Microsoft to move to license-by-core for SQL Server 2012

Microsoft breaks vow to never license by core and will now charge for server cores much like they were processors. Here's the details.

Hmmm…think back to 2005, Microsoft is marketing its plans to release a new version of Microsoft SQL Server (2005) –remember how Microsoft executives were swearing that “unlike Oracle”, they would never count the number of cores, only the number of physical processors? Well, Oracle changed its licensing model in 2008 and in 2012 so will Microsoft. But in reverse – Oracle got a bit looser and Microsoft will be getting tighter.

With the release of Microsoft SQL Server 2012 (projected for first half of 2012), Microsoft is changing some recent and some long standing licensing rules.  The following is based upon the licensing details released by Microsoft as of November 3, 2011. Things can change, so make sure you’re looking at the most current documentation (and I’ll try to keep you current here as well).

Microsoft SQL Server Editions:

  1. Enterprise Edition – license only as per core model (last day to buy Enterprise Edition in Server/CAL model is 6/30/2012 with some potential exceptions for existing agreements – see “Software Assurance Implications” below).
  2. Business Intelligence – included in the Enterprise Edition or license separately but only as server/CAL (Client Access License)
  3. Standard Edition – license in either server/CAL or per core model.
  4. Additional editions without licensing changes:
    1. Web Edition (only available for hosting companies through the SPLA agreement)
    2. Developer
    3. Express
    4. Compact
  5. Discontinued editions:
    1. Datacenter (migrate to Enterprise)
    2. Workgroup (migrate to Standard)
    3. Standard for Small Business (migrate to Standard)

For more information on what these editions can (and can’t) do, take a look at the edition comparison.

Core versus Processor Licensing:

Prior to SQL Server 2012 (going back as far as SQL Server 2000), Microsoft SQL Server could be purchased as either a Server/CAL licensing model or a (physical) Processor licensing model. Under the Server/CAL model the server was licensed and each user (person or device) needed a CAL. For situations where the number of users was large or could not be counted, Processor licensing was more appropriate as it licensed the server by physical processors regardless of the number of users.

For example, one of my clients has their SQL Server environment running on a quad processor box with each processor having 10 cores. They are running all of their SQL on this environment (approximately 15 virtual servers).  To license this under Microsoft SQL Enterprise 2008R2 they licensed it with 4 processor licenses (each allowing up to 4 virtuals of either Standard or Enterprise).  To license under Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise 2012 they would license it as 40 (4x10) core licenses. (See the note about “Software Assurance Implications” below).  However; under the 2012 licensing this would now allow them to have unlimited virtuals (and since they licensed it with Microsoft Windows Datacenter edition for the operating system they are covered there as well).

Core based licenses will be sold in two core packs. According to Microsoft, the cost for a core license will be priced at ¼ the price of a SQL Server 2008R2 processor license. So, if you’re running a ratio of 4 cores per physical processor the end cost for you shouldn’t change – but anything more than that and your costs will be going up.

Physical:

  1. All cores in the server must be licensed
  2. A minimum of 4 core licenses required for each physical processor

Virtual:

  1. Individual virtual machines may be licensed (as opposed to all cores in the physical server)
  2. A minimum of 4 core licenses per virtual machine

Virtualization:

Microsoft SQL Server 2012 will handle virtualization under two options:

  1. License individual virtual machines (either by server/CAL or by core)
    1. Remember, there is a minimum of 4 core licenses per virtual machine.
  2. License the physical machine for all virtual machines by licensing by physical core and purchasing/maintaining Microsoft Software Assurance.
    1. Licensing this way allows for unlimited virtual machines (this is referring to SQL Server only, don’t forget you still have to license the Microsoft Windows Operating System).
    2. Note the requirement to have SA in order to license all virtuals!

Software Assurance Implications

For customers who have active Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) on their SQL Server licenses as of the release of Microsoft SQL Server 2012, there are some special rules and benefits (read: evaluate your environment to see if you need to acquire some licenses with SA before the release).

Existing SQL Server Processor licenses (Standard or Enterprise) with SA:

May upgrade to SQL Server 2012 at no additional cost.

At the end of the SA benefit term, these licenses will transition to Core licenses at a minimum of 4 core licenses per processor or for the actual number of cores in use. Customers who are using more than should perform a self-inventory (with a tool that will provide an accurate time/date stamped inventory of hardware tied to the SQL Server installations) to ensure that they have documentation to receive all of the core licenses that they are entitled to receive.

Existing SQL Datacenter Processor licenses with SA:

Same as above for Standard or Enterprise but the conversion is a minimum of 8 core Enterprise Edition licenses.

Existing SQL Server Enterprise Edition Server/CAL with SA:

May upgrade to SQL Server 2012 at no additional cost and Enterprise Edition server SA can be maintained through end of term. However; these servers are limited to a 20 core per server license maximum.

At the end of the SA benefit term, these licenses will transition to Core licenses at a minimum of 4 core licenses per processor or for the actual number of cores in use up to the maximum of 20 outlined above. Customers who are using more than should perform a self-inventory (with a tool that will provide an accurate time/date stamped inventory of hardware tied to the SQL Server installations) to ensure that they have documentation to receive all of the core licenses that they are entitled to receive.

Special Rules for Volume Licensing:

Enterprise and Enrollment for Enterprise Application (EAP) agreements that have SQL Server Enterprise enrolled as a product: Can continue to purchase Enterprise edition as Server/CAL or Processor license through the end of their agreement term. At the end of the agreement the licenses will transition to Core licenses as outlined above for SA benefits.

Please note, this right to continue purchasing the Enterprise edition as Server/CAL or Processor license does not apply to Microsoft Select or Select Plus customers unless SQL is on a current EA or EAP. Read more about ways to leverage this through my Software-License-Management blog.

In my opinion, this is a major change in Microsoft licensing so there is every possibility that things might change a bit between now and when the product is actually released. I recommend making sure you are receiving up to date information and are pre-planning for how this change will impact your organization as there are some opportunities to leveraging SA benefits at time of license conversion.

FYI, for those wondering…no – as of this time there is no indication that this type of licensing change will be applied to other Microsoft software…but remember, licensing terms are constantly changing!

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