Microsoft Volume Licensing Mail Bag: Two Questions on SQL Server Licensing

A Microsoft Volume Licensing Expert Answers your Burning Questions on Licensing Microsoft SQL Server 2012

Louise Ulrick is a UK-based licensing consultant and trainer with experience spanning three decades; she began running licensing training courses all the way back in 1995.  Today, Louise continues to love licensing and works all over the world on behalf of Microsoft. In her third rendition of the volume licensing mail bag, she answers two questions on how SQL Server licensing relates to virtualization, license mobility and Server/Client Access License (CAL) versus Core licensing options.

SQL Server 2012 provides database capabilities, reporting and analytics, as well as security features for mission critical workloads. Many companies use SQL Server’s integration with Excel 2013 and SharePoint 2013 for real-time business intelligence and collaboration. 

Q: We’re looking to upgrade our SQL Server infrastructure and deploy SQL Server 2012, but we’re not sure whether it would be best to license it with Server and CAL licenses, or with Core licenses. What should influence our decision?

Louise: For SQL Server 2012 Standard edition you absolutely have the choice in whether you license with Server and CAL licenses or Core licenses, so you should base your decision purely on cost. Typically, if you have a relatively small number of users and a larger number of servers, it will be more cost effective to license with the Server/CAL model. Conversely, if you have a smaller number of servers and a large number of users, Core licenses will be a better financial decision. As an extreme example (and check with your reseller to get exact pricing), it’s approximately the same cost to license 50 servers for 200 users with the Server/CAL licensing model as it is to license three 4-processor servers with the Core licensing model. Your estate will be between these two extremes so it’s worth doing the calculations to work out your best options.

For the other two editions of SQL Server 2012 – the Business Intelligence (BI) edition and Enterprise edition – there’s no choice in the licensing model that you can use; the BI edition uses the Server/CAL model, and the Enterprise edition uses the Core model. Typically, you would consider the product functionality that you needed and then deploy the relevant edition. However, because all of the features in the BI edition are included in the Enterprise edition, you may find it’s better to deploy Enterprise edition Core licenses to get BI functionality, rather than deploying BI Server/CAL licenses. What might make this so? Well, the same cost considerations apply as we discussed with the Standard edition, so if you’ve got a BI solution that you’re exposing to thousands of external users, Core licenses will obviously be attractive. However, the other element you may want to consider is virtualization. Now, this is discussed in detail in the following question, but you’ll find that you get a lot more flexibility in virtualization licensing if you deploy Enterprise Core licenses, which may mean that it’s a better choice for your organization if virtualization is a high priority.

Q: How is SQL Server 2012 licensed in a virtual environment? Do you have any tips for best practices?

Louise: The licensing of SQL Server 2012 in a virtual environment does differ depending on the editions that you deploy, but the good news is that there are only a few rules to follow. For the editions of SQL Server 2012 licensed with the Server/CAL model, the licensing is exactly the same in a virtual environment as it is in a physical environment; where you would assign a license to each physical server, you allocate a license to each virtual server. This is great if you’re moving from a physical infrastructure to a virtual one because your licensing requirements don’t change.

For SQL Server 2012 Standard edition licensed with Core licenses, you follow similar rules to the licensing of a physical server – but it’s slightly simpler. In a physical environment you need to multiply the number of cores by the Core Factor, but in a virtual environment you take each virtual machine individually and assign a number of Core licenses to that virtual machine dependent on the number of virtual cores/processors that it’s been configured with, making sure that you assign a minimum of four Core licenses to each individual virtual machine.

Now, you could do the same with SQL Server 2012 Enterprise edition Core licenses – assign them to the virtual machines, but there is added flexibility with the Enterprise edition licenses and this is where you could take advantage of unlimited virtualization. This is my first tip because unlimited virtualization rights mean that it’s easy to manage the infrastructure because you’re not having to work out how many virtual SQL servers will be running on any physical server at any time and license accordingly. It also means that if you have a number of servers licensed for unlimited virtualization – perhaps in a server farm, the virtual machines may move dynamically between physical servers without a need for additional licenses. If this appeals, then license your servers for unlimited virtualization by licensing all the physical cores (following the usual rules) with Core licenses and Software Assurance (SA).

A further tip would be to consider adding license mobility rights to the licenses for the other editions that we considered at the start of this question. Let’s take an example to show what I mean. Imagine you have three physical servers in a server farm and on one of those servers you have two virtual machines running the BI edition. Following the rules I explained, you’ve assigned two BI Server licenses to that physical server and that licenses the two virtual machines. But let’s say that the two virtual machines need to dynamically move between all three servers. The licenses that you assigned to the first physical server are attached to that server and can only move to another server every 90 days. Clearly this isn’t really dynamic enough for what you need to do technically. However, adding license mobility means that the licenses can, in effect, follow the virtual machines across physical servers simplifying your licensing. And to add license mobility – just make sure that you purchase those two BI Server licenses with Software Assurance as it’s one of the SA benefits associated with SQL Server 2012.


Have a follow-up question on SQL Server licensing? Write us a note in the comments below or visit the Microsoft SQL Server licensing page. Need additional assistance? Visit the Contact Us page for additional support or check out the TechNet Forums for more insight.

Feedback welcome: This is our fifth edition of the “mailbag” feature and we would love your input. Do you have suggestions to make this more useful for you? Perhaps you have a question you would like to see in a future mailbag? Feel free to provide them in the comments section.

Editor’s Note: Remember, always check with your account representative or partner on any terms, restrictions or other unique cases that may apply within SQL Server licensing or any other aspects of Microsoft licensing. The answers and examples provided above make assumptions that may not apply to your unique situation and are primarily designed to serve as a guide.

Comments (9)

  1. Simone Grandini says:

    A customer of ours has planned to license (SA included) all physical cores on one of three clustered servers, to get unlimited SQL virtual instances.
    In this kind of purchase, are the License Mobility rights waived or not?
    In the SQL 2014 Licensing Guide, page 20, I read:
    "License Mobility can benefit customers who license individual virtual machines (VMs) and then want to reassign those licenses to different servers within a server farm—as workloads move dynamically—or to VMs in cloud environments."
    The customer won’t license individual VMs, but all server instead.
    Does the customer has to cover each server in the cluster?

  2. KLash says:

    What if the virtual machines do not "Dynamically" move to other physicals?  What if the ONLY time I move a VM to a different physical host is when I am applying monthly patches to the physical Hyper-V host ?  Does that still require license mobility (and paying extra for SA) ?

  3. Rob says:

    If I am running MS SQL Server 2008 R2 Standard edition on a active/passive cluster, and I log ship some of the databases to a DR server (passive). Do I need to get another license for the DR server, even though it's passive and not being used? I was told by a MS representative, that you're only allowed to have 1 passive server, and the passive in the cluster counts as 1, therefore you need to license the DR server. This is not stated in any licensing guides that I read.

  4. Robert says:

    Can we use the SQL Server CPU affinity mask to reduce the number of CPUs SQL server is using and therefore only pay for the CPUs it using?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hungry for more information from Microsoft on Software Assurance , licensing for virtual environments , Software Asset Management , or Volume Licensing updates? We’ve rounded up 2013’s five most viewed Microsoft Volume Licensing blog posts

  6. I want to use my existing SQL Server 2008 instances installed in my environment. but I do not have license for SQL Server 2008(any edition). I have SQL Server 2014 Enterprise edition core base license(SA). Can I use SQL 2014 license in place of 2008?
    Do we need to have any specific license of SQL Server 2008 to use SQL 2014 downgrading rights?

  7. edward says:

    Is it really unlimited virtualization rights? Isn’t the number of virtual machines limited to the number of cores licensed? So 16 cores in total means 16 virtual machines max.? If you want to use High Availability, shouldn’t you make a seperate cluster
    and license all servers in this cluster for all physical cores?

  8. Meen says:

    What would be the cost of SQL 2012 R2 Standard for a virtual machine?

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