank in North America. There has been significant growth in sql server area and recently Microsoft has changed the license which doesn’t impress our executives. We are now migrating as much as we can from Microsoft sql server to other DBMS platforms like Oracle, my sql, db2 server. This is unfortunate that they have started let go sql dba as well.

  8. Denny Cherry says:
    If they don’t like the licensing model for SQL Server moving to Oracle and DB2 won’t help any. Those are more expensive than SQL Server.  I’d have them review this blog post http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/sql-server/sql-2008-r2-is-pricy-but-so-is-that-other-database/.  It’s a little old as it’s for SQL 2008 R2 but you’ll get the idea.


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