A Concise SQL Server 2012 Licensing Overview


Josh Condie – With the Release Candidate for SQL Server 2012 now available it is now more important than ever that Microsoft effectively communicate the significant licensing changes that are coming with the new release.  Below is the best, concise summary that I have seen.

SQL Server 2012 will be released in 3 main editions:

  • Enterprise for mission critical applications and large scale data warehousing
  • Business Intelligence, a new product edition, providing premium corporate and self-service BI
  • Standard for basic database, reporting and analytics capabilities

The main editions are now offered in a consistent, tiered model which creates greater consistency across editions, features and licensing. Enterprise Edition will include all features available in SQL Server 2012. The Business Intelligence Edition will include premium BI features as well as all of the Standard Edition features.

Core-Based Licensing:

  • The Enterprise Edition and the Standard Edition of SQL Server 2012 will both be available under core-based licensing. Core-based licenses will be sold in two-core packs.
  • To license a physical server properly, you must license all the cores in the server with a minimum of 4 core licenses required for each physical processor in the server.
  • Core licenses will be priced at ¼ the cost of a SQL Server 2008 R2 (EE/SE) processor license.


Server and Client Access License (CAL) Licensing:

  • The Business Intelligence and Standard Editions will be available under the Server and Client Access License (CAL) model.
  • This licensing model can be used when the number of users can be readily counted (e.g., internal database applications).
  • To access a licensed SQL Server, each user must have a SQL Server CAL that is the same version or newer (for example, to access a SQL Server 2008 SE server, a user would need a SQL Server 2008 or 2012 CAL).
  • Each SQL Server CAL can provide access to multiple licensed SQL Servers, including the new Business Intelligence Edition as well as
    3Standard Edition Servers and legacy Enterprise Edition Servers.
  • The SQL Server 2012 CAL price will increase by about 27%.


Virtualization Licensing:

Individual Virtual Machines

  • As server hardware gets more powerful, it will become more common for each database to use just a fraction of its server’s computing power.
  • When deploying databases on Virtual Machines (VMs) that use just a fraction of a physical server, savings can be achieved by licensing individual VMs.
  • To license a VM with core licenses, customers can simply buy a core license for each virtual core allocated to the virtual machine (minimum of 4 core licenses per VM).
  • To license a VM with a server license (for Business Intelligence or Standard only), buy the server license and buy matching SQL Server CALs for each user.
  • Each licensed VM that is covered with Software Assurance (SA) can be moved frequently within a server farm or to a third party hoster or cloud services provider without buying additional SQL Server licenses.

Maximum Virtualization

  • Further savings can be achieved by operating a database server utility or SQL Server private cloud. This is a great option for customers who want to take advantage of the full computing power of their physical servers and have very dynamic provisioning and de-provisioning of virtual resources.
  • Customers will be able to deploy an unlimited number of virtual machines on the server and utilize the full capacity of the licensed hardware.
  • They can do so by fully licensing the server (or server farm) with Enterprise Edition core licenses and Software Assurance based on the total number of physical cores on the servers. This allows customers the ability to run an unlimited number of virtual machines to handle their dynamic workloads and fully utilize the hardware’s computing power.


-Josh Condie

Comments (18)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ll "2nd" the comments regarding complexity and why MS is causing an exodus. Your licensing schemes are impossible.

    1. Thomas says:

      This is much simpler than Oracle. I’ll take this over the god-forsaken nightmare that is Oracle licensing.

  2. PO'd Customer says:

    One more reason to take a long hard look at open source DB's

  3. robincm2 says:

    Note sure if this posted the first time, so I'm trying again:

    1) If I have more hardware than I "need", for resiliency purposes, (n+1 VM hosts) do I need to licence the cores of the "+1" host even though it will basically never be used to execute a VM running SQL?

    2) How about if I have 10 hosts (each with 2 x 8-core CPUs), running 400 VMs, only 50 of which are running SQL?

    Do I need to licence 10 * 2 * 8 = 160 cores? Even though I could quite happily run all 50 SQL VMs on just one or two hosts (say 2 * 2 * 8 = 32 cores) – massive cost difference. If the new licensing model means that I would need 160 cores then in practice this is not feasible and means I have to turn off dynamic movement of SQL VMs, which is really bad – or hive off some hosts to ONLY run SQL on, which hurts my non-SQL workload as the n+1 hosts required for SQL will be running fairly idle whilst the remainder running all the non-SQL stuff are busy. Neither option seems good to me, can you explain how my environment fits in with the SQL licensing please?

  4. smallbiz says:

    I have to agree, this was the last straw and we moved from sql2008r2 to mysql enterprise.

  5. small says:

    Why no CAL for enterprise edition?  We are a small company (<50 people) with only internal apps.  We use partitioning and were looking to use active standby and column compression.

    sqlserver 2012 EE is 20x cost of sqlserver 2008 r2 EE.

  6. jfh76 says:

    Ridiculous. You buy core licences in packs of two but have to licence at least four even if you only have one? Who comes up with this nonsense? Microsoft licensing is IMPOSSIBLE to follow correctly.

  7. Ken says:

    I think the key is this

    •Core licenses will be priced at ¼ the cost of a SQL Server 2008 R2 (EE/SE) processor license.

    they are assuming a quad core CPU per server. so the cost is the same as SQL server 2008 on single server?

    at least that's what I think it says

  8. Jas says:

    This licensing model is absolutely impossible to follow correctly.  As far as I can understand it (which isn't very much), this hinders our ability to virtualize SQL in a cost effective manner.  We run Cisco UCS blades and ESXi.  If we allow the SQL VMs to migrate between hosts, we would have to pay massive amounts of money to license per core because we have no less than 12 cores per host times 24 hosts.  That is a massive amount of money for a handful of SQL Enterprise VMs.

  9. Eric M says:

    For Virtual you have two options –

    1. License the physical machine completely with Enterprise and run an unlimited number of SQL VM's on the machine


    2. License each VM individually with a minimum of 4 cores per VM

    I would assume most small and medium companies would choose option 2

  10. Martijn says:

    @jfh76 If you are running hex-core (6 core) machines then buying two four-packs would be over licensing your server. This is why they had to do it in two-core packs.

    1. Thomas says:

      My understanding is you can buy the base 4 + 2 extra if you have a 6 core system. You don’t have to buy 4 + 4. However if its a 2 core system, or only a 2 core VM, you still need to license a minimum of 4 cores for the instance.

  11. Jack34h says:

    Typical M$ licensing non sense. They make people who have only one sql server and 100 users to pay £20000 for their database software, it is atrocious.

  12. vipul says:

    In 2012 I have to purchase Server and Core license separately..pl.help me

  13. Austin H says:

    This is a great guide – shows what a pain Microsoft licensing is. Do you have a SQL 2014 guide yet?

  14. Brian N says:

    As of today we are out of the game. If our program vendors use MS SQL we no longer do business with them. It is bringing us to our knees right now but our doors are still open. In the end our bottom line will be better off for it.

  15. Rowaida Subhi says:

    Does SQl server Enterprise 2014 8 core work on PowerEdge R530 Server with 6 core processor?

  16. Mommy Dragon says:


    I’m confused in terms of CAL. How are we going to buy a license with below MS SQL Server set-up.

    – One SQL Server with 2 Databases (used by an application)
    – MS SQL have logins (under security/logins) with an estimated count of 35
    – Each Database have users (under security/users) with an estimated count of 30

    So how to license this kind of set-up. Apology, but I’m new in SQL management so I need a layman’s term explanation. Hope to receive feedback. Thank you in advance.

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